All summer, young people in Hong Kong have been buying dozens of cans of spray paint with their pocket money and taking to the streets, turning their hometown into a canvas of anti-government graffiti.
Hong Kong is a vertical city. Narrow roads twist past densely packed high-rise buildings. In this concrete jungle, protesters play hide-and-seek with the police, spray-painting their woes and demands on the city’s once-clean walls, concrete barriers, overpasses, and major roads and tram tracks during the wee hours. They are part of a protest movement now in its fourth month, sparked by a now-shelved China extradition bill.
Wearing tinted sunglasses, a mask and a helmet, a scrawny teenager hastily sprayed “Sell Hong Kong” at New Town Plaza in Shatin before darting away with a group of protesters upon the arrival of police.
“I am a student but (for) these few months, or weeks, I paint more,” said Hel, who asked to be identified only by his middle name out of fear of arrest. He said protesters “never draw on some private properties” and the aim of graffiti is not to destroy but to “express our demands and what we are fighting for.”
Like most, he is a novice when it comes to the art of graffiti.
The most common graffiti is “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.” Other messages include the popular chant “Five Demands and Not One Less,” expressing the protesters’ demands for greater democracy, and the trending hashtag “Chinazi,” a portmanteau of China and Nazi.
Hong Kong, a glitzy financial center, was never a favorable place for graffiti, and cleaners have been working around the clock to erase the remnants of weekly battles. Workers hastily remove graffiti by painting them over, washing them off with a high-pressure water gun, and if all else fails, taping them over with sheets of plastic.
Overpasses filled with sticky notes and prints of protest art have been scraped with little avail, leaving torn paper scraps everywhere. Burn marks from homemade gasoline bombs and burned rubbish scar the streets and plastic road barriers. In front of one blackened barrier was scribbled an ominous quote from the movie “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” — “If we burn, you burn with us.”
It will be difficult to meticulously clean up the streets of Hong Kong, as is being done in Beijing, before China’s upcoming National Day celebration on Tuesday.
Associated Press photographer Vincent Yu contributed to this report.