So glad to be able to come by this book in Hong Kong
Last month, I blogged about Karen Cheung's The Impossible City. Today, I'll do so regarding another book about Hong Kong by another woman who most undoubtedly really f**king loves Hong Kong. More than by the way, Louisa Lim has dedicated her Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong (Riverhead Books, 2022) "To all those who fucking love Hong Kong". And, if nothing else, know that this very well written and researched tome is one which will enlighten people about Hong Kong and Hong Kong people.
Something else I'll add: I had high expectations for this book based on my having read -- and been bowled over by -- the author's The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. And I'm totally not disappointed by her book on Hong Kong; even while saddened by some of what she's revealed about its history. Here's the thing: she doesn't hide the unpleasant bits she's uncovered. But, like with Karen Cheung, she recognizes Hong Kong's imperfects but still loves and deeply cares for it all the same.
The following are some sections of Indelible City that spoke to me. I hope they whet your appetite to read the book yourself because, really, it would be worth your while to do so if you are, like both Louisa Lim and me, among those who really f**king love Hong Kong!
Along the way, I fell into other untold stories of Hong Kong, creation myths and legends, real and invented histories, tales of rebellion that had ben wiped from the record, tales of courage that had never been told. They changed the way I viewed Hong Kong history, which I'd always assumed was an inventory of cut-and-dried facts that fell into a straightforward narrative. Instead, these hidden histories in their kaleidoscopic, multicolor multitudes pushed back against the idea of a singular, authoritative, state-imposed narrative. They put Hong Kongers front and center of their story... (Pages 9-10)
It is one indication of the gritty perversity of Hong Kongers that their self-invented icons are not the conventional warriors or strongmen chosen by proud nations, but rather antiheroes in the form of discriminated-against ousiders and bullied misfits, people who resisted and continued to do so despite the overhwelming forces rallieg against them. (Page 64)
As a refuge for ideas that could not be discussed in China, Hong Kong offered a different vision of what China could be... Hong Kong was a zone of possibility, a space of transgression. (Page 87)
Their voice -- the Hong Kong voice -- is the biggest omission in the story of how Hong Kong came to be handed back to China. Just as Britain and China have duelling versions of Hong Kong's past, the two powers also wrote bifurcating narratives about its retrocession. One of the few things those accounts have in common is how they wash over Hong Kong's return to China with barely a mention of Hong Kong's people. (Page 96)
On April 20, 1984, Hong Kongers received the most momentous news of their lives: [British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey] Howe, speaking in Legco, told them they would be handed back to China in 1997. By then, most Hong Kongers already realized no other options existed, but the finality of the announcement made it real. Even government officials, sitting just feet away from the foreign secretary, sobbed as he spoke. (Page 114)
It was October 1, China's National Day, 2019, and the Hong Kong police were marching through the harborfront streets grabbing and arresting anyone dressed in black. I'd been following behind them, but their aggression had an uncontrollable edge that scared me. I was walking away when I spotted some English-language graffiti spray-painted in baby pink on the blue MTR station wall that stopped me in my tracks: "Now Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong. That is the promise. And that is the unshakeable destiny." (Page 123)
To me, even the air in Hong Kong felt freer. Whenever I crossed the border from the mainland, I felt a sense of lightness, a physical lifting of my soul. On one visit, I met a young mainland student at the Tiananmen Museum who summed up how the city made him feel: it was, he said, a place where you "dare to speak out, dare to do stuff, dare to criticise, and dare to think." I'd never tried to put the difference between Hong Kong and the mainland into words before, but I realized he felt exactly the same. (Page 160)
There was no doubt that Hong Kong's economy was being lifted by the influx of mainland money, but Chin Wan feared this was benefiting property developers and conglomerates at the expense of ordinary people, who could not afford the sky-high property prices. He saw the economic ties as increasing Hong Kong's financial dependency, and he issued a stark warning about Beijing's designs on Hong Kong: "I would call it an imperialist approach. They think they will subsume Hong Kong people and make them more obedient. But that will destroy Hong Kong." (Page 175)
The [June 9th, 2019] march embraced all who elevated principle over pragmatism, hope over experience. The moment was a triumph of idealism from a people long stereotyped by their colonial masters as motivated only by the pursuit of money. In the only place on Chinese soil where political protest was allowed, Hong Kongers were performing their identity as a city of protest in order to defend it. (Page 211)
As I peered down, I felt a hot flush rising through my body, suffusing my chest and buring my cheeks. I was suddenly so giddy that I had to steady myself against the railing... As the sound waves bounced below, my throat felt thick, as if it were closing up. I was hot and breathless. It was, I realized with a jolt, the way that you feel when you first start dating someone that you really, really like. When you go to meet them in a bar and you spot each other across the room and you feel that sense of rightness in your gut. Like the bookseller Lam Wing-kee, I'd fallen in love with Hong Kong all over again. (Page 217)
With their feet, Hong Kongers were stamping pilgrimage routes across the soil of their city to defend [their distinctive] identiy and their values. (Page 218)
"Are you hopeful?: I asked.
"Not at all?"
"Not at all."
They all felt the movement was doomed, but that didn't change their determination to continue. (Page 239)
Beijing's endgame was total domination. Its actions sabotaged its own One Country, Two Systems formula, exposing it for the sham it was. In imposing [the national security law on Hong Kong], Beijing had in one fell swoop undermined the high degree of autonomy it had promised to Hong Kong, sidelined its judiciary and canceled its rule of law. It was as if, in order to fix a leaky pipe, the builders had pulled down the entire house and plowed up the land under its foundations. (Pages 252-253)
The changes were coming so fast that we could hardly even write them down before they were superseded by even worse. (Page 257)
When lifted up to the sun, the gray smudges faded and thick black words began to take shape, shing straight through the paper. They read: "Hong Kong will see light again," 香港重光. (Page 265)