Once a protest landmark outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters, “Lennon Walls” have become a city-wide phenomenon after a month of political upheaval.
Thousands of supportive messages have appeared on dozens of public walls across the territory. Slogans such as “add oil Hongkongers!” and “No China extradition” have been scribbled on colourful memos.
The campaign against the government’s proposed extradition bill, which escalated in June with huge protest rallies, has won only a partial concession from Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
But the movement has since grown beyond its original goals. Riding on the momentum of the protests, Hongkongers have expressed their sentiments at a community level, offering words of solidarity and support to one another.
During the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, protesters drew inspiration from the Lennon Wall in Prague and created a local equivalent outside the Admiralty government offices. The makeshift message board was one of the most recognisable icons of the 2014 movement, widely photographed by the media and hailed as an example of democratic expression.
When protesters once again took to the streets of Admiralty on June 12, it seemed altogether natural for the Lennon Wall to reappear at its former location. Overnight, messages spread across the walls of the staircase leading up to the Central Government Offices, along with the words “Oppose extradition to China, protect our city” rendered in tape.
Unlike its predecessor, however, the new Lennon Wall also served as a memorial.
As June wore on, at least three people took their own lives in politically charged incidents. One corner of the wall bore the Chinese character for “mourning,” as protesters bowed and offered flowers and tributes.
The wall was briefly defaced on June 30 after a pro-police rally was held nearby at Tamar Park. The opposing sides clashed briefly at the Lennon Wall, with one woman caught on camera as she ripped up the notes stuck to the wall and taunted anti-extradition protesters.
Within hours, however, the notes that have fallen onto the ground were restored and the surface of the wall was once again a vibrant mosaic. Starting from 7:30pm that night, protesters held vigils hourly at the memorial, which had been fully rebuilt.
On July 2, the day after protesters stormed and briefly occupied the legislature, the area around Admiralty was cleared and placed under watch by police. As the government arranged for cleaners to scrub the Lennon Wall, protesters took down the messages for safekeeping.
In 2014, the destruction of the Lennon Wall in Admiralty was greeted with a sense of loss, but the same event drew a different response last week.
Even before the messages had been cleared, there were signs that protesters had found other outlets for expression: notes and posters had been plastered on the footbridge leading to CITIC Tower, located opposite the legislature.
A week later, Lennon Walls have been sighted in numerous districts around Hong Kong. Popular spots include walls near MTR station exits, as well as the walls of pedestrian subways.
HKFP counted dozens of separate Lennon Walls by Tuesday evening, with many located in the New Territories including Sheung Shui, Tin Shui Wai, Shatin, Fanling, Ma On Shan, Tsing Yi, Tung Chung, among other places.
At Tai Po’s Lennon Wall – which covers almost the entirety of the subway’s walls – three students told HKFP that they had installed a huge set of slogans, including “fight together,” “we are the best” and “we are not alone.”
One said that their school did not interfere with their work, which they completed during their own time. “Some schools banned the pinning of white ribbons [in support of the movement], but our school was fine with it,” she said.
The school was located nearby and, as the students were talking, one of their teachers passed by the Lennon Wall and voiced support.
A middle-aged woman, who gave her name as Lam, said she lived in the nearby Lam Chuen and came with her sister to place sticky notes on the subway’s walls.
She wrote on her notes that Hongkongers must fight on and push for the five core demands. “Shameless Carrie Lam and the pro-Beijing camp must all step down and go to hell,” read another of her notes.
“I was very angry [at the government] and I wanted to come here. And then I saw on Facebook that someone tried to rip the notes off the wall, then I decided I must come,” she told HKFP.
When she arrived, she recalled asking others how she could contribute and what resources she could bring. “I am so impressed by the people here,” she said.
Aside from the New Territories, the message boards have also been spotted across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the outlying islands.
Locations include Sai Ying Pun, Shek Tong Tsui, Causeway Bay, Sai Wan Ho, Chai Wan, Choi Hung, Wong Tai Sin, Kwun Tong, Mei Foo, Kowloon Bay, Whampoa, Tai Kok Tsui and more.
Most of the newer Lennon Walls have been fortified with tape and protected by a layer of transparent plastic. In some cases, the message boards have become focal points of conflict, with some being torn down by government supporters.
A video has circulated online showing the Kowloon Bay Lennon Wall being swiftly torn down by a man and a woman on Monday evening – but when reporters checked in on it the next morning, hundreds of messages had reappeared. Similar incidents were also reported in Sai Wan Ho and To Kwa Wan.
In response to vandalism, some have volunteered to keep watch over the Lennon Walls. On the Reddit-like forum LIHKG, a new slogan began trending: “Take down one, we will post another ten.”
‘Flowers bloom across the land’
Christopher DeWolf, journalist and author of Borrowed Spaces: Life Between the Cracks of Modern Hong Kong, told HKFP that the new Lennon Walls aligned with the “be water” ethos of the protest movement.
“[The 2019 walls] are decentralised, fluid and more widespread than in 2014. I think that a lot of people who experienced the freedom and creative outpouring that were present in Mongkok, Causeway Bay and Admiralty in 2014 really took that to heart and they are eager to replicate it in their own neighbourhoods,” he said.
Messages shown in Hong Kong’s public spaces are typically commercial, DeWolf said, and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) are quick to remove stickers and posters that appear on government-controlled surfaces.
In 2014, that logic was disrupted by the first Lennon Wall in memorable fashion.
“The original wall was significant because it turned an otherwise empty corner into a gathering place – somewhere that ideas could be exchanged and where people could express themselves in a safe and friendly way,” he added.
“The original wall highlighted how much dead space there is in Hong Kong’s urban environment, but also how much potential there is for that dead space to be brought to life.”
On LIHKG, users have posted pictures of the walls in their neighbourhoods, treating them as a cause for celebration. Many took it as a tangible sign that the pro-democracy movement had reached communities previously thought to be pro-Beijing or apolitical.
Citing a slogan in use since the Umbrella Movement, one user wrote: “This time it is truly ‘flowers bloom across the land.'”