October 2014


Students will:

  • Gain an understanding of the relationship between China and Hong Kong.
  • Analyze photographs of the recent protests in Hong Kong.
  • Explore the symbols and messages that protesters use to express their views.


Hong Kong Protests: Background Information

Graphic Organizer: Protest Photos

Monitoring Hong Kong in the News


BBC article—Hong Kong’s Democracy Debate

New York Times video—The Evolution of Joshua Wong [4:03]

BBC article—Hong Kong Protests: The Symbols and Songs Explained

Slideshow—Hong Kong Protest Photos

Required Reading

Assign students to read the BBC article “Hong Kong’s Democracy Debate” and answer the accompanying questions on the handout “Hong Kong Protests: Background Information” as homework the night before doing the activity in class. Alternatively, students could read the article in small groups and answer questions with their classmates at the beginning of the class period.

Note: You may wish to review with your students some of the terms and phrases included in the reading, for example, “universal suffrage” and “direct elections.”

Optional Resources

BBC article—Hong Kong protests: What changed at Mong Kok?

Includes a map of China and Hong Kong that shows major protest sites.

Additional photos from Al Jazeera—In Pictures: The height of Hong Kong protests

1. Opening Video

Play the short New York Times video about student activist Joshua Wong.

2. Reviewing the Basics

Review the homework and the video with the class. What is Hong Kong’s relationship to China? What did China promise Hong Kong for its 2017 elections, and what recent Chinese ruling caused an uproar among democracy advocates in Hong Kong? Do all residents of Hong Kong support the protests? How have the governments of China and Hong Kong responded?

3. Exploring Symbols

Break the class into seven small groups and distribute the BBC’s “Hong Kong Protests: The Symbols and Songs Explained.” Be sure students understand that a symbol is something simple, like an object, action, or number, that represents larger ideas or concepts.

Write the following phrases on the board:

  • yellow ribbons
  • blue ribbons
  • crossed arms
  • umbrellas
  • songs
  • memes
  • the number 689

Assign each group one of the phrases on the board. Instruct students to read the section on their assigned symbol and ask each group to briefly explain its meaning to the class. What role does each symbol play in the current protests?

4. Analyzing Photographs

Distribute “Graphic Organizer: Protest Photos.” Tell students that they will be analyzing photographs to learn more about the protests. Protesters convey their ideas and demands in a wide range of ways: through their speech, songs, posters, artwork, etc. Photographs can capture some, but not all, of these things.

Project the PowerPoint of images and invite students to take notes on the graphic organizer as you view the photographs together as a class. Reassure your students that they will not find examples of all the categories listed on the organizer in each picture. (Some photos do not portray symbols or messages, but have been included in the slideshow to familiarize students with the protests.) An alternative is to assign students specific images to explore in small groups.

Note: Teachers should point out that it is important to be careful about drawing conclusions from photographs. Remind students that they cannot be certain that a photo is an accurate or complete reflection of reality. While photos can provide clues about places and events, students should be aware that photos, like written documents, show a small piece of a bigger picture.

5. Conclusion

Ask students to share their observations. What did they learn about the protests? What messages are protesters sending? What symbols are they using to communicate their ideas? Beyond gathering in public places, what other tactics are they using? (For example, projecting messages on the sides of buildings, plastering walls with sticky notes, etc.)

Ask students about the limitations of using protest photos to learn about the current situation in Hong Kong. How might students explore other perspectives on current issues in Hong Kong? For example, the views of Hong Kong residents who aren’t protesting? The views of protesters at progovernment rallies? Of people in mainland China? Of government officials? Of businesspeople?

6. Extra Challenge

Tell students that over the course of the next month, they will be following the Hong Kong protests in the news and taking note of how they evolve. (Please see the list of news sources below that students can use for this activity.) Students should consult at least two or three news sources weekly and fill in “Monitoring Hong Kong in the News.” At the end of the month, bring the class together to debrief. How have the protests evolved?

Sources for Monitoring Hong Kong in the News

Al Jazeera page on Hong Kong

BBC News page on Hong Kong

New York Times page on Hong Kong

Time Magazine page on Hong Kong

Council on Foreign Relations page on Hong Kong

The Economist page on China

South China Morning Post on Hong Kong

China Daily, English Edition

Additional Resources

CIA Factbook profile of Hong Kong

Rezvani, David A. Surpassing the Sovereign State: The Wealth, Self-Rule, and Security Advantages of Partially Independent Territories. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

Recommended articles, blogs, and editorials:
Wonkblog, Washington Post: The economic roots of Hong Kong’s fight with China

The Economist: The Party v the People

The New Yorker: To Hong Kong, with Love and Squalor

ChinaFile: The City Feels New

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