The Umbrella Man statue at a Hong Kong protest created by Milk.

The Yellow Umbrella of Democracy

How an unremarkable accessory became the icon of Hong Kong’s current political protest movement

Emily Matchar
Oct 21, 2014 · 7 min read

The first canisters of tear gas hit the ground in Hong Kong on Sunday, September 28. Students had been protesting in front of the central government headquarters for a week, demanding genuinely democratic elections, but their numbers had remained fairly small. Things changed that weekend, when the police began attempting to disperse the crowds with pepper spray and tear gas. Many protesters tried to protect their faces with the only thing they had – their umbrellas.

Within days, hand-drawn paper umbrellas appeared on the barricades surrounding the protesters. Pro-democracy citizens began changing their Facebook profile photos to pictures of umbrellas. Umbrellas disappeared from 7–11s across the territory and reappeared as impromptu public art on city streets.

A student clips a paper to yellow paper umbrella along with her wish for democracy in the ‘Occupy Central’ demonstration at the Admiralty district of Hong Kong.

Throughout history, icons of protest have developed both deliberately and naturalistically.


Umbrella made up of yellow ribbons is laid out on the ground near the central government offices in Hong Kong.

re:form

A field guide to the designed world

    Emily Matchar

    Written by

    Culture writer. Author of Homeward Bound. Displaced Tarheel. http://t.co/aBmkF0Jgfh

    re:form

    re:form

    A field guide to the designed world

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