In Depth

Hong Kong: what is the Lamcao movement?

Radical protestors warn China that ‘if we burn, you burn with us’

Desperate activists in Hong Kong are striking back against China’s tough new security laws in the territory by threatening “mutual destruction”.

The protest movement is known as Lamcao - which translates from Cantonese as “if we burn, you will burn with us”.

Who are Lamcao?

Members of the Lamcao, or laam caau (pronounced “lahm tsow”), movement are pushing for autonomy for Hong Kong and the destruction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“Frustrated with the futility of peaceful street demonstrations, they are resorting to a ‘mutual destruction’ ideology and are willing to put their beloved city and their own futures on the line to bring down the communist regime on the mainland,” says The Times.

“The hope is that a new, free city will rise from the ashes.” 

“Essentially, Lamcao is our way to strike back at the Chinese Communist Party,” a protester who asked to be identified as Finn told Quartz. Lamcao is “a bargaining move for Hong Kong against a major power in the world… if we are not allowed to be autonomous, we will use our own leverage to bring CCP down with us”.

The protesters believe that the growing unrest over Beijing’s new security laws presents a chance to seize autonomy for Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents, following years of broken promises since the UK handed the territory back to China in 1997.

“We have already wasted decades bargaining for our promised freedoms,” said Finn. “Once you realise that there is no way back and the veneer of freedom in the past has peeled off then taking action is the only real answer.”

What have the protestors done?

In a bid to put pressure on the China-backed Hong Kong government, the protesters initially “tried to paralyse Hong Kong airport, sought international sanctions against the territory, and attempted to hurt the city’s financial system, though without much success”, says The Times.

But the activists are now counting on Beijing to do the dirty work for them, by fuelling a backlash among fed-up Hongkongers.

“To the Chinese Communist Party, we urge them to further suppress Hong Kong, to destroy Hong Kong so that Hong Kong people realise the political reality,” an unnamed protester told the newspaper.

“The idea is to tear down the illusion of prosperity that the government and the Chinese Communist Party have been trying to sell to the Hong Kong people here, to eventually let people know that we do not have any space to retreat and surrender,” the protester added.

“As long as they try to suppress Hong Kong people’s voices, it’s helping mutual destruction.”

What are their chances of success?

Whether a small group of Hong Kong protestors will be able to topple the powerful and authoritarian CCP regime is questionable. But the young people of the Lamcao movement remain undaunted.

“We don’t think China has a fair chance to win against the free world,” one activist told The Times, adding that Hong Kong could be a catalyst for the fall of the regime on the mainland. “It’s a trigger point to that acceleration process.”

The rebel group are warning international observers that allowing China to take control of Hong Kong could encourage President Xi Jinping’s regime to become even more expansionist.

“If the world turns its back and forgets Hong Kong, the threat to freedom and universal values will continue and will eventually come back to haunt those that turned a blind eye. Be aware or be next,” said one protester.

But some anti-CCP Hongkongers are weary of the Lamcao movement. Benny Tai, a legal scholar who started the Occupy Central Movement in the territory in 2014, says mutual destruction has already begun.

“It actually is sad, because they do not see any other way out. Rather than being pushed off the cliff, they now want to see who can survive when both parties fall off the cliff,” he wrote in an article for Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers appear to be worried too. Priscilla Leung, member of Hong Kong’s Basic Law Committee, released a music video last month urging citizens to reject the extreme tactics of the Lamcao protestors, as the Hong Kong Free Press website reported at the time. 

“Hong Kong has already been broken to bits, we’ll lose everything, do you still want mutual destruction,” Leung sings.

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