This story appears in the June 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Sticking Points On June 4, 1989, the year Mark Leong started photographing in China, he was in Hong Kong in the midst of protests against the government crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Last year, on the eve of the event's 22nd anniversary, a similar scene unfolded. This time the protesters were a group of artists in Causeway Bay, an upscale shopping district. "Hong Kong's continued freedom allows for playful creative expression," says Leong. "These artists used the color yellow to represent freedom, peace, and the Chinese people."—Luna Shyr
Behind the Lens
Q: What stood out to you about this scene?
A: I was struck that the artist felt, or knew, he could make his body into a sounding board for antigovernment rhetoric. He stood there for around two hours while his collaborators offered pens and sticky notes to passersby, telling them to write a June 4 message. The messages include "Justice and ethics," "We won't forget," and "Release activists." Lots of them just say "6.4" or "June 4."
Q: People seem transfixed by the person laying down in the background. What was going on?
A: Hong Kong is as camera-happy a place as I've ever been. "Post-it man" was a great draw, and I had a hard time taking his picture without someone else jumping into the shot with their own camera. Attention shifted when the other artist lay down, poured some water in his mouth, and let little river crabs swim around inside. It's a visual play on a Chinese euphemism for censorship. This photo reminds me of the 1985 film Brazil. In it a rebel character meets his demise when sheets of paper start sticking to him, overwhelm him en masse, then blow away but leave no trace of him behind.