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After A Period Of Calm, Hong Kong Protests Flared Again Sunday


A brief period of calm in Hong Kong is over.


INSKEEP: Demonstrators protested in major malls, scuffling with police and members of the public. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on how Hong Kong's year is ending.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Late Sunday night, police fired several rounds of tear gas...


MCCARTHY: ...To disperse a small crowd gathered on the streets of Mong Kok, in Hong Kong's Kowloon district. A student journalist was hit on his cheekbone with a tear gas canister. Riot police liberally pepper-sprayed the crowd, some of whom threw objects at police. It ended two weeks of relative quiet, a reminder of the simmering tensions. In agitated Hong Kong this year, holiday merrymaking is muted, but it's still present...


MCCARTHY: ...And so has the solidarity that has marked this protest movement. The No. 1 demand has been an independent inquiry into alleged police abuse during the protests. Hong Kongers have written Christmas cards by the thousands to 70 or so protesters in jail and to those estranged from families who cannot condone demonstrations that defy Beijing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: At a card collection table outside a busy subway station, well-wishers penned their Christmas messages. Bonnie Lock, a 52-year-old housewife, said the protesters need to know they're not forgotten. She says they helped write a new chapter in Hong Kong's history.

BONNIE LOCK: (Through interpreter) The protests have affected how the world view the Chinese Communist Party because in the past 20 years, the world only sees the economic benefits that it brings, but now they realize it could affect the world order and that it's a threat to freedom and democracies around the world.

MCCARTHY: In an upscale shopping mall called Pacific Place, a toymaker arranges figures the size of a Ken doll. He and his team of hobbyists have captured what has become Hong Kong's iconic image - the fully kitted-out protester.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "He wears fireproof gloves because he may have to pick up a tear gas canister," he says. He's got a large water canister to douse the tear gas. So popular are these dolls, the small online company that makes them cannot keep up with orders. Christmas accessories include a Santa's hat, but the toymaker seated beside me says they're not child's play. Uppermost in his mind is the first protester who died in a fall, hanging a banner just outside this mall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "Initially, we were politically apathetic. I never thought protest could lead to death. After that, we kept thinking, how could that happen and paid more attention. We decided to make these toys to express ourselves," he says. The toymaker speaks on the condition of anonymity. He has received threats and chooses to be identified only by the initial C.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "Everyone in Hong Kong is scared," he says. "But if none of us comes out because of our fear, how do we fight for Hong Kong?"

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Singing in non-English language).

MCCARTHY: A muffled hymn for the man who inspired toymaker C. Sunday was the six month anniversary since the 35-year-old protester died. Hundreds delivered flowers and lit candles near the spot where he fell. Winnie Wong, 55, looks back on the past six months mournfully. It's been agony, she says. And for 2020, Wong says she sees no clear path ahead and that it will largely depend on the support of the international community.

WINNIE WONG: They have to think about themselves. They have to think about making business with China, too. So we are not sure. But we can only - walking forward day by day.

MCCARTHY: Winnie Wong also says Hong Kong cannot do so alone.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "NEW LAND DISCOVERY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.