Video of London cyclist challenging pro-China demonstrators reaches 1.5million on Facebook in 36 hours.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Spontaneous comments about human rights during Chinese president’s London trip go viral (skip to 21 seconds in)


On Tuesday evening, campaign group Free Tibet posted a video on its Facebook page of a cyclist in London stopping to raise human rights in China and Tibet Chinese demonstrators waiting to show their support for Chinese President Xi Jinping on his State Visit to the UK. 24 hours later, the post had reached more than one-and-a-half million people. The video itself has now been viewed more than 500,000 times on Facebook and more than 40,000 times on Free Tibet’s YouTube channel. Numbers are still rising. The video has been posted widely on Chinese-language social media. The title of one post is “London guy has more guts than Cameron”(1).


The video was taken outside the Guildhall in the City of London on Tuesday 21 October, around 4pm.  President Xi was due to attend an event there that evening and Chinese people had begun to gather to show their support. A handful of Tibet protesters were also among the crowd when Paul Powlesland cycled by and stopped to speak to the Chinese people about human rights in China.


Alistair Currie, campaigns manager at Free Tibet, said:


“On Tuesday, I was one of a handful of Tibet protesters surrounded by hundreds of Chinese demonstrators when a young man on a bike stopped as he was cycling by and began politely asking them about the reasons they were there. I’ve been a professional campaigner for 15 years and I was incredibly impressed by his eloquence, manner and guts.  He cycled off but then a moment later returned and started talking to them again. I thought ‘I’ve got to get this on my camera’. I introduced myself before he left and asked him if he would mind if we posted the video to Free Tibet’s Facebook page. He said no problem and cycled away – I didn’t even know his name.


“We posted the video and I went back to our protest and it was only the next day at work that I saw it had reached 150,000 people. Over Wednesday, we watched in amazement as the numbers went up and up and up. We were delighted to learn who the mystery man was when he posted on our page himself to thank everyone who’d supported him. When the number hit one million, I gave him a call and asked if he’d be happy for us to go to the press. He said ‘go for it’.


Paul told Free Tibet:


The last 24 hours have been completely unexpected, but also quite wonderful to read the comments and see the shares from people around the world who believe in the same ideals. I just decided to say something on the spur of the moment, but the reaction to it has made me realise I should get more involved in campaigning for the things I believe in.  What the reaction to this video has shown me more than anything else is quite how many people around the world believe in the same ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights for all.


After going viral in Hong Kong, Paul was also contacted by a newspaper there (2), and explained a little more about what happened:


I was cycling back from court (I am a barrister) to my office through the City of London, when I became aware of groups of people waving Chinese flags, with banners welcoming the President. I stopped at various groups to ask what they were demonstrating about, but none of them seemed to want to talk to me; a few told me to mind my own business. It dawned on me that these seemed to be fake protesters. It is also made me realise the irony that these people were using the freedom of speech and right to protest that we have in Britain to praise and welcome a President who would never allow such things in China, let alone Tibet.


Alistair Currie added:


“The success of the video is particularly gratifying because China did its very best to prevent pro-Tibet and human rights protesters being seen and heard during Xi’s visit, including at the Guildhall. They outnumbered us ten-to-one, used drums and gongs to drown out chants and draped their enormous flags in front of Tibet flags. With logistical support from China’s embassy, their spontaneous protests were anything but. And then one reasonable, polite man does something really spontaneous, stands up for what’s right and gets his voice heard worldwide. That’s the power of free speech – something the Chinese government could learn more about.”


Media has reported that flags, banners and clothing worn by pro-China has been supplied by the Chinese Embassy, some imported in diplomatic bags (3). President Xi’s visit to the UK began on Tuesday and concludes today (4).


For further comment and to arrange an interview with Paul Powlesland, please contact Alistair Currie at Free Tibet


T: +44(0)207 324 4605




  1. Chinese-language blog referring to David Cameron; video in Taiwanese
  2. The Stand (article in Chinese, Paul’s interview in English)
  3. Use of diplomatic bags reported in
  4. Free Tibet news reports of pro-Tibet demonstrations in London and

Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese human rights abuses and an end to the occupation of Tibet.