The umbrella in Hong Kong

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The whole world knows that, just as there was a "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world during the spring of 2011 and a "Sunflower Revolution" in Taiwan during the spring of this year, there is currently an "Umbrella Revolution" going on in Hong Kong.

The most visually evident aspect of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement is the widespread use of the umbrella, not only to shade against sun and rain, but more importantly to block tear gas and pepper spray.

In the context of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement, the umbrella has spawned a host of poignant images that are worth pondering.

"Hong Kong protests spark wave of 'umbrella' art" (10/17/14)

"Understanding the symbols of Hong Kong's 'Umbrella Revolution'" (9/30/14)

Linguistically, the most salient fact about the Umbrella Revolution is that Cantonese has its own word ze1 遮 ("umbrella"), and so doesn't need to use the standard Mandarin item.  Ze1遮 also functions as a verb that means "to obstruct, shut out; to shelter; to hide; cover up" (Sidney Lau 1977: 385).

Of course, this works well to express the most crucial function of the umbrella at the present time in Hong Kong.  But the sheer fact that the Cantonese have their own completely separate word for "umbrella" sends a powerful message of independent assertiveness at a crucial moment in the evolving relationship between Cantonese and Mandarin.

[Thanks to Bob Bauer and Abraham Chan]



20 Comments

  1. Sili said,

    October 19, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

    The whole world knows […] there was a "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world during the spring of 2011 and a "Sunflower Revolution" in Taiwan during the spring of this year

    Ooops …

    Anyhooo … Why google.ca?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 19, 2014 @ 10:25 pm

    Because I'm in Canada now. As I travel around the world, Google shifts from one country to another.

  3. rosie said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 2:04 am

    The English-speaking media call the 2010-2011 revolution in some Arabic-speaking countries the Arab Spring.

  4. DMT said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

    Cantonese has its own word for "umbrella," but there doesn't seem to be any strong preference among the protesters for using the Cantonese rather than the Mandarin word. I have noticed placards referring to jyu5saan3 gaak3ming6 雨傘革命 and jyu5saan3 wan6dung6 雨傘運動, but none referring to jyu5ze1 gaak3ming6 雨遮革命, even if the latter is being widely used on the Cantonese-language internet and is the title for the relevant page of Cantonese Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page also mentions ze1daa2 gaak3ming6 遮打革命 as an alternative name for the movement, since it is taking place near Chater Road (ze1daa2dou6 遮打道, which because of the characters used to transcribe "Chater" can also be interpreted as "Umbrella-Hit" Road.)

    As far as I can tell, the term "umbrella revolution" appears to have been first used by the international media and was only later adopted by the protesters themselves. The protesters had not initially thought of their actions as intending to lead to any kind of revolution, but the label was apparently too tempting for the international news media – and subsequently the protesters themselves – to resist.

  5. Sili said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

    What a perfectly reasonable explanation. I was ready to invoke charges of Internet censorship.

    The revolutionary names are still new to me, though.

  6. Eidolon said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    @DMT It comes from Western media, specifically, just as "Jasmine Revolution" and "Arab Spring" did. I do not believe the HK protesters are conscious of the political symbolism of using 遮 in place of 傘, though it is obvious that members of the pro-Cantonese community are starting to become aware. Still, given that the term "Umbrella Revolution" is a Western media invention, I wonder how widespread it is within the protester community itself.

  7. Tom said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

    "Cantonese has its own word ze1 遮 ("umbrella"), and so doesn't need to use the standard Mandarin item. Ze1遮 also functions as a verb that means "to obstruct, shut out; to shelter; to hide; cover up" "

    Perhaps worth noting that 遮 zhe1 as the verb to shelter/cover exists in Mandarin too. It's the noun that is unique to Cantonese.
    (I know you know that, but it might not be clear to other readers.)

  8. Victor Mair said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 10:40 pm

    l. The symbolism of the umbrella in this protest movement is massive. I should have thought that the first three links of the original post document that convincingly.

    2. The commenters who downplay the significance of the umbrella in the movement are ignoring its practical use as a shield against pepper spray and tear gas, which I also emphasized in the original post.

    3. As we have shown repeatedly in numerous Language Log posts, when Cantonese speakers write, they usually employ a style that is much, much closer to Mandarin than to Cantonese. If you want to know how ze1 遮 is playing out against yǔsǎn 雨傘 on the streets of Hong Kong, then you have to listen to what people are saying, not what they're writing.

  9. GF said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 2:58 am

    Apple Daily, the most popular newspaper in Hong Kong (and sufficiently independent from the elite that its distribution was blocked by thugs recently), uses 雨傘革命 at http://umbrella.appledaily.com/

  10. Victor Mair said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 7:15 am

    @GF

    As one would have expected.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

    For those who are still skeptical of the central symbolic significance of the umbrella for the Hong Kong democracy movement, see:

    Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

    http://victoriatbhui.wordpress.com/

    Umbrella Movement in art Posted on October 21, 2014

    http://victoriatbhui.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/umbrella-movement-in-art/

    Be sure to watch the Facebook video whose link is just under the title of this post.

    https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152467421086939

    The "Umbrella Man" has become just as much of an iconic symbol for the Hong Kong democracy protests as "Tank Man" is for the Tiananmen Demonstrations.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    Cantonese actually has two words for 'umbrella': (1) ze1 遮 and (2) jyu5 ze1 雨遮

    The second item was recorded in Robert Morrison's English-Cantonese/Cantonese-English dictonary that was published in Macao in 1828.

    Results from my recent Google searches indicate that the standard Chinese word 雨傘 'umbrella' is the one that most commonly occurs in the various phrases for Umbrella Movement and Umbrella Revolution.

    The full Google results in descending order are as follows:

    雨傘革命: 999,000 Google hits
    雨傘運動: 859,000 Google hits
    雨傘行動: 29,000 Google hits

    遮打革命:111,000 Google hits

    遮行動: 11,600 Google hits
    撑遮行動:11,300 Google hits
    遮革命: 4,880 Google hits
    遮運動: 2,900 Google hits

    雨遮革命: 2,260 Google hits
    雨遮運動: 851 Google hits
    雨遮行動: 76 Google hits

  13. DMT said,

    October 21, 2014 @ 10:25 pm

    @VHM:

    For those who are still skeptical of the central symbolic significance of the umbrella…

    I'm not sure whether this is referring to me, but I certainly didn't mean to downplay either the practical or symbolic significance of umbrellas in the protests. My comments were meant only in relation to the phrase "umbrella revolution," and apply much more to the "revolution" part than to the "umbrella" part.

    when Cantonese speakers write, they usually employ a style that is much, much closer to Mandarin than to Cantonese. If you want to know how ze1 遮 is playing out against yǔsǎn 雨傘 on the streets of Hong Kong, then you have to listen to what people are saying, not what they're writing.

    Surely the potential contrast isn't between ze1 遮 and yǔsǎn 雨傘, but between ze1 遮 and jyu5saan3 雨傘?

    At least some of the protesters are carrying placards written in Cantonese, and some of them probably include the character 遮 – I just haven't seen any so far. The character 遮 is more widespread on internet/Twitter posts related to the protests. Cantonese television news reporters use terms like jyu5saan3 gaak3ming6 雨傘革命 – this is to be expected, since television news spoken Cantonese tends to hew more closely to written style (and is thus more Mandarinized) than colloquial spoken Cantonese.

    The original post implied that the linguistic difference between Cantonese and MSM words for "umbrella" is connected in some way to the political symbolism of the umbrella in the protests. I see no evidence that this is the case.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    October 22, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

    Check out this nice article that was just posted:

    "How Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protesters are using their native language to push back against Beijing"

    http://qz.com/283395/how-hong-kongs-umbrella-movement-protesters-are-using-their-native-language-to-push-back-against-beijing/

  15. DMT said,

    October 23, 2014 @ 12:43 am

    @VHM: Thanks for sharing that article – it includes photographs of placards featuring the phrase 遮打革命, which I hadn't seen previously.

  16. Eidolon said,

    October 23, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

    Re: http://qz.com/283395/how-hong-kongs-umbrella-movement-protesters-are-using-their-native-language-to-push-back-against-beijing/

    I'm not sure what this author is talking about when she states that 'many scholars consider [Yue, Min, and Hakka] to be offshoots of a different language than [ancient Chinese].' Any ideas? She cites Wikipedia but Wikipedia certainly does not have this statement.

  17. DMT said,

    October 25, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    @Eidolon: Some scholars claim to have found a Tai substrate for Yue and/or an Austroasiatic substrate for Min, but I don't believe any scholarly consensus has been reached regarding these claims.

  18. victoria hui said,

    October 27, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

    see also http://victoriatbhui.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/umbrella-whats-in-a-name/
    I have a lot more images but don't have time to post.

  19. victoria hui said,

    October 27, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

    it is true that many ordinary protestors still use "revolution" while leaders prefer "movement."

    Question: how best to translate 抗命不認命?Some suggest: "Resist, do not submit." Thanks.

  20. victoria hui said,

    October 27, 2014 @ 10:27 pm

    it is true that many ordinary protestors still use "revolution" while leaders prefer "movement."

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