Hong Kong protests: The umbrella, symbol of the protests, survives China censorship

A protester raises his umbrellas in front of tear gas which was fired by riot police to disperse protesters blocking the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REU
A protester raises his umbrellas in front of tear gas which was fired by riot police to disperse protesters blocking the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Protesters using umbrellas to block pepper spray from riot policemen, as tens of thousands of protesters block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS&nbsp
Protesters using umbrellas to block pepper spray from riot policemen, as tens of thousands of protesters block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Umbrellas used to shield demonstrators from pepper spray and the sun are displayed during a pro-democracy protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept 29, 2014. The words on the umbrellas read "Umbrella revolution". -- PHOTO: AFP&n
Umbrellas used to shield demonstrators from pepper spray and the sun are displayed during a pro-democracy protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept 29, 2014. The words on the umbrellas read "Umbrella revolution". -- PHOTO: AFP 
A female protestor sleeping under the shade of the umbrella in the morning sun along Connaught Road Central leading to Hong Kong's financial district, the heart of the protest in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014.-- ST PHOTO:  KUA CHEE SIONG
A female protestor sleeping under the shade of the umbrella in the morning sun along Connaught Road Central leading to Hong Kong's financial district, the heart of the protest in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014.-- ST PHOTO:  KUA CHEE SIONG
Protesters blocking the road to the central business district in Hong Kong taking cover under their umbrellas after a sudden downpour on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Protesters blocking the road to the central business district in Hong Kong taking cover under their umbrellas after a sudden downpour on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A sea of umbrellas deployed by protesters during the heavy rain on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A sea of umbrellas deployed by protesters during the heavy rain on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Protesters rallying next to an umbrella as they block the main road at Causeway Bay shopping district in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Protesters rallying next to an umbrella as they block the main road at Causeway Bay shopping district in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
An umbrella proclaiming its purposing on the main road at Causeway Bay shopping district in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
An umbrella proclaiming its purposing on the main road at Causeway Bay shopping district in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Pro-democracy demonstrators in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Pro-democracy demonstrators in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Mr Paul Zimmerman, a district councillor, carrying a yellow umbrella as Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, shown on a screen, addresses guests at a reception following a flag raising ceremony in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014, celebrating the 65th
Mr Paul Zimmerman, a district councillor, carrying a yellow umbrella as Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, shown on a screen, addresses guests at a reception following a flag raising ceremony in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014, celebrating the 65th anniversary National Day of the People's Republic of China. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Protesters hiding from the sun as they block an area near the government headquarters building in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Protesters hiding from the sun as they block an area near the government headquarters building in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Protesters sitting under umbrellas as they block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters sitting under umbrellas as they block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters carrying umbrellas in case they are pepper-sprayed during a confrontation with the police on Sept 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters carrying umbrellas in case they are pepper-sprayed during a confrontation with the police on Sept 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester wearing a face mask and protective goggles peaks out from a wall of umbrellas in preparation for pepper spray outside the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A protester wearing a face mask and protective goggles peaks out from a wall of umbrellas in preparation for pepper spray outside the Hong Kong government headquarters on Sept 27, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Umbrellas used by protesters at a site where they blocked the main road leading to the financial Central district in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
Umbrellas used by protesters at a site where they blocked the main road leading to the financial Central district in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
Umbrellas of pro-democracy demonstrators on a road on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Umbrellas of pro-democracy demonstrators on a road on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A barricade of metal fence and umbrellas on a street at the central financial district, near the government headquarters on Sept 30, 2014.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
A barricade of metal fence and umbrellas on a street at the central financial district, near the government headquarters on Sept 30, 2014.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
Umbrellas on a barricade set up by pro-democracy demonstrators in the Central district of Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
Umbrellas on a barricade set up by pro-democracy demonstrators in the Central district of Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014.-- PHOTO: REUTERS
People rallying along a main street at Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong on Sept 30,2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
People rallying along a main street at Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong on Sept 30,2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An umbrella drawn on the floor in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An umbrella drawn on the floor in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Umbrellas and signs placed along a main street at Mongkok shopping district on Sept 30,2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Umbrellas and signs placed along a main street at Mongkok shopping district on Sept 30,2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters taking shelter from the rain under umbrellas as they block the main street to the financial Central district outside of the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. --PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters taking shelter from the rain under umbrellas as they block the main street to the financial Central district outside of the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. --PHOTO: REUTERS
Umbrellas hanging on a railing in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014.-- PHOTO: AFP
Umbrellas hanging on a railing in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2014.-- PHOTO: AFP
Protesters carrying umbrellas brave pepper spray used by riot police as tens of thousands of demonstrators block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS&nb
Protesters carrying umbrellas brave pepper spray used by riot police as tens of thousands of demonstrators block the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A protester uses an umbrella to shield himself from the afternoon sun in the Central Business District in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A protester uses an umbrella to shield himself from the afternoon sun in the Central Business District in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Protesters sleep under umbrellas on Harcourt Road to shield themselves from the morning sun in the Central Business District in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Protesters sleep under umbrellas on Harcourt Road to shield themselves from the morning sun in the Central Business District in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Protesters with umbrellas amid thunder claps before a heavy downpour in the Central Business District in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Protesters with umbrellas amid thunder claps before a heavy downpour in the Central Business District in Hong Kong on Sept 30, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

HONG KONG (AFP/REUTERS) - Protesters armed with little more than umbrellas and determination have brought central Hong Kong to a standstill with their demands for full democracy, in a movement that has been dubbed the "umbrella revolution". But China's censors, who have barred most online discussion of the protests, have so far not blocked searches for the nickname, although it may not survive much longer.

The umbrella is fast emerging as the symbol of the demonstrations that since Sunday have paralysed the Asian financial hub - a quintessential image in a city known for its downpours.

The demonstrations that have brought thousands onto the streets turned violent on Sunday evening as the police used tear gas and pepper spray against the swelling crowds.

The protesters - mostly university students and high school pupils who last week boycotted classes in an attempt to pressure Beijing - were ill-equipped to deal with the sudden violent turn.

They wrapped their eyes in clingfilm or donned goggles, wore paper face masks and cowered behind umbrellas to try to protect themselves from the tear gas and pepper spray.

"The umbrella is probably the most striking symbol of this Hong Kong protest. Our demonstrations used to be so peaceful, even pepper spray was very out of the ordinary," said Ms Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker.

"Now that pepper spray has become so common, we're having to use umbrellas against it."

"The police have very high-quality shields - we just have our umbrellas."

Chinese Internet users were still able to post under the hashtag "Umbrella Revolution" in Chinese and English on Sina Weibo, China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service, on Monday and Tuesday.

The phrase was trending on social media and was also seen scrawled on a banner flung across a pile of upturned barricades and discarded umbrellas that blocked the entrance to a metro station.

Colourful representations of umbrellas have since sprung up on social media around the world, including on Sina Weibo where users often abbreviate words like Hong Kong and Beijing in an apparent bid not to attract the attention of censors.

"Facing a strong opponent, we can only use umbrellas!" said a user on Sina Weibo.

Another said: "Let BJ see the light #umbrella revolution#", in an apparent reference to Beijing.

Others found creative ways to jump what has been dubbed China's "Great Firewall", the cloak of Internet security used to block access to things authorities deem too sensitive.

Professor King-wa Fu, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Centre, said it was likely censors had not yet realised the popularity of the phrase "Umbrella Revolution", which was coined by international media.

"It takes time for the censors to recognise that the umbrella has some special meaning, referring to 'Occupy Central'," said Prof Fu, who runs WeiboScope, a project that analyses censored posts in China.

"I think it's just a matter of time, today or tomorrow. Umbrella will become a sensitive word," he told Reuters.