Hong Kong’s Protest of Enchantment

How the soft power of the democracy movement is still alive  – Antony Dapiran

Based on extracts from City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong 

Hong Kong can feel at times like a disenchanted city.

The protests of 2019 drew upon a deep-seated malaise, bringing onto the streets people who felt they were stuck with a leader they hadn’t chosen, running a government that didn’t listen to them, in a city whose housing they could not afford, and with wages and an economy that were going nowhere. During the course of 2020, the new National Security Law coupled with an ongoing crackdown by the authorities has left the population even more dispirited. Many with the means or the qualifications are actively exploring options for emigration. Others despair at what the future might hold for them – or their children.

It is hard to love a disenchanted city. Disenchantment breeds cynicism, and creates an emotional detachment from the community. Yet there is a solution to this state in which Hong Kong finds itself.



Jack London’s Oriental War

The writer’s stint as a war-correspondent in 1904 – Paul French

“I am disgusted! I’ll never go to a war between Orientals again. The vexations and delay are too great.”
– Jack London

He had sailed his broken down sloop, Razzle Dazzle, as an oyster pirate. He had crewed the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland along the coast of Japan. He had served with Kelly’s Army and tramped the western United States. He had dropped out of UC Berkeley. He was just 19. He joined the Klondike Gold Rush; he became a socialist. In 1903, at just 27, he published The Call of the Wild and with it gained money and success (10,000 copies flew off the shelves in the first week of publication). Then, in early 1904, the San Francisco Examiner asked Jack London if he’d like to report on a war between Asia’s rising power, Japan, and Europe’s largest but crumbling monarchy, Russia. Though the war was between the armies of Tsar Alexander and the Meiji Emperor, it was to be fought largely on Korean and Chinese soil. London, in the midst of a protracted divorce from a four-year marriage, thought “why not”? He embarked for Yokohama.

London’s time as a war correspondent in Asia has slipped from his popular biography. The “big books” (The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea-Wolf, The Iron Heel), his leftist politics, his man’s-man adventurer persona – these are what have come to dominate. The same goes for the conflagration he covered, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05: it, too, has rather slipped from history. It shouldn’t have. Instead we mark anniversaries of World War I and, in some parts of Asia, the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. Yet we need to make room for the big event that fell halfway between the two, a war that not only shook the solidity of Western right and might (the first time an Asiatic power defeated a European one) but offered a first taste to the generals and politicians of Europe and America of what modern, mechanized war would look like.



Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Contested Memories of WWII on the Chinese Internet – Johanna Costigan

Historical narratives are strictly controlled in contemporary China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s definitive history of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, included in its 1981 ‘Resolution on certain questions in the history of our party since the founding of the PRC’, placed blame for the era’s chaotic violence squarely on the Gang of Four and Chairman Mao. By centering the blame on a few individuals, the Party let countless complicit citizens off the hook, freeing them to further the national pursuit of opening and reform.

In the decades following Mao’s death, the CCP refined its methods of narrative control. Accounts of the Tiananmen massacre were swiftly silenced; dissenters fled the country, went to jail, or endured worse fates. Memories of what happened in 1989 were never institutionalized. Children attended kindergarten through college without learning of the actions the Party took to repress the generation of students who came before them – their parents and their parents’ peers.



Sin in Old Shanghai

Into the Shanghai trenches, with Paul French

Shanghai’s sin districts, catering to foreigners, were many and varied. They appeared moments after the city became a treaty port in the 1840s and survived through to the 1950s. Whoring at the brothel shacks in Hongkew (Hongkou), gambling at the first race course on Honan Road, illicit betting at the adjacent Fives courts and knock-down-and-drag-out shamshu bars in Pootung (Pudong), were all popular pursuits for sailors. Sin existed across the city – in the French Concession and the International Settlement, around the edgelands of the foreign concessions in the Western External Roads (Huxi), as well as the Northern External Roads that ran across the Settlement’s borders from Hongkew into Chapei (Zhabei).

All of these districts shifted, morphed, rose and fell over the decades thanks to a variety of factors: from suppression by the Chinese and/or foreign authorities; as a consequence of the Second Sino-Japanese War after 1937, and the liberation of Shanghai from the Japanese in 1945; and ending after the arrival of the communists in 1949. All these places were the subject of legend and anecdote, exaggeration, and not a little official embarrassment. The sin districts fill the pages of the files of the Shanghai Municipal Police and the jotter books of the Garde Municipal in Frenchtown. They were patrolled by the Japanese Gendarmerie that, in the late 1930s, controlled the Western and Northern External Roads, and by the Chinese police that governed the fringes of the settlements beyond foreign control. All saw prostitution, drug abuse and gambling alongside murder, mayhem and bloodletting. The stories are legion, such as the unsolved murder of Eliza Shapera in 1907 – one of the many crimes among Shanghai’s multinational underclass, once called ‘Shanghailanders’.



Political Love in the CCP’s China

How nationalistic ‘fan circles’ are redefining love of country – Ting Guo

Ed: This post was written as the third in a series of three posts about different conceptions of love in China through the ages; the first two were published at Sixth Tone. The first post draws out ancient and Confucian notions of ai 爱 as “benevolence,” as well as the coining of aiqing 爱情 as “romantic love” in the late Qing and aiguo 爱国 or “love of country” in the early Republic. The second post focuses on Christian and revolutionary notions of love, including a reprising of the ancient notion of bo’ai 博爱 or “universal love.” The third post, published below and not at Sixth Tone, continues the story after 1949...

The Italian historian Emilio Gentile observed that in modern politics, it’s possible for secular political entities to become objects of faith, love and loyalty. Love is an emotion in which bottom-up agency and top-down power can converge, even as political players seek to manipulate and monopolize its expression. The result is what a different scholar, William Reddy, calls an “emotional regime,” in which the state dominates the discourse of love.