Hong Kong’s more venerable and veteran residents took to the streets on Wednesday as the elderly put on a show of solidarity for youth-led anti-government protesters.
Thousands of people took part in what was dubbed a “grey hair march” — billed as a way to show the city’s pro-Beijing leadership that plenty of its older and more reliably conservative citizens still support younger demonstrators.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a law that would have allowed extraditions to China and other countries.
Last month, parliament was trashed by hundreds of masked, youth-led protesters in unprecedented scenes.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred on Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
Long lines of older demonstrators snaked through the city’s streets in tropical heat, a powerful display in a culture where respect for one’s elders remains paramount.
One carried a sign saying: “Young people, Dad has come out.”
Others wrote messages on protest walls outside parliament. “Kids, you are not alone,” one read.
Kitty Shek, a 55-year-old retiree, said she believed her generation did not do enough to confront sliding freedoms in the city since it was handed back to Beijing in 1997.
“The elderly have come to realise that, before now, our generation just let the government do whatever they want,” she told AFP. “Now, the young people remind us that we should not be silent any more.”
But there is still plenty of support for the pro-Beijing leaders among more elderly inhabitants.
Tens of thousands of people rallied in solidarity with the police last month — a noticeably older crowd than the recent anti-government demonstrations.
Many hurled insults at younger protesters, scuffling with them and waving Chinese flags.
Under the 1997 handover deal with the British, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and rights like freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.