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Legitimacy and Forced Democratisation in Social Movements

A Case Study of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong
Chi Kwok and Ngai Keung Chan
p. 7-16


Social movements are voluntary events whose participants have the right to leave whenever they disagree with their leaders. For this reason, the legitimacy of social movements is often perceived as inherent and thus of only secondary importance. This article aims to repudiate this view by demonstrating that legitimacy issues can impose constraints and have significant impacts on the relationships and decisions of the leaders of social movements. In the case of the Umbrella Movement, bottom-up legitimacy challenges to movement leaders’ authority not only forced the leaders to reform their decision-making structure and even implement direct democracy, but also intensified the relationships among the leaders of different factions, ultimately undermining the leadership’s overall effectiveness.

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Bibliographical reference

Chi Kwok and Ngai Keung Chan, « Legitimacy and Forced Democratisation in Social Movements », China Perspectives, 2017/3 | 2017, 7-16.

Electronic reference

Chi Kwok and Ngai Keung Chan, « Legitimacy and Forced Democratisation in Social Movements », China Perspectives [Online], 2017/3 | 2017, Online since 01 September 2017, connection on 23 January 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the authors

Chi Kwok

Chi Kwok is a PhD student in political theory at the University of Toronto.Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Sidney Smith Hall, Room 3018, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, Canada (

Ngai Keung Chan

Ngai Keung Chan is a PhD student in communication at Cornell University.Department of Communication, Cornell University, 454 Mann Library Building, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA (

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