Since the start of protests in Thailand in July this year, the movement has seen protesters adopt different mascots to get their message across to the masses. The protests were started as a movement to remove Prima Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha and demand reform of the Thai monarchy. Everything from wearing dinosaur costumes to singing the Thai version of the 1980s musical Les Misérables’ principal songs “Do You Hear the People Sing?” to displaying the three-finger salute with the most recent addition to this compendium being a large inflatable pool duck. But over the last seven days, these inflatable ducks have become something way more than just a mascot at the protests.
What happened in Thailand?
From this week’s protests in Thailand, all the social media platforms were flooded with pictures of these inflatable rubber ducks with many of them showing deflated rubber pieces stained with purple dye projected from water cannons launched by Thai police.
It did not take time for Thailand’s youth to quickly turn the yellow rubber duck into a symbol of the protest movement. The biggest way in which this mass recognition of yellow ducks as a protest figure was made possible by the youth was by creating related artwork available for purchase online. One of the posters personified a yellow rubber duck as a shirtless muscular man who was protecting young people forming the crowd on streets from a hail of bullets fired by Thai police. Joshua Wong, an influential Hong Kong activist, has been a vocal supporter of Thai protesters and had also tweeted “Creativity wins. Long live rubber ducks” in context with this unique usage of ducks in the protests.
The content related to the protests is being widely shared across various platforms by Thai social media users from all parts of the world using the hashtag #RubberDuck. They have shown continuous support to the protestors by regularly sharing content along with related hashtags that have been used since the protests started earlier this year.
Why are protesters using inflatable ducks and what do they signify?
Some protesters have been heard saying that these inflatable ducks were initially brought out onto the roads as a joke. Others have told news publications that the rubber ducks were significantly used to mock the monarchy and the government.
But with the intensification of the Thai government’s crackdown on the protests, the inflated ducks took on a new role. According to a report by Reuters, it was last Tuesday when protesters had gathered outside the police headquarters in Bangkok and these yellow rubber ducks were seen on the streets for the very first time. This particular day was also labeled as the day of the most violent of demonstrations.
The inflated yellow ducks were used as shields by the protestors who took to the streets and advanced towards police lines as the police forces began firing water cannons. In the recently clicked photographs and recorded videos of the Thailand protests, people are seen holding these massive yellow plastic ducks hovering above the crowds.
But why only yellow inflatable ducks?
According to the observers, the yellow inflatable rubber duck idea has taken inspiration from a series of floating sculptures titled ‘Rubber Duck’ by Florentijn Hofman, a Dutch artist. The series of these sculptures have been exhibited in several cities around the world including Baku, Hong Kong, and Sydney.
These sculptures were installed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour in May 2013. But just a few weeks after its installation, the Chinese government began imposing censorship on online discussions of the term “Big Yellow Duck”. This came after activists photoshopped images of the duck into the iconic photograph of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests’ Tank Man. This momentum has made this yellow duck into an unusual symbol of protests around the world.
Have these yellow ducks been surfaced anywhere else in the world as a symbol of protests?
In Brazil, in the year 2016, the country witnessed groups calling for the impeachment of Brazil’s then-President Dilma Rousseff. Hurdling on the streets, people began using the rubber duck as a mascot to their protests. However, Hofman, the artist, at that time had alleged that the use of the yellow ducks as a protest symbol by these groups amounted to copyright infringement.
In Russia, in the years 2017-18, versions of these huge yellow ducks were seen as a part of the anti-corruption protests organized by the Russians. The protestors also called for the resignation of Vladimir Putin and his government among other demands.
In Hong Kong, in the year 2019, the ducks saw a special mention during these protests where the natives confronted police against the unwanted Chinese influence in the country. Protestors were photographed carrying these small plastic ducks, especially in one iconic image which shows a battalion of police standing on one side of a road with a small-sized rubber duck placed in front of them on the ground.