In 2014 the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), the Chinese legislative body, ratified extremely controversial reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. For many in China’s largest population center, the reform was considered excessively restrictive and would impede potential candidates from presenting themselves to the Hong Kong electorate unless they were approved by the ruling Communist Party. What was seen as creating further limitations of their rights, the population of Hong Kong, primarily young students, decided to hold a protest. It would eventually be referred to as the “Umbrella Revolution”, but when it started none of the student groups who organized it would have any idea how big, or divisive their protests would become.
The NPCSC’s decision was widely seen to be needlessly restrictive, and tantamount to the Communist Party gaining control over which candidates would be allowed to present themselves to the Hong Kong electorate. The student response started with just a hundred protesters, but when the police acted swiftly to remove them, using riot gear, tear gas and pepper spray (Tools that they hadn’t employed for over a decade) it eventually sparked over three months of pro-democracy student-led protests. The clash between the police and students would engulf the city of Hong Kong in one of the most divisive acts of civil disobedience that they had ever seen. Families would be divided, friendships would be tested and on a larger scale Facebook flame wars would erupt regularly while Hong Kong police continued to use brutal tactics to break the protest. There were even rumors that they employed the local Triads to assist in attacking and intimidating the protesters.
The protests primarily motivated the student and younger members of the community, groups that traditionally remained uninterested in politics. As you’d imagine with any student movement, many who were unable to protest lent their solidarity in the form of artwork and by giving vocal support. In honor of the students who risked physical harm and arrest at the historic protests, 3D designer and college student Dylan Tang created a stunning 3D printed sculpture called the Yellow Guard. When Tang decided to enter a “True Hero” themed 3D printing contest at his school he didn’t think twice about paying tribute to the Umbrella Revolution.
“The Umbrella Revolution, a name first adopted by BBC after a photo displaying a protester holding an umbrella at the centre of tear gas, marks a new stage of Hong Kong. We the people of Hong Kong are as peaceful as holding merely an umbrella in front of the police riot force. A true hero in my heart is a non-violent fighter, [who] protects Hong Kong with love, peace and respect, and care about the people around them. [Inspired] by Steampunk style to shape him out, he is silently holding an umbrella for peace/ The body and equipment references civil-made defense equipment, such as Water Bottle, rubber mat, toxic mask,” Tang told me via email.
The use of umbrellas at the protests was sparked by a sister demonstration at the National Day flag raising ceremony being held at Hong Kong’s Golden Bauhinia Square. The protesters had all agreed to not shout or disrupt the event, but instead in unison they all turned their backs on the raising of the flag during the ceremony. To further symbolise their discontent, District councillor Paul Zimmerman attended a reception after the ceremony and silently opened a yellow umbrella. The yellow umbrella would be a dominant a symbol for supporters of the protests from that point on, and the umbrellas would often be used to shield protesters from seemingly endless sprays of pepper spray. At its height several parts of the city were virtually shut down by the massive crowds, often regularly numbering close to 100,000.
The Yellow Guard figure has incorporated several important symbols from the protests. The ubiquitous yellow umbrella is an obvious nod. But Tang also included metal police gates adorned with yellow ribbons, a common sight along the edges of the protest. Gas masks became a common site in Hong Kong as the protesters donned them to defy repeated dousings of pepper spray and tear gas. And he didn’t forget the original reason for holding the protests, as the Yellow Guard helpfully holds his protective umbrella over a white dove, an almost universal symbol of peace.
Tang designed all of the figures parts using 3ds Max and Zbrush and 3D printed them out on his Mini Kossel, a self-built delta style 3D printer. In total the Yellow Guardian required thirty three individually printed parts. Including assembling and painting the figure required over a month to complete, with the parts being individually cleaned, sanded down and painted before being glued together. Finally, Tang touched up the paint and mounted the completed figure on its fully painted wooden display stand. As Hong Kong nears its one year anniversary of the start of their Umbrella Revolution, the Yellow Guard is a fitting monument to the power of nonviolent protests and civil disobedience.
Our own country has a long tradition of using civil disobedience to tell those in power, seemingly unwilling to listen, that we are unhappy. From modern movements like Black Lives Matter, to Occupy Wall Street, to Act Up back in the 80’s, to the legendary civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr. all the way back to our founding fathers and their tea party, civil disobedience is woven into the fabric of the United States. It is as much a part of our nation as our commitment to free speech and our desire to be a nation of equals. We don’t always get it right, it is sometimes loud and obnoxious and it is often highly controversial, but it is inexorably part of what drives us as a people. In that way, Mr. Tang’s Yellow Guard is also a rather fitting monument to our own history of standing up for what we think is right no matter the consequences.
Let us know what you think of Dylan Tang figure over on our Yellow Guard Honors the Umbrella Revolution forum at 3DPB.com. And here are some more images of the Yellow Guard.