After “Between Colonizers”, Hong Kong Way, and a Multidirectional Critique of Postcoloniality
- Desmond Hok-Man Sham, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (Taiwan)
The field of postcolonial studies has been dominated by the experiences of the “Western” colonial powers and their victims while ignoring, for instance, intra-European and intra-Asian colonizations, and reinforcing a West/colonizer – East/colonized binarism. Due to the Soviet Union and PRC’s anti-imperialist or victimized rhetoric, postcolonial theorists influenced by Marxist intellectual trajectories also often fail to criticize Soviet Union and China even though many of their policies can be regarded as expansionist and imperialist. The problem of mainstream postcolonial studies have already been criticized by Rey Chow in “Between Colonizers” (1992) but often overlooked by her critics and the field of postcolonial studies. I agree with Chow that the postcoloniality problems that Hong Kong face are relevant to the wider postcolonial studies debate. This article asserts Hong Kong’s contribution in reconfiguring postcolonial studies. It allows people to see the shortcomings in the existing mainstream postcolonial theories, in particular the overlooking of non-“Western” empires and the reluctance to criticize the PRC and other “socialist” states. This article is going to revisit Chow’s “Between Colonizers” in relation to the critique of postcolonial studies and what Hong Kong can offer. The major change between the 1990s and the present-day is the rise of China and its active participation in shaping the discourse. The rising China’s tightening control over Hong Kong means Hong Kong cannot rely on previous “in-between” position as resistance. Drawing on “minor transnationalism”, “Sinophone”, and “inter-Asia referencing”, I will bring in another understudied area in postcolonial studies, namely the study of Baltic and other post-Soviet spaces in Central and Eastern Europe through the postcolonial studies lens. Through inter-referencing Hong Kong with the Baltic, this article seeks to better re-articulate Hong Kong in the debates in postcoloniality and how Hong Kong can help to reconfigure postcolonial studies by offering multidirectional postcolonial critique.
A Heterogeneous Asian City on the Back of Chinese Nationalism: Leung Ping-kwan and Hong Kong Postcolonial and Post-nationalist Hybridity
- Ka Ki Wong, Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HK)
The appeal of Asian commons calls for rethinking nationalism, establishing dialogues between different regions of Asia, and recognition of each other’s heterogeneous subjectivity. Hong Kong is one of the most important cases in Asian postcolonial studies because of its long experience of the complicated relationship between colonialism and nationalism. Leung Ping-kwan (Yesi, 1949-2013) was one of the leading scholars and writers in Hong Kong postcolonial literature who initiated a series of discussions on Hong Kong’s cultural identity, Chinese nationalism, and hybridity of urban culture since the 1980s. His thoughts would be an excellent inspiration as to how Hong Kong could contribute to the making of Asian commons.
Leung had always been cautious about Chinese nationalism since he started writing in the late 1960s, which was somewhat uncommon at the time when it influenced many local social movements. He consciously compared the Western colonialism and imperialism China faced with Latin America and suggested following their example of decolonization in literature, which could be seen as an early imagination of the possible association among the “third-world”. He however did not turn to nationalism as the natural “decolonization” answer but view it as an obstruction to the formation of Hong Kong’s subjectivity and laid the foundation of his Hong Kong study later.
In one of his most famous postcolonial literary works, Postcolonial Affairs of Food and the Heart (2009), he portrayed a picture of Hong Kong in the vast and heterogenic Asian culture and asserted that hybridity is the best quality of Hong Kong. The novel touches upon cultural issues about Asian postcolonialism, Japanese leftist sinologists, Macau’s colonial history, Hong Kong diaspora induced by 1997, and the postcolonial self-reinvention of Hong Kong’s identity. The theoretical value of it is how he demonstrated a turn from the binary opposition imagination of “Hong Kong versus China” to a picture of “hybrid” Hong Kong in a heterogeneous imagination of Asian culture, which enables a better understanding of Hong Kong and its postcolonial value to other Asian cities.
Burning Down the Status Quo: Reflections on the 2019 Protest Movement and Hong Kong’s Decolonization Project
- Chun Chun Ting, Nanyang Technological University (SG)
Hong Kong has always been seen as an anomaly in the history of colonization and decolonization. When the city was handed over to China in 1997, the uncritical maintenance of its status quo was widely accepted as the antidote against the threat of homogenization by Chinese rule. The status quo was finally put into question by a series of urban movements starting in 2005. The campaigns to preserve vernacular heritage sites and contest mega-infrastructure projects shed light on the widening social disparity; activists successfully argue that the undemocratic colonial system and its lack of accountability allow public policy including urban planning to favor the business and nationalist interests in the expense of a livable city for all. The emphasis on equality and equity presents a strong challenge to Hong Kong’s long-cherished notions of freedom and capitalism as valuable colonial legacies. The protest in 2019 erupted with the radical call to burn down the status quo. The movements’ rejection of the economic imperatives, the revolutionary courage to take actions, the civil society’s capacity to organize itself, all indicate an emerging postcolonial society taking control of its own destiny. However, the movement’s appeal to Western governments for help and its rhetorical stress on a separate identity also spell worrying sign of reverting to a colonial mind-set and exclusionary identity politics. This paper aims to review the breakthrough and challenges presented by the 2019 protest movement and to ponder on its implications for the city’s decolonization project.
Towards a Transcultural Asia Commons: Heroic Discourses, Flexible Identities, and Cinematic Historiographies
- Jinhua Li, University of North Carolina Asheville (US)
Transregional media production, distribution, and consumption play critical roles in the reimagination of an Asia Commons as a critical apparatus and investigative framework. The free flow of cultural products across national borders not only promotes regional understanding, but more significantly creates intersectionalities of shared colonial experience, narrated identity crises, and cultural resonances from frequent transregional exchanges in history. Such transcultural synergy becomes especially salient in transregional film remakes, which both re-consumes the original films and also recreates new representations. The processes of media consumption, recreation, and assimilation, therefore, potentialize a transcultural Asia Commons, where boundaries of geopolitical blocks and the national are inevitably challenged and reconfigured.
This article investigates the cultural politics and identity discourses in two East Asian reproductions of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986). Rethinking the power dynamics of a homogenizing transregionalism from a vantage point that is alternative rather than resistant, this article employs a critical approach that is rhizomatic instead of hierarchical to refocus on the connected resistance against colonialization, identities in flux, trauma, and memories. It argues that each remake renegotiates and revisualizes Woo’s cinematic heroism and transforms it into the trope for history, identity, and the cultural politics in the rhizomatic ecology of the nation that is deeply in the shadows of colonial memories and the entrenchment of Western imperialism. Specifically, the South Korean remake Moo-jeok-ja repackages the original text with a restructured plot that is deeply rooted in the separation of the North and the South Koreas as a result of imperialism along axes of identity politics such as nationhood, politics, and history. The mainland China’s A Better Tomorrow 2018 locates its narrative of heroism within a regulative grand narrative of the nation where the memories of a semi-colonial history still linger.
Green Team and Video Power: a Comparative Study of Independent Video Activism and Collective Formation in Hong Kong and Taiwan
- Emilie Sin-yi Choi, City University of Hong Kong (HK)
In 1986, due to the intense political repression, a group of youth in Taiwan used hand-held video to document the social movement and formed an independent video group Green Team before the ending of the Martial Law. They circulated the video as an underground mode and to resist the monopolisation of the state media.The works by Green Team looked into a series of political movements and happenings in such time of social turmoil in Taiwan which were absent or misleading in the representation of the official news reportage. Three years later, a group of Hong Kong youngsters embraced the notion of freedom and democracy by using video as a weapon to record the dispersed social movement in Hong Kong in particular the housing issue. They formed a group called Video Power right before the Tiananmen Incident. These independent video-making practices and formation of collectives emerged in a critical time of history, constituting a public citizenship to engage in the socio-political trajectory and suggest an alternative narrative to the official discourse by the participatory mode of media apparatus.
This study shall examine the correlation between Green Team and Video Power in regard of the making of new citizenship and public in these two Asian cities through video activism in the edge of historical and political shift. These two collectives demonstrated a collaborative role in reproducing the political discourse and transforming the documentation into participation. More than the image politics that entailed in the representation of the video, this study will also discuss the collective formation of video activism. Some of the members in Video Power formed v-activist later and reshaped the mode of video activism; while there were no specific model resembling Green Team later in Taiwan. The format and practices of video activism shall be explored in relation to these two cases.
Understanding Asia through Workers Writings Today
- Luka Lei Zhang, Nanyang Technological University (SG)
In recent years, a wide body of migrant worker literature has been published in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The exploration of workers' literature in Asia is growing in importance and urgency. By examining migrant workers’ poetry published in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, this paper presents an “Asia from below”, discussing literary texts produced by socioeconomically and culturally underrepresented worker writers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The paper highlights transnational Asian worker writers operating under the conditions of rampant capitalism, going beyond the national frameworks common in many if not most literary studies projects and, contributing to the discussion of the possibilities and predicaments of an "Asian Commons" through the lens of literature. The paper aims to outline an intricate and diverse map of transnational connections and solidarity among Asian migrant writer communities, as well as to explore thorny issues of exploitation, empowerment, and representation in the field of literature. I suggest that reading migrant workers' literature as working-class literature with an emphasis on their "mode of production" will help us better understand an "Asian from below."
"On the Fence: Experimental Solidarities on Jeju Island and the US-Mexico Border"
- Grant Leuning, UC San Diego (US)
This paper will present an account of two recent performances in South Korea and On the US-Mexico Border which used traditional European accounts of subjectivity as critical technologies to be deployed against their most violent manifestations; the border wall and the military installation. These two performances, one performed with the Gangjeong Village activists as part of the struggle against the Jeju Naval Base, the other, performed with the Comité Magonista collective organizing in the Tijuana/San Diego edgelands, enact a double critique of colonial architecture, against its severing and annihilation of space and against the artificially coherent subject those negations continually seek to reproduce. The paper will relate this solidarity building to argue for a organizing model which replaces goal-driven progress with continuous community generation.
Town Talk: Enhancing the ‘Eyes and Ears’ of the Colonial State in British Hong Kong, 1950s –1975
- Florence Mok, Nanyang Technological University (SG)
This article offers a longer perspective on the origins and effectiveness of reforms to colonial governance in Hong Kong. It shows that the colonial state shifted from the increasingly ineffective indirect rule to using a covert bureaucratic opinion poll, Town Talk, to collect and create intelligence on public opinion. This article argues that this bureaucratic device increased the organizational capacity of an intelligence state and, in so doing, enabled a constructed form of ‘public opinion’ to influence policy formulation in a state-controlled manner without democratization. It was used as a substitute for representative democracy. These reforms improved the colonial government’s image and enhanced a ‘non-political’ sense of citizenship amongst Hong Kong Chinese but failed to bridge a communication gap between an unelected government and the people over whom it ruled.
Old Sins Have Long Roots: Water Regulation in Central Asia in Historical Retrospect
- Irena Vladimirsky, RUDN Journal of the Russian History (RUDN – Russian University of the People's Friendship, Moscow, Russian Federation)
Russian conquer of Central Asia in the 1860s turned water regulation and the development of a water supplement infrastructure into one of the main regional problems, necessitating intervention by the Tsarist Colonial Administration. This brought rivalry over water usage and distribution to center stage in relations between Central Asian tribal rulers seeking favor in the eyes of the new administration. The activity of the Resettlement Authority and arrival of the Slav settlers from the inner gubernias of the Russian Empire further exacerbated the situation. From that period, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan became the regime favorites, while and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan remained outsiders. Water usage in Central Asia traditionally was based on Amu Darya and Syr Darya bassins. Amu Darya, which flows across the borders of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, provided a successful example of joint water redistribution and usage, as opposed to Syr Darya, which flows from Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and became the subject of a constant boundary conflict. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the centralized water policy strategy compelled the new Central Asian states to confront the necessity of developing their own strategy on the one hand, while also requiring them to learn how to negotiate share common water resources. The USSR did not abide by UN practices of international water regulation for codification and customization of international water laws. Even years later, the UN Water Convention of 2014 was signed by only three Central Asian States – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In addition to UN water practices, newly organized independent states were forced to arrange and define their water-usage practices through a series of local agreements.
Printing and Editing Networks in the Mekong Delta During the French Colonial Era, 1919-1945
- Cao Vy, Institute of Asian Researches (IrAsia), National Centre of Scientific Researches (CNRS), Aix-Marseille University (France)
Researches on colonial period in Vietnam are often placed under the lens of surveillance and anticolonial movements. Although these historical insights are indispensable, the risk of misinterpretation can lead to underestimating the role of Vietnamese participation in the exercise of control and surveillance. Yet, this ambiguity seems crucial to examine the colonial phenomenon as complex and volatile patterns of rallying and dissolution. How to understand these socio-political movements without falling into essentialist pitfalls or considering modernity as linear and evolutive process?
This paper aims to tackle these issues by examining colonial phenomenon as structural processes of exchange. In order to ground this hypothesis, it focuses on the printing and editing networks in the Mekong delta area during the colonial period. More than one hundred printers and editors were created and located in this region, from 1919 to 1945. While most of them were placed in Saigon and Cho Lon, production and diffusion centers were also found in Bến Tre, Cần Thơ, Gò Công and Mỹ Tho. These networks involved a wide range of actors, from naturalized French to Vietnamese and Chinese booksellers, printers and editors. If journalists were the main profile of editors, the printers from the Mekong delta were pharmacists, landlords or even religious leaders. This paper thus attempts to understand the structural processes that held the consistency of these dynamics and aggregated a wide range of local actors, within the colonial context of surveillance and protestation.
The Journey of Political Dissidents Escaping the Communist Bloc: a Case Study of the Self-exiled Chinese Intellectuals in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific Region in the 1950s and 1960s
- Kenneth Kai-chung YUNG, Hong Kong University Press, University of Hong Kong
The expansion of the Communist Bloc in East and Southeast Asia in the second half of the twentieth century forced numerous political dissidents to flee their home country and commence their exile overseas. Departing from their homeland, these political dissidents of various nationalities travelled from place to place, hoping to settle down permanently in an ideal new home. This study looks at the anti-Communist Chinese intellectuals who escaped from the Chinese mainland and travelled to Hong Kong after the Communist takeover of China in 1949. Many of them were Mandarin-speakers who were unable to comprehend Cantonese. Some of them decided to settle down in the British colony. The rest of them continued their journey overseas in search of a more suitable new home. In this paper, I argue that incoming intellectuals made decisions to stay in or to leave the city depending on the opportunities ahead of them. Some may find contentment in their careers in Hong Kong and were willing to stay in the city, while others decided to go overseas because they found more opportunities for their career there. I also suggest that Hong Kong was a destination as well as an “in-between place” for self-exiles. In terms of its relations to a broader Asian context, this paper will shed light on the studies of their counterparts from North Korea in the late 1940s and Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s. It is hoped that this paper will inspire further comparative studies between self-exiled Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Cambodian intellectuals in the Cold War era.
University Remains to be Deimperialized? Bandung School/s As ‘Commoners’ Method for ‘Multiple’ Decolonization
- Keynote Speaker: Kuan-hsing Chen, Bandung School prep office
The talk operates rhizomactially due to the multi-layered networks of relations. The end result of the “Bandung/Third World 60 Years Project” (2015-16) was a proposal for an “Another World—Decolonizing the Earth” project, with a long term vision to move towards a “grounded global intellectual movement” by building locally grounded Bandung School/s. The mission is to transform existing modes of thought, intellectual and popular, exemplified by the so-called modern nation-state/education system, where our modes of knowledge, mind, body, desire and worldview have been shaped immensely to the effect of “We are all foreigners” (Choi Wan-shik), foreign to our histories and even living commoners; our lively and sophisticated worldviews have been cut off and reduced to Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science, two normative claims overriding the real historical complexity and local conditions and historical contexts. We need to “return” to histories, to our own sources of thought, to worldviews sustained by the Minjung daily lives, mediating through institutions such as “school” (shu-yuan 書院, or academy which has always existed, with no disciplinary boundaries before the expansion of modern state to establish modern schooling system), festivals, markets and temples, mosques or churches where lunar/peasant calendar has operated and is still shaping everyone of us, but profoundly ignored as if these are “feudal” and out of date. In short, if we ground ourselves locally and historically but are able to work together, another better world for is possible. Since 2015, a Bandung School has begun to be imagined. With the Covid-19, for the first time in world history, a truly globalization conditions, as both curse and luck, have been created by heaven forcing commoners to walk out of the closet of the nation-state, the carrier where colonization and imperialization. Bandung School is perhaps one of the tasks to be done. University as the first and last resort of “multiple decoloniality” can be the critical site for global transformation.
Roundtable Discussion: Commoning a Discipline: Asian Cultural Studies or Cultural Studies in Asia?
This roundtable is an attempt to review and explore the discipline of cultural studies for the actualization of “Asian Commons”. In other words, we ask in what ways cultural studies is currently structured in Asia disciplinarily, institutionally, and geographically, and how it needs to be reconfigured in order to fulfil the promise of “Asian Commons.”
While the disciplinary practices in Western academia still function as a model for how cultural studies is researched and taught in the rest of the world, albeit with some local adjustment, the heterogeneity in Asia also implies that the political, institutional, and disciplinary imperatives have shaped the discipline in very specific ways, to the extent that each invocation of “Cultural Studies” may refer to a distinct epistemological object. This raises the question if an Asian Cultural Studies in distinction to Cultural Studies can be thought of in any meaningful way. As part of the “Asian Common” project, this roundtable intends to discuss the possibility of an Asian Cultural Studies and its limitations. In a sense, this roundtable is an attempt at translations between many practices in Asia under the disciplinary nomenclature of Cultural Studies.
The roundtable will take into consideration the following lines of questioning without limiting itself to them:
- Field— What is the ontological status of Asian Cultural Studies? Is it Cultural Studies with “Asian Characteristics,” meaning that the disciplinary frameworks, methodologies, and pedagogical areas remain derivative of the “mainstream” practices of Cultural Studies in Western academia, with Asia functioning merely as the field from which specific “data” are culled and interpretations of local particularities performed? Or, is Asian Cultural Studies a distinct field of inquiry with its own research agenda, methodologies, and pedagogical approaches? If this is the case, what would they be like?
- Genealogy— Is there a distinct intellectual tradition to Asian Cultural Studies? How can they be unearthed and articulated? How are they reflected in the contemporary practices of Cultural Studies in Asia? In what ways do they enable or limit new and potentially more radical and progressive intellectual projects to flourish in this field?
- Scale of theorization—While Western scholars incline to theorize at a global or planetary scale, Cultural Studies in Asia is practiced with more modest ambitions. The project of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies pioneered in building epistemological and institutional solidarities across many different kinds of borders in Asia. With this project in mind, we ask in what ways Asian Cultural Studies can empirically engage and theorize at the planetary scale? What methodological innovations would a planetary Asian Cultural Studies enable?
- Commons of Asian Cultural Studies— How could scholars, students, practitioners, and institutions in Asia create Asian Cultural Studies as an intellectual and creative common? How could existing networks be expanded and new ones built? What are the experiences in the past that can be recognized, revived, and mobilized for the end of making an Asian Cultural Studies?
- Anaheed Al-Hardan, American University of Beirut
- Alima Bissenova, Nazarbayev University
- Kuan-hsing Chen, Bandung School prep office
- Chua Beng Huat, National University of Singapore
- Rashmi Sawhney, Christ University
- C. J. WEE Wan-ling, Nanyang Technological University
- Sophia Woodman, University of Edinburgh