Protest art- The Lennon Walls in Hong Kong
John Lennon, the famous singer, peace activist and icon of freedom was assassinated on 8 December, 1980. People from around the world commemorated his death. Shortly after this, inPrague, Czech Republic, an anonymous artist drew John Lennon and wrote some of the lyrics of his song on a wall, which then became a place for the Czechs to express their anger and discontent to the communist government. The communist regime was irritated by the graffiti. Artists and students are often vilified by authorities, who claim they are mentally ill, alcoholics or spies from the capitalist states. The government even stationed secret police to stop people making the graffiti, but they failed. The wall symbolized love and peace – to fight back to tyranny in a non-violent way. Some say it played an important role in the Czech peaceful velvet revolution in 1989.
After a few decades, the Lennon wall was reborn in another city fighting against tyranny. This city was Hong Kong. Back in 2014, a democratic protest named the “Umbrella movement” broke out in Hong Kong. A mosaic wall filled with post-it notes, became the first Lennon Wall in Hong Kong, and was created for pro-democracy protestors to support each other. This wall was located at a central government complex in Admiralty.
After 5 years, another protest broke out in Hong Kong on a larger scale. The protest began with the extradition bill that the government proposed, containing mutual legal assistance between Hong Kong and China. This meant fugitives could be extradited back to China for their legal proceedings. The bill aroused a big reaction in Hong Kong as protestors disagreed with the idea that China could interfere with the Hong Kong legal system. Thus, large scale protests broke out and have already lasted for more than 100 days. The Lennon wall became a major way for protestors, especially non-violent ones, to support the protest and promote their thoughts.
The Lennon wall appeared in many different districts of Hong Kong – from bus stations, restaurants, and shopping malls, to pedestrian tunnels. People used the walls to stick post-it notes that encouraged the protestors, or express their anger to the government. Some post-it notes are written with the slogans like ‘Fighting! Hong Kongers!’, ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’. Some chose to leave messages criticising the government and the police whilst some drew paintings instead.
Recently, the protest art has increased. Since the anti-government protests are leaderless, people could get involved in any way that they thought might help show their anger or encourage the resistance. The Lennon wall has become a stage for talented artists to vent their frustrations in beautiful and interesting ways. Rather than just writing on the post-it notes, people started to create different kinds of art on the wall. Some designed posters to urge people going to protest, some are using recycled materials like plastic bottles to make handicrafts, and some even drew large cartoon portraits of the protestors.
The Tai Po Lennon tunnel is the largest scale Lennon Wall in Hong Kong. The pedestrian tunnel is now full of messages to support the protests. Colourful post-it notes are everywhere, along with posters and drawings made by Hong Kong people. To protect the art, people wrap it with cling film. There are also volunteers setting up areas in the Lennon wall to provide pens, notes and other stationaries so that anyone can write their messages on the wall.
Ina YouTube video by SCMP, one of the supporters said she was very touched by the endless memos posted on the wall, showing that even writing things on a post-it can have real impact on those who protest.
I went to the Lennon tunnel to interview pedestrians in August, and one girl told me she went to the tunnel because she was shocked when seeing the photos of it on the internet. To her surprise, the scale of the tunnel is bigger than it seems online and is almost never ending. She said ‘Hong Kong people [have] become more creative because of the protests.’ The Lennon wall has indeed created a space for people to revolt in a creative way, even those who wouldn’t be able to protest traditionally have a voice through it.
Seeing all the supportive messages from anonymous Hong Kong residents created a stronger solidarity among the protestors themselves. The multitude became more united, and a simple message could cheer them up if they felt they were walking alone.
The Lennon walls became more than just walls; at protests there were some colourful men. During the marches or rallies, some protestors would become ‘Lennon Men’, who let others stick their post-it memos on their bodies. This means protestors would be able to see the messages on the ‘Lennon Men’ when they walked, which was another kind of encouragement.
Another interviewee said he thinks the Lennon wall is the most peaceful way for people from other side to better understand the ideas of the protestors. On the wall, there are informative pieces such as newspapers and posters explaining the protestors’ demands as well as what are they march against. As the Lennon walls are so prolific, in every district, everyone has the chance to see a wall. ‘Even it’s just a glance, it provides another perspective to understand the protest,’ he continued.
‘Today’s Hong Kong will be tomorrow’s Taiwan’ – is a slogan chanted in Taiwan to support Hong Kong’s protests. Taiwan, with their unique history, has an ambiguous relationship with China. China has claimed that there is only ‘one China’ in the world and Taiwan is part of that China.
Many people said that the ‘one country, two systems’ between Hong Kong and China is a model to show Taiwan that they could also have their own system under the ‘one country’. However, the recent protests showed how ‘one country, two systems’ can fail dramatically. Witnessing the fall of the concept, as well as experiencing more Chinese interference in recent years is showing the growth of Chinese power in Taiwan. An example of this was the pro-China politician Han Kuo-Yu being elected as the Mayor of Kaohsiung. Taiwan does not want to become the second Hong Kong; thus they support the protests. The Lennon Walls can be found in Taiwan as well, most of them located at university campuses or in pedestrian tunnels. Lennon walls can be found in other places around the world, such as China Town in London and New York.
Unfortunately, Hong Kong also experienced what the Czechs experienced when painting their Lennon walls. On 10 July, 2019, the police went to the Tai Po Lennon tunnel and removed the posters and flyers, but protestors filled the tunnel with memos and flyers again the day after the clearance. Memos are torn down by pro-China supporters sometimes, but they are always restored by protestors afterwards.
Clashes happen near the Lennon walls because of the political nature of the messages which bring conflicts between people with different political views. On 20tAugust 2019, three women were attacked by a man with knife over some messages they placed on the Lennon Wall in Tseung Kwan O. On 19 October, a 19-year-old man handing out leaflets about the pro-democracy ideas was attacked, so badly that the man’s intestines were exposed after the attack. In Taiwan, some Chinese tourists and students destroyed the Lennon wall by removing the messages. A Chinese tourist may even be expelled from Hong Kong over his damage to the Lennon Wall.
The Lennon Wall protest art is spreading all over the world. The love and peace which it symbolizes are the values people are fighting for. In history and still to this day, there are always tyrannies. But there are always brave people fighting against it – ‘Imagine all the people, living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.’