Is 'hands up' in Hong Kong really the same as in Ferguson?

Some see the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters' use of the 'hands up, don't shoot' gesture as a nod toward the protests in Ferguson, Mo. But connecting the two might be a misstep. 

Wally Santana/AP
Student protesters occupy streets surrounding the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sunday evening, Sept. 28, 2014. A tense standoff between thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and police warning of a crackdown spiraled into an extraordinary scene of chaos Sunday as the crowd jammed a busy road and clashed with officers wielding pepper spray.

On Sunday images juxtaposing scenes from the Ferguson, Mo., and Hong Kong protests spread on Twitter, many linking the 'hands up, don’t shoot' symbol as an act of solidarity.

But what is being lauded as a rather poignant exhibit of cross-cultural borrowing could be confusing the individual message of each movement's use of the symbol – and could also just be wrong.

Vox reported that the young pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong are "using the same 'hands up, don't shoot' gesture that became a symbol of last month’s protests in faraway Ferguson."

However, besides the gesture being a classic symbol of surrender to authority, its use in Hong Kong – where protests have been ongoing for weeks —may have developed independently.

Quartz reported that protesters in Hong Kong didn't purposefully mimic the 'hands up' sign, but rather followed the instruction of leaders to "signal their peaceful intentions to police."

Asked about any link between the gesture and Ferguson, Icy Ng, a 22-year-old design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University said, “I don’t think so. We have our hands up for showing both the police and media that we have no weapons in our hands.” Ng had not heard of the Ferguson protests. Another demonstrator, with the pro-democracy group Occupy Central, Ellie Ng said the gesture had nothing to do with Ferguson and is intended to demonstrate that “Hong Kong protesters are peaceful, unarmed, and mild.”

Further, some say the cultural translation perhaps doesn’t run as deep as the visual appeal.

How Hong Kong appropriated the iconic gesture is "less complicated" than how Ferguson has employed the symbol, according to BagNews.

African-Americans are exercising the sign as a symbol of police brutality and racism, and it’s deeply ironic because "even in the act of total submission, given the cop and the zip code, it won’t save your life."

Another BagNews post about the Ferguson 'hands up' position says that "the symbolism that emerges as standing for the systemic dehumanization of young black males is the gesture of extending one’s arms to the sky, communicating to the man that one is not a threat and that one is unarmed... white culture can’t physically see or 'read' black youth — not with all that fear and ignorance, and the consequent stereotypes in the way."

Whereas Hong Kong’s edition of the sign seems to be functioning as simple symbol of defiance.

Hot Air called the loud claims of appropriation a case of "cultural chauvinism" — "an honest mistake born out of the presumption that the world revolves around American domestic affairs."  

Even if the narratives behind the use of the same hand gesture are confused, some in Ferguson aren't bothered by the distinctions and have thrown their support to Hong Kong:


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