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Victor Hugo in Hong Kong: Why street protesters adopted a 'Les Misérables' song

by KPCC Staff | Take Two®

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Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. Thousands of people are pouring into a main road in Hong Kong to show support for a pro-democracy protest after the government called off talks with student leaders. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) Kin Cheung/AP

Tuesday in Hong Kong, hundreds of police used chainsaws and sledgehammers to tear down barricades built by pro-democracy protesters. Authorities were clearing the way on a major road which has been blocked off for two weeks.

Demonstrators, many of them students, have been demanding full democracy for Hong Kong.

To illustrate their point, they've adopted the anthem, "Do You Hear the People Sing" from the musical "Les Misérables."


The choice isn't surprising, said Shaoling Ma, professor of comparative literature at Penn State.

"It's a very stirring song with a very simple message," said Ma. "It's simply, that a unified people – an image of all of France in the case of 'Les Mis,' but in this case Hong Kong, too – who can possibly unite and march behind one cause."

Of course, the situation on the ground is more complicated, with different groups expressing varying goals or missions. Some protesters have even championed a Cantonese translation of the popular tune, which adds a new layer of meaning, one which is both more tentative and radical, said Ma.


"The song ends with [a line that says] no one has the right to remain silent," said Ma. "And therefore really calling people who have yet to join the protest to join in the ranks."

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