Joshua Wong is the 17-year-old student leader driving Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Not a lot of scrawny 17-year-old boys get featured in the New York Times. But Joshua Wong didn’t just get featured – his bowl cut hairstyle even got a mention in the article’s first paragraph, published on NYT’s Oct 1 front page. 

Of course, they couldn’t help it. Here’s a guy who wears geeky glasses, looks like he’s 14 and, well, has a bowl cut. The BBC described him as “an unlikely looking revolutionary leader”.

Nevertheless, he’s one of the most prominent leaders of a pro-democracy movement that has been sweeping Hong Kong.

Display of umbrellas during the ongoing protest, Occupy Hong Kong, on Oct 7. – EPA/Dennis M. Sabangan 

Wong is now renowned for his rousing speeches and confrontations with authority, making him the perfect symbol for the Umbrella Revolution (named after the usage of umbrellas by demonstrators to protect themselves from tear gas fired by authorities), which has seen the youth of Hong Kong punching above their weight in the campaign for a more democratic future for their city.

NYT quoted part of a speech he made at a protest recently, on the Chinese National Day holiday: “When I heard the national anthem starting to play, I certainly did not feel moved so much as angry (…) When it tells you, ‘Arise! All those who refuse to be slaves!’ – why is our treatment today any different from the slaves?”

Wong, who has just started university in Hong Kong, founded the student group Scholarism and in 2012 successfully mobilised tens of thousands of protesters against the government’s plans to introduce pro-Beijing “patriotic education” into the city’s schools.

Today, gossip columns debate his love life and his stage presence has won him a loyal following among both young and old. He is such a high profile personality, that a press conference had to be held in July to announce his university entrance exam results.

His results weren’t spectacular. What he has achieved in politics, however, is nothing short of extraordinary.

“If you told people five years ago that high school students would get involved in politics, they wouldn’t have believed you,” he told NYT in July. 

“For students, what we have is persistence in our principles and stubbornness in our ideals,” he said, adding, “If students don’t stand in the front line, who will?”

Sources: AFP, The New York Times, BBC