Hong Kong's teen activists vow to return to the streets

On China: Hong Kong's teenage activists
On China: Hong Kong's teenage activists

    JUST WATCHED

    On China: Hong Kong's teenage activists

MUST WATCH

On China: Hong Kong's teenage activists 01:34

Story highlights

  • In his Lunar New Year message HK leader C.Y. Leung urged residents to be more accommodating, like sheep
  • But activists behind the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement have vowed to return to the streets
  • They tell CNN they see civil disobedience tactics as the only way to put pressure on the government

In the latest "On China," CNN's Kristie Lu Stout meets Hong Kong's teen activists and explores the rise of the "Occupy Generation" in the wake of 2014's pro-democracy protests. For air times please click here.

Hong Kong (CNN)Please be more like sheep.

Believe it or not, that's the Lunar New Year message for the people of Hong Kong from the city's leader C.Y. Leung.
    "In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong's future," he said.
    Hong Kong's leader is hoping his flock won't rock the boat after one very tumultuous year.
    For 79 days in late 2014, student-led protests for democratic open elections took over major streets in the heart of the city. It was the biggest political challenge to Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
    And while the Umbrella Movement, so named after umbrellas were used to shield protesters from the tear gas and pepper spray deployed by police, is no longer blocking the roads, Hong Kong's young protesters have vowed to return in force in the Year of the Sheep.
    "I believe within this year they will have a new act, they will have occupy action or civil disobedience again," says Joshua Wong, the teenage face of the Occupy protests and co-founder of the student activist group Scholarism.
    "And Occupy action will be happening more often in the future."
    As pledged in their "we'll be back" slogans at the end of the protest in December, the demonstrators plan to return and will once again rely on the civil disobedience tactics that eventually turned public opinion against them.
    "It's the only way I see now that will actually give pressure to the government because you are actually blocking the roads, causing some problems and some trouble to the government," says student activist Glacier Kwong of Keyboard Frontline.
    "It will increase the ruling cost of the government so that they will have to react."
    Young people have been at the forefront of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, where they face a growing shortage of university places, disappointing job prospects, and a widening wealth gap.
    But they -- and the pro-democracy legislators who have joined their protest -- insist the reason for their protest is both economic and political.
    On China: Is Umbrella Movement political or economic?
    On China: Is Umbrella Movement political or economic?

      JUST WATCHED

      On China: Is Umbrella Movement political or economic?

    MUST WATCH

    On China: Is Umbrella Movement political or economic? 01:43
    "The livelihood issue of the people of Hong Kong is very much affected by the political structure which completely swings over to the upper class and the elite," says Lee Cheuk-Yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker and former student activist who was detained during the Tiananmen uprising.
    "For young people in Hong Kong, if you want to climb that so-called ladder of mobility, you have to be politically ...correct and that is horrible."
    Since the handover from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under China's principle of "one country, two systems" -- giving it rights and freedoms unseen in the mainland.
    But Hong Kong's student protesters want more. They want the right to vote on candidates for chief executive who are independent of Beijing.
    "It's not like the Chinese government owes us anything," says Kwong. "We have the right to have these things. We have the right to have democracy -- true democracy -- and universal suffrage because this is a human right."
    On China: Mission impossible
    on china hong kong teenage protestors_00000919

      JUST WATCHED

      On China: Mission impossible

    MUST WATCH

    On China: Mission impossible 01:36
    Creating 'a miracle'
    Idealistic words. And her teenage ally is not shy to admit the challenges ahead.
    "Fighting for true universal suffrage in Hong Kong is trying turn something impossible to possible," concedes Joshua Wong.
    "Under the democracy movement, every activist is trying to create a miracle."
    In the early days of the Umbrella Movement, Kwong posted an earnest online appeal to "Please help Hong Kong." The clip quickly went viral, reaching more than a million views.
    After making the cover of Time magazine's international edition, Wong was included in the magazine's annual list of most influential teenagers.
    Their struggle for democracy was also mentioned this week in an Oscars acceptance speech, as musician Common linked the American civil rights movement to Occupy Hong Kong.
    Such global attention is coveted by the territory's pro-democracy activists.
    "What we need is international public opinion to keep a watch on China, so that they should leave Hong Kong alone," says Lee.
    "We in Hong Kong, we have nothing. We don't have arms, we don't have anything to protect ourselves. We have just the people."
    And people in Hong Kong are nothing like sheep, especially its young activists.
    They are dauntless and determined to have a say in Hong Kong's political destiny.