Asia

Profile: Hong Kong student protest leader Joshua Wong

  • 2 October 2014
  • From the section Asia
Joshua Wong (centre) makes a cross with his arms at the flag raising ceremony in Hong Kong on 1 Oct 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Joshua Wong (centre) has become a hero to many protesters demanding universal suffrage from Beijing

Joshua Wong makes an unlikely looking revolutionary leader. A year too young to vote, the slight teenager with rectangular glasses and a bowl haircut looks like any other student.

But the Hong Kong and Beijing governments would be unwise to dismiss him on the grounds of age.

A founder of student protest group Scholarism, Mr Wong is no stranger to protests. In 2012 he rallied more than 100,000 people to protest against Hong Kong's plans to implement mandatory "patriotic education" in schools.

Faced with the sheer size of the crowds, a few of whom went on hunger strike, Chief Executive CY Leung was forced to abandon the idea. It was his first run-in with Mr Wong, who is now rallying crowds for a greater aim - universal suffrage.

Exam results

Joshua Wong has become a headache for the mainland - Chinese state-run media have branded him an "extremist" - yet in Hong Kong, he has become a political superstar.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Joshua Wong has been active in organising protests, frequently addressing the crowds in Hong Kong

He began his protesting career at just 13 - demonstrating against plans to build a high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Two years later, he had set up Scholarism, successfully challenged the government and was firmly in the limelight.

By 2014 his profile was so high, he held a press conference to announce his university entrance exam results.

Mr Wong told reporters the whole event made him "uncomfortable".

Tear gas

Though he was only eight months old when Hong Kong's sovereignty was handed to China by the UK, he is passionate about addressing the strictures Beijing has imposed on his home.

In late September 2014, Mr Wong led protesters in occupying a forecourt outside government headquarters. The next day more than 60 were arrested, among them Mr Wong, who was held for 40 hours and remains the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A protester is led away by Hong Kong police, Joshua Wong was said to have been taken away in handcuffs

His arrest galvanised the flagging demonstrators and tens of thousands flocked to the area to join the cause.

But Mr Wong questions his new status as protest leader. In an essay posted on his Facebook page (in Chinese) on Wednesday he wrote: "Many citizens have said to me that 'Hong Kong relies on you.'"

"I feel uncomfortable and even irritated when I hear this praise. When you were suffering pepper spray and tear gas but decided to stay for the protest despite the repression from the government, I was not able to do anything other than stare at a meal box and the blank walls of the detention room and feel powerless."

Blue Paper

Born into a middle-class family to parents Grace and Roger, Mr Wong has said his family taught him about social injustice but are far from radical. Shunning media attention their only real appearance during the protests has been to condemn the arrest of their son.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Fame aside, Joshua Wong maintains he's a normal teenager and says he does not want to be idolised

In May he told Hong Kong magazine: "I am just a normal person. My life is more than politics and activism. I do not really talk about politics in school. Not all of my schoolmates know what I'm up to."

That has clearly changed now.

Mr Wong believes he is mentioned in China's Blue Paper on National Security, which identifies threats to Beijing's stability.

Such attention does not scare him. He told CNN: "You have to see every battle as possibly the final battle - only then will you have the determination to fight."

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