This second week of the Kundiman NorCal Regional Group’s Fireside brings a special interest from Hong Kong and the ongoing Umbrella Movement protests. Kundiman fellow Henry W. Leung writes:
On the English shelf of a styrofoam library at one protest site, naturally, there stands Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss:
The simplicity of what she’d been taught wouldn’t hold. Never again could she think there was but one narrative and that this narrative belonged only to herself, that she might create her own tiny happiness and live safely within it.
More narratives are visible in Hong Kong now than just the ones officially told or sold. Signs and posters hang from walls and clotheslines, are pasted directly over billboards and commercials. The language of protest takes on an attitude of graffiti, in the sense of Banksy, in the sense of Wall and Piece:
Any advert in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. […] They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.
But there is no vandalism. There is no hidden war here. And, anyway, these quotes are from a different subjectivity, someone else’s cobwebs on the windowpane.
Fleurs des Lettres (字花), a literary magazine in Chinese, has printed poems and essays, organized a library, screened The Strawberry Statement (1970), and mobilized readings and talks by writers at the Mobile Democracy Classrooms. The schedule for such talks (and their variations, e.g. the Umbrella Square Tutorial) appears daily on handwritten signs at the three main protest sites. I’ve been to lectures and discussions on Xi Xi and Lu Xun, minority rights, feminism, and the biochemistry behind ebola outbreaks. All this grew out of the first week of student strikes in Tamar Park—before arrests, before occupation sites, before tear gas, before clashes. The schedule from that week’s outdoor classrooms is here with English, and here are videos and full transcripts (mostly in Chinese).
from Law Wing San’s talk on Vaclav Havel and Post-Totalitarianism:
A person lives in one of two existences: ‘living in truth,’ or ‘living in lies.’ These are fundamental states—but perhaps, comparing the two, might there not be more? We’ll see how authority doesn’t just concern what is given to us, but even more in what passes through our hearts, what passes through our ways of seeing and choosing our existences.
from Kacey Wong’s talk on using art to change the world:
Sometimes I see the news—yesterday another person arrested, another page torn away—and just like that I’ll call a friend to say: “Ai Wei Wei’s been arrested, should we do something?” And my friend will just as easily reply: “Of course! We should do something!” […] But if everyone thinks this way yet doesn’t act, the result is that nothing changes. It only abets the negative. Thus this golden line from Goethe: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply.”
In the second week—after the outbreak of thug violence—a poem by Tammy Ho Lai-ming appears online: “How the Narratives of Hong Kong are Written With China in Sight.” It’s a series of adapted first lines. This one offers a key to the form, its friction and irony:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the democracy fighters in Hong Kong must be genomically modified by the West.
The poem begins from Melville and ends from Beckett; begins in the imperative/declarative and ends in questioning, in a rupture of sense.
In the first week—after the pepper spray and tear gas—a poem by Nicholas Wong appears online: “Before enduring it we will not endure it.” It’s a series of fragments without stops. “I was searching for the capacity for the third,” he writes. Borrowed text slips in from other voices, other poets, like this first clause italicized, from Olena Kalytiak Davis:
Of all the forms of being—I like a vote, an animal. And you, captive, erosive, crevassed
The polyphony is another kind of rupture: a shared voice, a grievous sharing.
What was the crime of those hundred and more who trespassed over the boundary? Deep gratitude goes to them, who sacrificed themselves, who braved real dangers, who showed us the trespasses of our own boundaries. They awakened our imagination, its possibilities.
Every day here will be a book on a shelf somewhere. But who will anthologize the words? Who will archive all that is beautiful and temporary? Who will record not just faces but, at long poetic last, voices? When the smog returns and commercial calm rolls back, who will count and account for all the votes pasted into wind?
I’m drafting this note while seated on a recently built bench labeled 只共自修 (shared self-study only) at a recently built table, in the study area on the highway in the middle of Umbrella Square. Wifi has been set up here, along with LED lamps, recharge stations, and a help desk. People keep coming by to offer me homemade bread and rice boxes, while across the way police officers at a government cafeteria sit by the window chatting and watching us over milk tea. The sun sets in a gap between the Lippo towers. People have been hammering and sawing behind me for hours, building more desks. All things here are sturdy. All things here are disposable.
It’s not enough to know; these words will not do. I’m trying to give a glimpse of something to you, something like the miracle of a heron walking on water in Victoria Harbor even while policemen run along the highway with riot shields. I’d like to give you poems in English dating from the White Paper to today. I’d like to give you satire news cartoons (with subtitles), music and a playlist of more music, collections of visual art and more visual art, a clay workshop reenacting major clashes, and an ongoing archive of the Lennon Wall where thousands of post-its answer: “Why Are We Here?”
I’m giving you a love that expires and tarnishes, but only in the way libraries do. I’m asking: what will be enough? I’m stepping aside so you can see, but you have to see, because you have to see.
from Chang Nam Fung’s talk on his half-mainlander perspective:
Now, I don’t know why becoming old means becoming conservative, while the young have fervor—isn’t that strange? I hope no one sitting here grows old. If this were so, even the multitudes would never grow old.
(All photos, except the first, are courtesy of Vivian Yan. All translations, errors, and haste are my own.)
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