Have you ever wondered what the three-finger hand symbol used in Asian demonstrations means?

Myanmar’s protests this year in Yangon City in February. EPA-EFE / AOP

Over the years, Asian military dictatorships are opposed by a three-finger symbol taken straight out of a Hollywood movie. Most recently the world has witnessed protesters in Myanmar use the popular hand-signal, but what does it mean? Jussi Mankkinen from Finnish YLE has the answer.

According to his recent article, Jussi Mankkinen explains that the hand-signal comes from author Suzanne Collins ’ dystopian Hunger Game trilogy, which was also made into a popular film series in 2012-2015. The films deal with the horror picture of a society of the future with a brutal dictatorship. In the famine game, the citizens opposed the dictatorship with the special three-finger hand signal. In the book and film series, the signal means solidarity and symbolizes freedom. It defends democracy against tyranny.

In Thailand, the three-finger signal is officially banned after it became part of street protests and given a prominent and significant role in the protests by people who opposed the military coup in 2014. In 2015, in the aftermath of the big demonstrations in Thailand, the official website of The Hunger Games products released a tweet stating that “the revolution affects us all.” The three-finger symbol was also asked to be shared forward.

Around the same time, the three-finger hand-signal quickly spread to Hong Kong where it was used in protests against China’s tightening grip, and this year the signal has spread to Myanmar after a military junta seized power in early February. In Myanmar, at best, up to 100,000 people have taken part in the protests, and using the three-finger symbol, protesters have carried pictures of the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Other popular culture phenomena have also spread to recent protests in the country and protests in Myanmar have also featured, among other things, the cartoon character Pepe the Frog. Pepe the Frog is created by Matt Furie and turned into a popular meme, and used amongst others, by the far right side in the United States.

The history of the character used in the democratic demonstrations of Asian states and the Hollywood film series has its roots in the international scouting movement. There it refers to the three passages of the scout promise and the mutual brotherhood of the scouts. The three-finger symbol is also used in Serbia, where it refers to the country’s Orthodox religion and symbolizes the Holy Trinity. In a Serbian symbol, however, the upright fingers are the thumb and forefinger, and middle finger.

Protesters in Hong Kong at night in 2014. EPA-EFE / AOP

About Mette Larsen

ScandAsia Journalist • Scandinavian Publishing Co., Ltd. • Thailand

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