Taipei's Lennon Wall


Taipei's Lennon Wall

A silent but colorful form of protest has spread from Hong Kong to Taipei and beyond, but has its roots on a quiet square in Prague.


There's an underpass on the corner of Roosevelt Road and Xinsheng South Road in Taipei, Taiwan. From street level, it's nothing special - there are underpasses like this all over the city. But go down a few steps and you'll be in one of the liveliest - and most orderly - political protests you'll probably ever see.

Thousands of handwritten Post-it Notes, banners and prints line the walls of the underpass, each with its own message of support for the protesters in Hong Kong. They sprung up spontaneously, just like they did in Hong Kong during this summer's protests, and just like they did during the Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong in 2014.


All of these messages, or at least the way they've been put up, have their roots half a world away, in a secluded square in the Mala Strana neighborhood of Prague, in the Czech Republic. There, on a wall facing the French Embassy, but actually on the property of the Embassy of Malta, there's a wall covered in graffiti, much of it in tribute of John Lennon.

The graffiti started in the 1980s, when someone painted a picture of Lennon on the wall with some of his lyrics. Due to a quirk in the law involving the fact that the wall actually stands on sovereign territory of the Republic of Malta, Czech Communist authorities didn't intervene.

The graffiti stayed, and over time, more and more messages started to appear on the wall, and they keep appearing to this day - so much so that the current city authorities have made moves to return the wall to its original purpose - in celebration of Lennon and free speech.

The wall in Prague inspired protesters in Hong Kong to put up their own messages, but because Hong Kongers are orderly, the messages were put on Post-it Notes so as not to damage property. But they were there by the thousands. And this year, during this summer's protests, the practice of creating "Lennon Walls" spread to multiple locations throughout the city - more than 150 locations. And they spread to other cities, including to this underpass on the corner of Roosevelt Road and Xinsheng South Road in Taipei.

Taipei's Lennon Wall has thousands - maybe tens of thousands - of messages. Most are in Chinese, and the vast majority of the messages are in support of the protesters in Hong Kong. Anyone can write a message - you're encouraged to say whatever you like - and some do just that. Some wish ill will upon Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and some call for "an eye for an eye," both in terms of wishing to exact revenge on the Hong Kong police, but specifically referring to a nurse who lost an eye when she was shot by a "non-lethal munition." A couple of the Post-its call for freedom for Kashmir. But they are by far in the minority - most wish the protesters well.

A lot of the messages are funny - one says "Ramen!" - owing to the youth and media savvy of the protesters, who are aware that a lot of the battle is spent online, and that humor often gets across as well as anger.

Even the discredited meme Pepe the Frog appears on the walls. Pepe has been adopted by the Hong Kong protesters as one of its protest symbols, which may come as some surprise to Americans who only know that he was used by alt-right protesters. But here Pepe stands with the protesters.

Taipei's Lennon Wall is cared for by a group of volunteers, mostly from Hong Kong. An elderly woman sits on a stool near a box filled with Post-its and marking pens. She doesn't speak English, but soon an energetic woman calling herself "Dora" comes over, offering to explain what's going on in English. When asked for an interview, she quickly agrees, but with the condition that she be able to wear a mask to hide her identity - she's from Hong Kong, and, like most of the protesters there, is concerned about repercussions. (Video courtesy Sian Gard)

A lot of Taipei residents have made it a point to visit the wall, which has the full support of city authorities and the police. The Taiwanese are also concerned about what could happen to them if the protests in Hong Kong are unsuccessful and an emboldened China decides to make a move on Taiwan. Most people in the underpass pull out their phones to take pictures of the riot of color and the explosion of messages.

I had my own opportunity to talk with Dora about the Lennon Wall, and she also had a message to the people of Prague.

I take the opportunity to leave a message on behalf of the team back at the Lennon Wall magazine at Anglo-American University. And somehow I had the impression that the other side of this highway underpass lets you out on the sovereign territory of the Embassy of Malta on a secluded street in Prague's Malá Strana.

Video and text by Douglas Arellanes

August 29, 2019

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