Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Vietnamese Refugee Art Expected to Return to Shatin, Hong Kong from Refuge Abroad

Art from Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong's detention camps in the aftermath of the "boatpeople" crisis will likely return to Hong Kong soon. The route is circuitous, from Shatin and likely back to Shatin with a detour to Europe. It went from Whitehead detention camp in Shatin to a major archive in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and is likely to come back to Hong Kong, to Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin.

Samson Wong interviewed 6 November 2017 in Ma On Shan, Hong Kong
Photo collage copyright © Daniel C. Tsang 2017
We talk with Samson Wong (left), an Education University community arts guest lecturer (Ph.D, Lingnan University, 2016) about the history of this artwork and why it is the "right time" to return it to Hong Kong.  To listen to the interview, aired as a podcast on the KUCI Subversity Show Online, click here.

Roundtable discussion “permanent in-transit”
at Spring Workshop 5 November 2017
Despite the uncertainty about the future of Hong Kong under the One Country Two Systems formula under the Peoples Republic of China, Wong believes in the last five or so years, there has been renewed interest in Hong Kong history and in documenting the experiences of the people here.  Indeed, the day before I interviewed him, Spring Workshop, an arts center in Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen, held a forum with former Vietnamese refugees that have settled in Hong Kong, and attorneys associated with the late Pam Baker, a former Hong Kong civil servant turned human rights lawyer who boldly pushed for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in colonial Hong Kong and later in post-1997 Hong Kong.  The forum, organized by Tiffany Chung, was meant to be a tribute to Baker, who died in the UK in 2002.  The workshop also is hosting an exhibit on Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong.

Wong, working with Garden Streams' Evelyna Liang Yee-woo, was instrumental in the shipping to Amsterdam of the 800 pieces of artwork that had been collected by Garden Streams, a Hong Kong-based Christian Artists Fellowship, that went into the detention camps and helped children and youth with art lessons etc.  At the time, it was thought that the Amsterdam-based International Institute of Social History (IISH) was the best place to keep the artwork temporarily (for up to 10 years according to a signed contract) for "safekeeping".  It is the largest archive of contemporary social and political movement materials. Wong a few years ago, in fact took me to the warehouse where the artwork, some framed, was stored, awaiting shipment abroad.

Umbrellas featured in Whitehead Detention Centre, Shatin.
Predating Umbrella Movement! Artist: Tang Nga Son.
Refugees in Whitehead retrieving basketball amid barbed wire.
Artist: Tang Nga Son
According to the entry in the catalogue (typos corrected), "This collection is about artworks by Vietnamese refugees and asylum-seekers made during their detention in Hong Kong; in the late 1980s as many as 50.000 Vietnamese asylum seekers lived in detention camps in Hong Kong; these camps were a prison-like environment with a bleak sense of hope, bearing various fears and tragic memories; between 1989 and 1993, funded by UN, a 3-year art project was conducted in these detention camps; the local artist group Garden Streams Hong Kong Fellowship of Christian Artists entered several detention camps to hold various visual and performance arts activities, supported the Freedom Magazine (Tu Do) and also a women craft income generation project; the programme, entitled 'Art in the Camps', bordered on social service, activism, therapeutic art and art education; it was one of Hong Kong's earliest organized services initiated by artists, which in turn inspired future local community art programmes; the last detention camp closed in 2001; afterwards Garden Streams co-hosted the 'C.A.R.E. Local Vietnamese Community Art Re-encountered' exhibition and seminar series with the Lingnan University in Hong Kong, and subsequently provided the collection for research by Sophia Law, assistant professor at Lingnan's Visual Studies Department, from 2009 to 2010; the collection was shipped to the IISH in 2011."  A content note adds: "About 800 artworks from Vietnamese boatrefugees and documentation, photo's and interviews on life in the Hong Kong refugee camps 1989-1993 (-2010)."

Women refugees wash their hair in Whitehead.
Artist:  Nguyen Thi Vien
Refugees stage protests over asylum process at Whitehead.
Artist: Le Khac Dat
According to Wong, the local group had trouble initially exhibiting items from the collection in Hong Kong, with the Central Public Library, saying it could not be fit into its schedule.  Wong says the group also had a mixed reaction from artists from Vietnam it wanted to include in the exhibit, with one artists enthusiastic, another much more cautious.  Also skeptical was Vietnam's Consulate, which suggested that the group include other artwork from Vietnam, rather than those of the refugees from the camps, who after all, had escaped from socialist Vietnam.  In the end a "successful" exhibit of some 200 items of artwork, photographs and documents was held at Lingnan University. A later exhibit of 40 items was also shown at the Hong Kong (then) Institute of Education. (It recently became a University.)

Coming from University of California, Irvine, which currently hosts the most accessible collection of artwork from the detention camps in Hong Kong, although with much fewer pieces of artwork, I was interested in how Wong, who has visited UCI's Southeast Asian Archive and compared selected artists paintings with the several hundred archived in California, collected as a result of UCI students in Project Ngoc who visited Hong Kong to help refugee kids in the camp.  Some of the UCI collection is featured in a chapter I wrote (described in this earlier blog entry, where the artwork is shown in color).  I also interviewed Sophia Law when she visited UCI and Little Saigon.

Refugees seek human rights at Whitehead.
Artist: Le Khac Dat
Wong believes the UCI collection has more "polished" art, given he noticed that there were fundraising efforts where some artwork initially sent abroad were auctioned off to raise money for asylum cases in Hong Kong and elsewhere.  The Garden Streams collection could well contain earlier versions of the same artists' work that ended up in Irvine.  Wong believes that is fine given that scholars would use the collection to trace the development of the artwork over time. Indeed, at 800-plus items of artwork, the Garden Streams collection dwarfs the UCI collection.

Given that the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Fine Arts Department and scholars there have expressed interest in using the collection, Wong is hopeful it will soon be returned and find a home at CUHK.  He notes that a CUHK post-graduate student had visited Amsterdam to attempt to use the collection there.  -- Daniel C. Tsang

Thanks to Samson Wong for providing copies of the Garden Streams artwork to illustrate this blog.















Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Despite Potential Prison Term, Hong Kong Occupy Central Leader Benny Tai Speaks Out


Benny Tai during his interview.
Facing a "conspiracy" trial in 2018 for leading Hong Kong's Occupy Central with Peace and Love, HKU Law Prof. Benny Tai is remarkably composed and even jovial.  When interviewed last month (19 October 2017) in his law school office, he addressed legal issues such as retroactivity of Beijing's interpretations of Hong Kong's Basic Law, as well as whether resentencing the Umbrella Movement youth leaders to harsher punishment constitutes double jeopardy.   He says he tried to argue in legal papers submitted by others to the appellate court that the interpretations over Legislative Council oath taking should not be retroactive, but his argument was not sustained.  And while it is not double jeopardy to increase sentences, the question is whether the appellate authorities were in fact rehearing the case rather than considering new evidence.
Tai and other Occupy Central leaders 1 Oct 2017


As for his own plight, he has decided to be over careful, and not keep documents that would identify others since he is charged with an open-ended conspiracy count.  As for preparing for prison, he has kept calm and says that in the event he is convicted over charges relating to leading the 2014 civil disobedience he will issue a call internationally asking law faculty to write to the Dean of the HKU Law Faculty detailing how their particular countries will deal with law faculty who are sent to prison.  Will his job be at stake?  In the event a tribunal is sent up to consider it at HKU, he appears hopeful.  (At the same time he dismisses current efforts by pro-Beijing elements to get him fired right now.)

In fact he says his lawyer took on his case only because the latter expected to win it, not to lose it.  Could it be his lawyer is more optimistic than he is?  In any case, he seems prepared to spend months in prison, as Hong Kong increasingly heads down an authoritarian path.


1 Oct 2017 demo vs authoritarianism, animated

The interview is available in audio (some 40+ minutes).  It was was conducted by Subversity Show Online host Daniel C. Tsang.  Images, audio and text, © Copyright Daniel C. Tsang.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Undaunted by likely prison term, Hong Kong Indigenous Leader Speaks Out



Ray Wong during our interview. Photos © Daniel C Tsang
Ray Wong (黃台仰), the 24 year-old founder of Hong Kong Indigenous, a Hong Kong political party advocating Hong Kong Independence, continues to speak out for a Hong Kong way of life increasingly endangered by what he depicts as the former British Crown Colony's new colonizers, the Peoples Republic of China.  He does so despite facing a likely lengthy prison term in a forthcoming trial.

He faces a potential decade behind bars if convicted of 'rioting' in the so-called Fishball Revolution of 2016, where riot police, according to Wong, beat up bystanders and sprayed pepper spray, after he and his group went to Mongkok to help unlicensed street hawkers set up their stalls during Lunar New Year celebrations.

As he related during an almost hour-long interview (in Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong) at his party's offices in
Hong Kong Indigenous tee shirt
an industrial warehouse building in the New Territories, his greatest fear is not prison but what happens outside while he is incarcerated, as he anticipates.  He recalls a nightmarish dream where for five years in prison he remains politically committed but on leaving the prison walls he discovers a totally changed Hong Kong, one that does not care about its future.  Luckily dreams are not predictors of what will actually happen.

It was during his teens from Form 3 in secondary school when he realized interacting and speaking Putonghua with classmates from the Mainland the immense gulf that separated Hong Kongers (or Hong Kongese) from those who came from across the Chinese border to take classes at his school.  First there was the disdain the Putonghua Mainlanders had for him and his fellow Cantonese speakers, but more than that, he realized they were not able to think freely, having been raised under a political regime that placed everything under the dictates of Communist Party.


Hong Kong Indigenous bag
Born in Hong Kong, he started interested in politics as a pupil in secondary school,and would soon participated in local social movements, to the worry of his mother (his parents are separated), who today wonders why he has to put his life on the line, worried about what happened to Liu Shao-bo, the Nobel Prizewinner who died in prison in China.  His parents, he pointed out, came from the Mainland, and know what the Chinese government can do to dissidents.  Thus he feels sorry getting his mom be so worried, but he believes in the event communism ends in China, as some China watchers are anticipating with the impending collapse of a bloated economy, it will present an opening for an alternative future for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Indigenous leaflet 2017
He and his fellow party members were in Mongkok last year to do what they did without incident the previous year, help hawkers who were setting up to sell fishballs and other delicacies during the Lunar New Year holidays, Wong says this time the local police started beating up not the hawkers but bystanders and using teargas.  That's how the events escalated during the Fishball Revolution.

Often accused by detractors of being a nativist, he insists his party does not discriminate against Mainlanders, just those who emigrate to Hong Kong without adopting the values of a cosmopolitan Hong Kong, pointing out that there is no citizenship test required about Hong Kong culture.  He notes that fellow Hong Kong Indigenous activist Edward Leung, whom we interviewed last year, was born on the Chinese Mainland but identifies as a Hong Kongnese.  In Hong Kong Indigenous, he says there are some 75 core members with 200 to 300 other supporters. 


He sees his mission now is to let the world know about how China is oppressing the people of Hong Kong.  Having travelled to meet with officials in Europe he finds they lack deep understanding of the reality of how China oppresses people within in its control.  He sees the route taken by other activists to potentially complain about human rights violations to the United Nations as "impractical", given Big Power control there.

Now that all Hong Kong political activists face a more authoritarian and intense crackdown by the Hong Kong Government, backed by Beijing, the various political factions seem willing to talk to each other.  Witness an event that took place just last month, on September 24.  HKU Law Prof. Benny Tai (戴耀廷), a leader of Occupy Central in 2014 was seated with Wong and other believers in democratic reform on a panel discussion after a community screening of indie filmmaker and arts professor Evans Chan (陳耀成)’s in-depth documentary on the Umbrella Movement, “Raise the Umbrellas” (撐傘), amicably discussing the past and future of Hong Kong activism.  – Daniel C. Tsang.


Monday, July 24, 2017

HK20: Hong Konger/Researcher Jeffrey Ngo on Why History Matters -- Subversity Show Online

Activists generally are not archivists, given the urgent, immediate tasks facing protesters and agitators for social and political change.  But our current Subversity Show Online interviewee [unfortunately the audio is not available due to technical issues] is both an activist and someone who understands and has used archives.   He is particularly unique in that he is not so much interested in preserving the current than in uncovering the past.  And not unlike all socially responsible contemporary librarians, he advocates open access, wanting to make the past accessible for free, to all.

Our subject is passionate Hong Konger Jeffrey Ngo (敖卓軒, pictured), who in his young age (he's in his early 20s, just about to complete a Master's thesis in history on Hong Kong at New York University), has already become a published op ed writer in the mainstream western media.  With well-known Hong Kong youthful student leader Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), Ngo co-wrote an op ed this past May for the New York Times urging support for U.S. Senate legislation, the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act".  In January, they had also collaborated in an op ed on Hong Kong for the Washington Post.  In fact, their essay in the World Policy Blog last October on how Hong Kong lost its right to self-determination as a British Colony under UN scrutiny caused a major furor for China. The duo were roundly attacked for bringing up the topic by Beijing Foreign Office diplomat Song Zhe (宋哲) in an op ed in the Wall Street Journal. 

And as researcher with Demosistō (香港眾志), a new political party in Hong Kong, he has been the historian behind Wong, the party's secretary general, collaborating with him on other essays as well as on a crowd-funding page to raise money for a proposed online archive of government documents (from UK, U.S.,Taiwan and Hong Kong) relating to the status of Hong Kong, including its future.  He is part of an ambitious 'Decoding Hong Kong's History" emerging project to collect such government archival documents from around the world.  As of today, the group has raised 40% of its goal of HK$500,000.  With 30 more years to go within the 50 years envisioned under the terms of the treaty that turned Hong Kong to China, uncovering the past is the key to envisioning the future.  Ngo and his comrades in his party hope to prepare Hong Kongers for an anticipated referendum within the next 30 years to determine their own future.


In our hour-long interview, we discussed the importance of government records, why he believes they should be publicly accessible, and why researching the past makes sense in understanding why Hong Kong was turned over to an authoritarian regime 20 years ago (during the "Handover").

We also discussed "Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower", the documentary on Wong now released on Netflix, which I saw with a dozen or so others at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film Festival a few months earlier at the CGV in Koreatown, Los Angeles.  Predictably, he is a booster of his friend's film, calling it an "excellent" way to let western audiences know about the political situation faced by democracy advocates in Hong Kong.

We also discussed Ngo's expertise in exposing the fact that although Hong Kong was still a British Colony (and hence subject to the Special Committee on Decolonization of the United Nations) when the Peoples Republic of China took Taiwan's seat in the United Nations, China managed to get the UN to delist Hong Kong from the list of territories up for decolonization.  And this was in 1972, two-and-a-half decades prior to the 1997 Handover.

Ngo believes the Tanzania chair of the committee incorrectly implied that the committee had voted to do so. There was in fact no roll call vote on that particular issue by the UN General Assembly.  He notes that China had just built a railroad in the African country, so no doubt Huang Hua, the UN representative from China, was able to influence the chair of the committee. 

The interview was conducted last month at NYU after a nice Thai dinner in nearby Greenwich Village, as marchers commemorating the Pulse nightclub massacre were gathering a few blocks away. Since then, his  party's sole Legislative Council elected official (Nathan Law, the youngest -- at 23 -- ever elected last year) together with three other pro-democracy legislators have sadly been "disqualified" in a Beijing-influenced judicial decision. -- Daniel C. Tsang, Subversity Show host.

Art enhanced photos of Jeffrey Ngo © Copyright 2017 Daniel C. Tsang



Friday, July 21, 2017

Brian Hioe on "New Bloom" and Taiwan Activism

 To listen to our interview on KUCI Subversity Show Online, click here.

In the 8 months or so since I met New Yorker Brian Hioe in Taipei, Taiwan, the founding editor of an exciting online magazine on Taiwan left activism, New Bloom, has been even more prolific. Several times a week, he writes erudite and thoughtful analyses of events in Taiwan and Asian region, focusing much of his attention on youth activists from Taiwan and surrounding areas.  The subtitle of the online publication says it all: Radical perspectives on Taiwan and the Asia Pacific.

Our interview, in a busy cafe near the Sun Yat-sen MRT station in Taipei, was conducted on November 14, 2016.  We now bring you the audio of that interview, where we discuss the meaning of "left" and "right" in Taiwan and in Hong Kong.  We also talk about the necessity to preserve access to activist material for public use.  While Taiwan has a pro-democracy government (unlike Hong Kong), it is still necessary to collect and preserve such materials, especially from the recent movements, including the Sunflower Movement in Taipei.  I was pleased Mr. Hioe planned in 2017 to create a web archive of such materials.

Brian Hioe (right) with interviewer.  Photo credit: Brian Hioe.
In the interview, he explains his activism started with a more liberal human rights group in high school in the U.S., but he became more radicalized in college, attending Vassar College and then New York University, at around the time Occupy Wall Street began.  He was there the first day.  He subsequently moved to Taipei to learn Mandarin Chinese, and the result was New Bloom, a web-based effort to bridge activism across the region and the world.

Given that Taiwan is often sidelined by a focus on mainland China, it is gratifying to see New Bloom exist and be so successful, holding local music events where print zine versions even are distributed. -- Daniel C. Tsang.