Hong Kong Uncharted: Cultural Production and the Spirit of Publicness

HK Uncharted website pic
07 May 2021 - 21 May 2021 Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public

Hong Kong society has undergone serious upheavals in the past decade. The Umbrella Movement in 2014, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in 2019, and the subsequent imposition of the National Security Law have fundamentally changed the city. This seismic change is felt not only at the moments of social uprising, but also in the cultural lives of the city, where the discrepancies between the authoritarian rule the city is submitted to and its people’s inspiration for freedom and democracy is experienced with a profound sense of existential anguish. This webinar series takes stock of some of the trends in the city’s cultural production in the past decade: from an emergent new political cinema to the counter-censorship practice of community screening, from the mobilization of religion to the transformative use of urban space for protest actions, and the role of literature in articulating dissent and building community. As the city is rapidly driven into uncharted waters, this webinar series aims to bring into focus the cultural productions that have helped foster a spirit of publicness in Hong Kong, as it is what will sustain and enable the communities to continue to find solidarity and strength.




Webinar 1: Post-Umbrella: Cultural Marginalization and Radicalization

May 7, Friday, 3pm-5:30pm

  • Post-Umbrella Movement Films; or a New Political Cinema of Hong Kong (Yee Lok TAM, Hong Kong Baptist University)
  • Community Screening and Alternative Spectatorship in Hong Kong (Helena WU, University of Zurich)
  • Grassroots Maoism beyond “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”: Ritual, Religion, and Identity of Hong Kong Protests (Ting GUO, University of Hong Kong)

Discussant: Stephen Ching Kiu CHAN (Lingnan University)
Moderator: Chun Chun TING (NTU)

Register for Webinar 1 here.


Webinar 2: 2019 and Beyond: Protest Practice and Cultural Production in the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests

Updated: May 28, Friday, 10am-12:30pm

  • Everyone is a Revolution: Hong Kong Protest Poetry (Tammy Lai-Ming HO, Hong Kong Baptist University)
  • Resistance through Religion and Play: The Chinese Religious Assemblies (H.S. SUM Cheuk Shing, University of Chicago)
  • “Blossoming in the Neighborhoods”: Spatial Transformation and the Emerging Multitudes in the Anti-ELAB Movement (Chun Chun TING, Nanyang Technological University)

Discussant: Lai Kwan PANG (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Moderator: Kiu Wai CHU (NTU)

Register for Webinar 2 here.


Webinar 3: Literature as Means? — Collectivity, Publicness, Identity (in English and Mandarin)

May 21, Friday, 10am-1pm

  • Poetics of the People: The Politics of Debating Local Identity in Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Its Literature (2014-2016) (Wayne YEUNG, Pennsylvania State University)
  • Inoperative Community: On the Space of Literature and the Minor Politics in Post-1997 Hong Kong 無為的共同體:後九七香港的文學空間和少數政治 (Lik Kwan CHEUNG, The Chinese University of Hong Kong) 
  • In Search of Literary Publicness: A Case Study of Post-70s Hong Kong Writers’ Treatment of Contemporary Social Movements 文學公共性的追尋——香港70後作家對當代社會運動的書寫 (Sze Wing KWOK, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong) 
  • The Dialectics between Individual and Community: Representing the Collective in Post-Umbrella Literary Works社群與個人的辯證:後雨傘及反修例運動作品中的「群體」再現 (Mei Ting LI, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Discussant: Nim Yan WONG (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Moderator: Chun Chun TING

Register for Webinar 3 here.



Webinar 1

Post-Umbrella Movement Films; or a New Political Cinema of Hong Kong

  • Yee Lok TAM, Hong Kong Baptist University

In the past five years, Hong Kong filmmakers endeavored to make direct references to the Umbrella Movement in their shorts and feature films. Among them, Ten Years (2015), A Sunny Day (2016), Pseudo Secular (2016), Weeds on Fire (2016), No. 1 Chung Ying Street (2018), Napping Kid (2018) and G Affairs (2018) are the most prominent examples. While scholars attempt to theorize the relation between social movement and these emerging films, this paper finds the notion of political cinema particularly useful in this context. As a type of film that depicts the becoming-political of its characters and the formation and transformation of their subjectivity, political cinema often puts their protagonists in precarious situations to highlight their process of subjectivization, in which they gradually gain agency, become a thinking and acting subject, and move from a de-autonomized position to a more autonomized one. In the case of post-Umbrella Movement films, characters are placed in precarious situations such as 1967 riot and anti-land resumption movement in No. 1 Chung Ying Street, school bullying in G Affairs, political and economic marginalization in Pseudo Secular, etc. This paper seeks to point out that these post-Umbrella Movement films move away from identity politics, a topic often addressed by film scholars around the handover of Hong Kong, and argue for a turn to the politics of subjectivization. Thus, this paper attempts to answer the question of how the politics of subjectivization function in this new political cinema of Hong Kong.


Community Screening and Alternative Spectatorship in Hong Kong

  • Helena WU, University of Zurich

Since the mid-2010s, the trend for community screening has grown rapidly in Hong Kong. For instance, on 1 April 2016, the locally produced indie film Ten Years was simultaneously screened outside conventional theatres at 36 locations across the city. By 2019, not only films, but also sport events and documentaries were shown in public space to counteract the dominant discourse and potential censorship. Despite the difference in the format, organization method and screening content, community screenings in postmillennial Hong Kong are characterized by the flexible use of urban space, the interaction between viewers and filmmakers and the emphasis on communal bonding. With an eye to this phenomenon, the paper explores the strategies of decentralization and reterritorialization by way of community screening and argues that the reinvention of newer “screens” in the city brings about what I call “local relations” in the urban cultural space.


Grassroots Maoism beyond “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”: Ritual, Religion, and Identity of Hong Kong Protests

  • Ting GUO, University of Hong Kong

This paper argues that Hong Kong’s recent protests could be understood more effectively as a process of identity making through the lens of religion. Taking note of the roles played by Chinese popular religion, Christianity, and the creative appropriations of grassroots Maoism to target both authoritarianism and “red capitalism”, the paper proposes a framework of Hong Kong identity formation that goes beyond the traditional binarism of left and right wing politics.

Most discussions on religion and Hong Kong protests in the last decade emphasize the role of Christianity; the official namesake of “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” and the open Christian identification of its major leaders may confirm this point, so is the prominence of the hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” in the current Anti-ELAB movement. However, such discussions neglect a complex religious ecology that has historically contributed to the making of Hong Kong’s civic community and social development. It also conceals the Cold War appropriation of Christianity for social resources, which reinforced the binary tension between political camps. More recently, the appropriation of grassroots Maoism, a political religion in the PRC, indicates an awakening against “red capitalism” from the PRC, and therefore transforms Hong Kong’s image as a neoliberal financial capital and the Cold War reductions of left and right wing politics. 

In summary, the neglected religious ecology from indigenous religions to Maoism is key to the process of identity making in Hong Kong, as the city continues its struggle for recognition from and against global capitalism.


Webinar 2

Everyone is a Revolution: Hong Kong Protest Poetry

  • Tammy Lai-Ming HO, Hong Kong Baptist University

This paper studies a group of poems published since June 2019 that responds to moments and events of the Anti-ELAB Movement in Hong Kong, focusing on works by both established and young writers. The paper also investigates the reception of some of these poems locally and internationally, and discusses the relationship between authenticity, poetry, politics, translation, knowledge production, and publication. Lastly, this presentation contemplates the possibility of creating literature that challenges what I call 'the anxiety of being understood', which is often seen in writing by those who are eager to reach a wider or global readership. The Hong Kong poems which document the ongoing protests (at the time of writing the protests are continuing) tend to be ekphrastic and elliptical, especially to readers who are unfamiliar with some of the reference points. These poems however also strengthen a sense of collective identity for those who follow the events or participate in them.


Resistance through Religion and Play: The Chinese Religious Assemblies of the Anti-ELAB Movement

  • H.S. SUM Cheuk Shing, University of Chicago


The religious aspects of Hong Kong’s recent social movements have mostly been interrogated through the seemingly outsized presence of Christian liberation theology. Less attention, however, has been given to the roles of Buddhism, Daoism, and the catch-all category of Chinese popular religion. This presentation discusses how the Anti-ELAB Movement performed creative, irreverent, and potent resistance through the deployment of Chinese popular religious expressions and practices. 

Specifically, I focus on responses to clashes between protesters and the police in early August 2019, when the movement began to move into previously unaffected residential districts. Places of worship within these districts, such as the Wong Tai Sin and Sha Tin Che Kung Temples, then formed indelible backdrops for tear gas-filled confrontations. In turn, protesters staged activities labeled as “religious assemblies” and supporters produced politically-charged visual and material content that incorporated popular localized deities and other Chinese religious motifs. Through such efforts, I argue that Hongkongers displayed yet another dimension in their ongoing assertion of an emergent cultural, if not political, identity.  


“Blossoming in the Neighborhoods”: Spatial Transformation and the Emerging Multitudes in the Anti-ELAB Movement

  • Chun Chun TING, Nanyang Technological University

 As a veteran city that has witnessed frequent demonstrations and social movements, most protest actions in Hong Kong are nonetheless concentrated at the city’s political and economic centers until the current Anti-ELAB Movement. Owing to its nature as a leaderless and horizontally-organized movement, the Anti-ELAB Movement has realized the collective call issued by the two conflicting camps that torn the Umbrella Movement apart, i.e. to spread the seeds of democracy to the districts and neighborhoods and let them blossom there (落地開花). Starting in July 2019, the spatial decentralization of the movement has led to vibrant proliferation of protest actions in many districts, turning unlikely spaces such as shopping malls, highways, sidewalks, tunnels, secondary school playgrounds and assembly halls into spaces of resistance. This paper examines the district marches that highlight specific local issues, the emergence of Lennon Walls in almost every neighborhood, the collective singing, paper crane folding, consumption strikes in malls, the petition signing, class strikes, the formation of human-chains organized around many secondary schools, and lastly, the midnight slogan shouting from one’s apartment window. The spatial decentralization enriches the movement by creating many different symbolic landscape, it concretizes the dialogue on democracy by connecting it with specific local issues; it reclaims as genuine public space the privatized space for consumption; it allows variegated participation and encourages the locals in each district to take ownership of their protest. Taken together, it calls into being the multitudes as envisioned by Hardt and Negri.


Webinar 3

Poetics of the People: The politics of debating local identity in Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and its literature (2014-2016)


  • Wayne YEUNG, Pennsylvania State University

This article scrutinizes the negotiations with, and discursive refashioning of, Hong Kong identity during and after the Umbrella Movement (2014-16). I argue that these discursive experimentations borne out of the Umbrella Movement bring to light Hong Kong’s uniquely cultural formulations of democratic self-determination that exceed the traditional analytic framework of Hong Kong cultural studies. The article analyses literary works as a hitherto neglected facet of the ‘Umbrella culture’ that, as a whole, acts as a discursive laboratory for multiple reflexive theorizations of Hong Kong identity and democratic subjectivity to be devised and debated. Cases studied here include the protesters’ on-site cultural expressions and two major Hong Kong literary authors: Dung Kai-cheung and Wong Bik-wan. This article examines social-movements artworks and literary works in terms of their performative and ethnographic dimensions, arguing that they are important intellectual and cultural-political processes to produce new knowledge about collective identity. This article first demonstrates how the Umbrella artworks repurpose the performative and the ethnographic strategies in Saisai’s canonical novel, My City (1975), often cited as the ur-text of Hong Kong identity, to proclaim themselves as ‘we the Hong Kong people’. After reading Dung’s and Wong’s Umbrella-related works, I then show in this article that the performative and the ethnographic can open up spaces to reconfigure collective identity beyond its existent discourses. Putting theories of performativity into dialogue with critical ethnography, I consider the politics of negotiating and debating cultural identity in literature and protest arts as integral to postcolonial democratic action.


Inoperative Community: On the space of Literature and the Minor Politics in Post-1997 Hong Kong


  • Lik Kwan CHEUNG 張歷君, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

主流的政治模式是一種講求理性、功效的模式,人們必需有目的地行動,為了獲得利益而行動,有計算地行動,而文學是相對立於這種模式的。文學書寫的重要性在於,它提供了一種非主流的想像,令我們可以想像一種國家機器以外的文化政治和社會參與,這是在主流政治中無法得到的。因此,我們可以劃分出兩種截然不同的政治理解:文學書寫的少數政治與主流社會理解的政治行動。文學書寫的少數政治與南希(Jean-Luc Nancy)所提出的「無為的共同體」(inoperative community)相關,它讓我們重新思考一種無為的政治、非功效的政治。本文從2006年《字花》創刊和《大騎劫》的出版談起,借用Mark Poster的第二媒介時代以及Deleuze和Guattari的少數文學等理論觀點,重新思考後九七香港的文學空間與另類媒體實踐之間的關係。


In Search of Literary Publicness: A Case Study of Post-70s Hong Kong Writers’ Treatment of Contemporary Social Movements


  • Sze Wing KWOK 郭詩詠, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong



The Dialectics between Individual and Community: Representing the Collective in Post-Umbrella Literary Works


  • Mei Ting LI 李薇婷, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

過去五年,香港接連經歷兩次規模龐大的社會運動,分別是2014年的雨傘運動及2019年的反修例運動(同時被西方媒體稱為「如水革命」Water Revolution)。兩場運動雖均由警民衝突揭開序幕,然而其結束的方式卻不一樣:前者結束於相對和平的清場,後者則強行暫停於全球疫症及國安法的實施。在這段後雨傘時期,有不少指涉、或直接描寫由這兩場社會運動的文學作品,作者包括董啟章、黃碧雲、謝曉虹、張婉雯,亦有新生代作家梁莉姿和蘇朗欣等,為數不少。這些指涉社會運動的文本,經常徘徊於個人與群體的辯證之間。本文希望透過分析這些文學文本,探討關香港作者如何在文本中再現運動中的「群眾」,而這些群眾的再現,又經歷何等轉變。而且,本文亦關注這種轉變,又如何以書寫作為方法,探討政治運動與文學的關係,從高度的現代主義轉向社群與日常的描寫,藉此參與社會運動中香港身分認同的討論。