Hong Kong’s Sickness

Hong Kong writer Hon Lai-chu on a city dividedtrans. Andrea Lingenfelter

Translator’s note: Hon Lai Chu, an award-winning writer from Hong Kong, wrote this essay at the end of August. At that time, her neighborhood of Tsuen Wan was the scene of violent clashes between police and demonstrators. In early September, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the extradition bill that initially sparked the protests would be withdrawn, yet the gesture was seen as too little too late, and it was not until October 23 that the bill was formally withdrawn. Demonstrations continued, and the situation has become increasingly volatile, with Polytechnic University under siege in mid November, and a December 8 march drawing an estimated 800,000 participants.

In her essay, Hon Lai Chu writes of the loss of public trust, and references one of Hong Kong’s formerly most beloved and reliable institutions, the MTR metro system, which has periodically closed stations to make it more difficult for people to reach demonstrations. There have also been numerous documented instances of police brutality, as well as organized attacks on protesters by members of organized crime, while police have turned a blind eye. As Hon Lai Chu observes, like teargas residue (which left this writer with a headache and watery eyes after a brief visit to a shopping mall in Mongkok), the after-effects of this conflict will linger long after the crisis has been resolved. – Andrea Lingenfelter

Hong Kong these days is like a body afflicted with a malignant tumor: the mind is unwilling to acknowledge the tumor’s existence and only wants to clean up the annoying but superficial daily signs of disease; yet the heart is plagued by unease. Illness is an ongoing struggle in the body, and only a healthy person has the strength to withstand the battle between good cells and bad cells. Whether we’re talking about one person or an entire city, a bout of sickness represents an opportunity for deeply seated problems to be cured. Although a body that has never known illness may continue to function normally, when toxins accumulate and cannot be easily expelled, the condition can be fatal.


The Epistemology of Surveillance

Andrea Lingenfelter reviews Dragonfly Eyes, a film by Xu Bing

A grainy black and white long shot, filmed from a high angle. A solitary figure is walking away from the camera, along the edge of what appears to be a lake or small reservoir. It’s night-time, and the person walks unsteadily, weaving from left to right, as if drunk, or maybe just tired. Then, without warning, the person falls into the water. It’s hard to tell if the person can swim or not; they seem to struggle. We see their head and arms, but after a few seconds, their head and arms disappear beneath the surface. Gradually the ripples subside.

According to the timestamp, this took place some years ago. But that makes it no less immediate, no less disturbing. We have become witnesses after the fact to a death — one that seems to have gone unwitnessed in real time. Powerless to help, we feel implicated all the same.