He was still a geeky teenager when he led Hong Kong’s 2014 umbrella protests. Since then Beijing’s grip has tightened, but he’s not giving up the resistance
Cometh the hour, cometh the boy. Very much a boy: 17 and looking even younger behind his black-rimmed spectacles, with baggy shorts accentuating his skinniness and shaggy hair in need of a trim. Bright, well-mannered and slightly geeky, everyone’s son was about to become an international celebrity.
In September 2014, an unprecedented wave of civil disobedience swept Hong Kong, with tens of thousands of people pouring on to the streets to call for democratic reforms. The shock wasn’t just seeing riot police deployed in the heart of a city regarded as apolitical, money-focused and essentially conservative. It was the numbers and sheer youth of these peaceful demonstrators, umbrellas held aloft to ward off teargas and pepper spray, as they confronted – peacefully, tidily and very, very politely – the wrath of Beijing.