Monday, June 3, 2019

Before & After 6/4 Massacre: UC Irvine Chinese Students Mobilize in 1989

Irvine -- As the world outside China recalls the brutal massacre in Beijing on 4 June 1989 thirty years ago, we look back at how students, faculty and staff at UCI responded back in 1989 to the student protests in China and the eventual massacre.  Significantly those participating in a remembrance event 7 June 1989 outside then-Paley Library were many shocked students from the Peoples' Republic of China.  They would not be among those subsequent students from Mainland China who would suffer from Party-enforced "politicized amnesia".

Participants pack the steps and balcony at UC Irvine three days after the massacre
At a memorial service speakers paid tribute to those who sacrificed their lives as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks rolled over the student protestors. Objects of scorn were "Paramount Leader" Deng Xiaoping, with one protestor carrying a small bottle, a play on his name. Another was Premier Li Peng, the "Butcher of Beijing," who had imposed martial law and ordered the PLA to crack down.  In contrast, one student raised a pole with stuffed toy turtle, in apparent support of ousted Party Secretary Hu Yaobang, whom Deng had called dismissively "turtle egg Yaobang" when briefed 24 April 1989 by Li Peng about a politburo standing committee meeting in April that year, according to Richard Baum's Burying Mao.  News of the slur had leaked out; calling someone turtle egg is akin to calling someone a bastard.  Hu had met with the protesting students and was sympathetic.

Taking photographs at the time of the memorial at UC Irvine in 1989, I remember the shock and grief among those gathered facing a "coffin" and speaker set up borrowed from KUCI, the campus radio station. It was only four years later, in 1993, I would start my weekly Subversity Show on KUCI.

In 1989 the over 4,300 Asian and Asian American undergraduate students made up over a third of the 13,000-strong undergraduate UC Irvine student body (according to a news article in the Los Angeles Times, 16 May 1989). Weeks before the massacre, the University announced the hiring of Chinese scholar Pauline Yu, grabbed from Columbia University, to head the recently approved East Asian Literatures & Languages Department.  She was slated to start work on 1 July, 1989.  The Executive Vice-Chancellor at the time who hired Yu was Tien Chang-lin, who would soon go back to UC Berkeley to become UC Berkeley Chancellor.

The student newspaper New University did not cover the UC Irvine remembrances on its front page in the next issue.  Instead, it issued a humor edition called the New Ewe.  (The digitized copy of 12 June 1989 "archived" online at UCI is incomplete, lacking many pages, and superimposed with a later issue).

But a New University issue of 29 May 1989 did cover UCI students from Taiwan and China participating in solidarity protests in Los Angeles.  A photo shows UC Irvine marked on two banners or flags carried, with biology and economics senior Philip Huang and biology junior Tony Lee identified in the caption, which notes that "about eight other UCI students"  joined the march in Chinatown Los Angeles the previous Saturday.  The marchers went from the Sun Yat-sen statue to the Chinese Consulate.
UCI students among those gathered at UCI
UCI student raises turtle on a pole

Tony Lee, the incoming Republic of China Student Association president, thought the protests might "at least" make the authorities there more open to democracy. Jennifer Wang, a senior biology major and president of UCI's Chinese Association (for students from China) was working on a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress, hoping to inform Congress "that there are a lot of people who support (the Chinese students) and to get the President... to take a stronger stand."

A vice-president elect of ROCSA, Philip Huang said, "If we get people across the globe to recognize what students want to achieve and to bear pressure on the CHinese government, maybe" Chinese leaders will move for some change.

Continuation of New University article
But a UCI Political Science Professor at the time, Mark Petracca, who had taught at Beida the previous year, disgreed, echoing what has become the Party line, in China as well as in Hong Kong, regarding anti-government protests: "I don't know why the Chinese government would pay attention to what a group of students do abroad... Foreign influence in China over the last 150 years has always been suspect."  Petracca, having left UCI recently, was not reachable to see if he has changed his mind.

The previous Friday, ROCSA had held a petition drive plus donation collection in Gateway Plaza at UCI.  ROCSA sent a support letter the group worked on for two weeks to the New University, which published it in the same issue.  Signed by its President, Wayne Wu, the Taiwan student club commended, in the gendered language of the time,  "our fellow brother students" in Mainland China "for their dedication and perseverance in the pursuit of life, liberty and democracy."  Although students from Taiwan, "we still feel a sense of brotherhood among the Chinese race, and an unspeakable passion of patriotism toward the country of our forefathers," a call not likely to be echoed in today's Taiwan except by Kuomintang supporters.

 "It is the common goal of all Chinese, regardless of background or origin, to one day see a united body of China striving for the progression and advancement of our beloved country." Adding that "what they are fighting for is just and good," the statement ends: "Our spirits, as well as our hearts, will go out to them in an endless wave of support until the endless conflict has been resolved and victory is in sight."

Of course, hopes were extinguished after the army moved in to wipe out the protest just six days after the letter was published.

ROCSA statement in New University 29 May 1989
Seventeen years later, in 2006, Tiananmen student leader Wan Dan would address a packed audience at UC Irvine on China's future. See our blog entry. He spoke in English.  The audio link is here.

Despite the current influx of many international students from China, many of whom may think 6/4 is just foreign propaganda, there is reason to trust that truth will prevail and justice will eventually prevail.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.  Photos copyright © Daniel C. Tsang 1989.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Less of a Life in Limbo as California Governor Jerry Brown Pardons Vietnamese Former Inmates

Governor Jerry Brown has pardoned three former refugees from Vietnam, including two from Orange
From pardon letter.  Credit: Tung's Facebook
County.  The pardons give the two of them we talked with a chance to continue with their lives outside prison as they seek to make the wider Vietnamese community aware of the struggles their fellow released inmates encounter as they seek to rejoin society, for crimes committed as kids. The news was also reported in Vietnam.

The pardons come as U.S. has agreed to honor an earlier commitment to not send deportable Vietnamese nationals who came here as refugees back to Vietnam, a country most of whom have little knowledge of.

Tung Thanh Nguyen at VFF
Photo credit: Daniel C. Tsang
We talked with Tung Thanh Nguyen, the founder of APIROC (Asians & Pacific Islanders Re Entry of Orange County) and Hai Trong Nguyen, who became the first Vietnamese beneficiary of a new law allowing early release for inmates whose crimes were committed as minors. Tung came at age 15 while Hai arrived at age 2.

Tung is a current Soros fellow who uses the grant to engage in community work building a model deportation support system.  His activism has been profiled in a short, 10-minute documentary by Lan Hoang Nguyen, "Limbo" (Bị Kẹt).  The film, which premiered at the recent Vietnamese Film Festival in Orange, traces Tung's activism after he obtained (from Gov. Brown as well) early release after being a model prisoner, including helping some visitors to safety after a prison protest.  Literature on a table outside the screening sought the public's help in petitioning Gov. Brown to grant Tung a pardon.  He granted that wish to both Tung and Hai (and a third Vietnamese former inmate Truong Quang Ly) in time for Thanksgiving this month.  Each had been imprisoned for over a decade.
Documentary Short poster featuring Tung

Tung told us that the pardon is "no guarantee" he won't still be deported.  But the pardons do offer him and Hai a next step in a legal process they will follow as they provide paperwork to immigration authorities to rescind their deportation orders, hopefully.    Both Tung and Hai regret their criminal behavior (in a murder and a robbery case respectively) but are unable to apologize in person to the victims' families by state law that bars any contact.

However Tung says he hopes they will hear about how they are now committing their lives to helping the Vietnamese community, which is no doubt skeptical about helping released inmates. They both hope their example as bad kids turned into mature adults will convince the community to do more to reintegrate former inmates back into the family and into society.  Some 13,000 Southeast Asians in America are also at risk of deportation unless the U.S. adheres to the non-deportation agreement with Vietnam for those who arrived in the U.S. before 1995.

Panel discussion after Limbo and another documentary.
Photo credit: Daniel C. Tsang
In 2016 we interviewed another Soros fellow, Eddy Zheng, who also has committed his life to the community, in this case the Chinese American community in the Bay Area, after a similar pardon.  We are glad to learn that last year he was set to take the oath to become a U.S. citizen.  He had been incarcerated for over two decades.  -- Daniel C. Tsang

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ayala Case Raises Troubling Questions about UC Irvine Disciplinary Process

Chancellor Gillman at Emeriti/Retiree
Annual Reception 16 October 2018.
Photo copyright © 2018 Daniel C. Tsang
The case of renowned geneticist Francisco J. Ayala, who resigned from UC Irvine because of official sexual harassment findings against him, reached into an annual gathering of UCI Emeriti and Retirees last week when a member of the audience  had his question picked about the case, and posed to UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, who was taking questions after a keynote address at the Pacific Ballroom in the UCI Student Center.

Asked to comment on the case, Dr. Gillman, in apparently his first public comments since June 28, 2018, when he announced the findings of a UCI investigation that led to Dr Ayala's resignation, told the gathering at a ballroom in the UCI Student Center that since Dr. Ayala “chose” to resign, the university never had to sanction him.  He suggested that Dr. Ayala, a major donor, agreed that his name would be removed from two buildings, the School of Biological Sciences and the Science Library.  Dr. Gillman lauded the way UCI conducted the process leading to Dr. Ayala's departure.

He did not address the effective "ban" from the campus on Dr. Ayala nor did he address publicized concerns from faculty about the way the process was handled. In August, 2018 Science magazine published a letter signed by over 60 faculty at UC Irvine and elsewhere protesting what they viewed as a draconian penalty as well as a flawed process, ending in "sanctions" that were "enacted in haste".

Dr. Gillman comments on Dr. Ayala's case 16 October 2018 (video)

At the risk of being accused of "himpathy" (see that OC Weekly piece supporting the complainants), let's explore why we agree the process was flawed and UC Irvine overreached when it denied Dr. Ayala his Emeritus status and banned him from participating in any future university activities.  

We come to that conclusion after a lengthy conversation with a senior UC Irvine faculty member who requested anonymity.  This faculty member believes contrary to what the Chancellor stated last week, Dr. Ayala was in fact "coerced" into resigning and giving up his Emeritus status, as well as having his name removed from two campus buildings.  

While UCI faculty had intervened earlier in the process so that his initial mandatory leave (while the investigation was going on) was changed earlier this year to voluntary leave, with which the faculty privilege and tenure committee had concurred, this faculty member understands that the University had threatened Dr. Ayala with "severe" consequences should he not resign immediately after the investigative findings were issued.  Dr. Ayala, according to this faculty member, took it to mean he would lose his pension and his campus residence unless he resigned.  If that is the case, it was hardly a "voluntary"  decision to resign. Accepting he had to resign, Dr. Ayala was able to retire after his long, if marred, service to the University and keep his home.

Faculty facing disciplinary actions in fact have the right to bring their case to the Privilege and Tenure committee, before the University finalizes any sanctions.  In the Ayala case, given what surely looks like a coerced departure, he was not able to complete the process.  Thus the process was made flawed by the University's insistence that he resign.

Given the fait accompli, supporters of Dr. Ayala are considering initiating a campus petition to ask the University to give Dr. Ayala the Emeritus status denied him when he resigned abruptly.

With the removal of Dr. Ayala's name from two campus buildings 
UCI will now have two new chances
Before  Ayala was sanctioned. 
Photo copyright © 2015 Daniel C. Tsang
to solicit "naming opportunities" for the two buildings from other major donors.  In fact the library administration was not notified before UCI announced in 2010 that Dr Ayala's name would be placed on the Science Library. (I am now told that neither was the dean of Biological Sciences.) As a working librarian I recall being surprised, as were the rest of my library colleagues, when UCI issued a 22 April 2010 press release about that.  That was the first any of us in the libraries on campus heard about it, thus denying the libraries its own naming opportunity. 

At the time I thought the building naming was done rather arbitrarily and by administrative feat.  The campus Administration apparently gave Dr. Ayala  the power to name his own building, when none of the money from his Templeton Prize went to the libraries.  But today in the aftermath of the "findings", the Administration no longer listens to Dr. Ayala. His tremendous sway has surprisingly evaporated, rather quickly.  Like in Communist countries, he has become a non-person.  Even the name of his spouse, Hana, has been removed from the list of donors, as if she is responsible for her husband's acts. And the UCI libraries has already amended the finding aid for the documents relating to the then Ayala Science Library architectural plans, noting that UCI Chancellor had now removed "Ayala's name" from the two buildings.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Remembering Esteemed Bibliographer Eddie Yeghiayan

Shatin, Hong Kong --  An email sent Saturday 12 May 2018 (received the next day here) from his nephew Armen informed me that my close friend and colleague at University of California, Irvine, Libraries, the incomparable bibliographer Eddie Yeghiayan, had passed away that morning, in his sleep.

I am currently on a Fulbright in Hong Kong and this news made me too sad for words.  Now, after a few days, I am beginning to put some words in print.

He was 78 when he left us, born in Ethiopia of Armenian heritage, he felt free after his retirement to devote himself to compiling a massive, multilingual compendium on the Armenian genocide, published in fact by the Vatican press.  It was his ultimate triumph after a career at UC Irvine devoted to being a really dedicated librarian who was a philosophy bibliographer.

His triumph at the libraries there was the creation of the critical theory archive and its massive collection of bibliographies about the top cultural theorists of the time, who came to Irvine to lecture.  He even became a media sensation, appearing in Derrida, where he was filmed talking about the French critical theorist's archive at UC Irvine.  (It was the only time I spoke to Derrida, where I managed to utter "enchanté", as the regular visiting UC Irvine professor sat in the audience for an Irvine screening.)  The dialog is reprinted in a spinoff book, Derrida: Screenplay and Essays on the Film by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman (Manchester University Press, which records Eddie saying: "This is the entire Derrida archive beginning there almost to the end, there's about 100 boxes.  We see Derrida pacing through the archive...

Speaking once with Eddie about a summer in the late 1960's I spent living in Berkeley with friends from Hong Kong, I showed him a photo of the apartment complex. He quickly pointed out that he had lived there before, in the same complex, when he pursued his undergraduate studies some years  earlier.  So it was inevitable that we took a trip to Berkeley together to relive old times.

He was my regular companion at Chinese eateries, even as I at time wrote short blurbs for the OC Weekly.  And we would also go together to many of the Vietnamese International Film Festivals that started at UC Irvine and continued in Orange County, and which I covered for my radio program, Subversity Show, and later its podcasts, as well as review for the OC Weekly.

Eddie, who was short but not slim, had an uncomfortable experience eating at Irvine's Taiwanese eatery modeled after a school classroom, Class 302 on Culver Drive.  The furniture seemed more appropriate for elementary school so it was not a huge success our eating there.

Photo copyright © 2015 Daniel C. Tsang
My happiest memory of him was when he attended after his retirement the graduation party of my  student assistant, Tatevik.  She also was of Armenian heritage.  I really love this photo of him (right).

He also attended a critical theory conference, coming back on campus -- we stayed in hotels in Irvine so he could conveniently attend.  At the event, it was astonishing, but totally understandable, to see
Chancellors Professor Gabbie Schwab kneeling in front of Eddie, in a public tribute to all his contributions to the critical theory discipline.

I wrote about a 2015 critical theory event (that Eddie didn't attend) at UC Irvine Libraries  in my blog post.  Here's some excerpts:

During the exhibits opening event 9 April 2015, in the Q&A session after the opening talk by UCI Humanities Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele, I related the anecdote of the New York Times calling Eddie up to ask if the newspaper could use a low-resolution photo of Judith Butler that Eddie had taken and posted online next to his bibliography on Butler.  Eddie - the unasuming and generous soul he was - offered to give it to the paper for free. To laughter, I said he could have asked for $1,000.   "He didn't want any money," I added. The photo was subsequently published in the 27 February 1999 edition of the NY Times, p. B11 to acccompany a story on "Attacks on Scholars Include a Barbed Contest With 'Prizes' " by Dinitia Smith that began on page B9.   This past Sunday Eddie recalled the New York Times had offered him $100 which he declined.  The photo is missing from the online version but Eddie is credited.

UCI Chancellor's Prof. (in Comparative Literature) Gabriele Schwab then spoke up thanking Eddie for his "most amazing bibliographies." UCI Humanities Dean Van Den Abbeele from the podium then said he "knew that" and had "consulted" Eddie's Lyotard bibliography "many, many times" and that "it is an amazing piece of work."  He later told me that while French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard had given him (the Dean) some pamphlets of his (Lyotard's) writings, Eddie's bibliography listed every one of them. 

At a time when library administrators at many places are urging librarians to collaborate with faculty more, Eddie stands as an exemplary example of the benefits of producing scholarly work that brings recognition to bibliographers and other librarians. 

Photo courtesy Eddie Yeghiayan
At my encouragement, Eddie penned his own tribute to Roger Berry, who headed Special Collections, and his favorite boss.   I also like this photo since it shows Eddie with his characteristic smile behind Roger Berry.

To me, no one could replace Eddie, nor could the University find a comparable replacement.  He was one of a kind.

Daniel C. Tsang


My past colleague Julia Gelfand and I sent out this email 15 May 2018 about Eddie to our colleagues:

Photo copyright © May 2015 Daniel C. Tsang

The family of Eddie Yeghiayan, former Librarian for Philosophy, French, Italian and English, and founding librarian for Critical Theory at UCI announced his passing on May 12.  Eddie retired in 2002 after devoting his entire professional career to the UCI Libraries.  He received his PhD in Philosophy from UCI in 1974 under the direction of the late Professor Abe Meldon, studying Hume’s theory of moral sentiments.  He went on to support and document the founding of the program in Critical Theory at UCI by creating extensive bibliographies of all the distinguished faculty, critics and scholars who shaped and defined that internationally acclaimed program.  A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University where he also taught in the Philosophy Department, he received his MSLS from Berkeley in 1977 and returned to UCI that year to be the Humanities Bibliographer working under Marion Buzzard and with Roger Berry, Head of Special Collections, where the Critical Theory Archive was established.   Born in Ethiopia, Eddie came alone to the US as a young teenager joining his older brothers who were already working as an engineer and lawyer in the US.   

Eddie devoted his retirement to compiling an extensive bibliography of the Armenian Genocide, published in 2012.  Already online as a searchable database via the web site of the Glendale-based Center for Armenian Remembrance, the 1126 page bibliography was released in print by Vatican Publishing House.  In April 2015, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana issued  Eddie’s volume in Italian.  In Spring 2015 the UCI Libraries held an exhibit “Through Discerning Eyes: Origins and Impact of Critical Theory at UCI,” where the Welleck Lecture series was well documented with Eddie’s extensive bibliographies of the giants of the field and for which he is much recognized and highly cited.  He also appeared in a short video clip from Derrida directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman. 

Eddie is remembered as a very generous and engaging colleague, a terrific storyteller, who mentored many librarians and scholars in the scholarship of language and literature.  He loved words, film, international cuisines, was fluent in many languages and had a very well informed worldly view.  He leaves a brother, 4 nieces and nephews, several great nieces and nephews, and a large extended family around the world.   Information about services and memorials are forthcoming.

Julia Gelfand & Dan Tsang

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Remembering Historian Arif Dirlik

In "Raise the Umbrellas", Arif Dirlik compares Tiananmen protests  
in 1989 to Hong Kong 2014: "Didn't they occupy Tiananmen Square"?
Screenshot from the documentary'
My memories of Arif Dirlik, the eminent historian of Marxism and anarchism in China, will seem more personal, and rooted in Hong Kong, where I am currently based.  This distinguished scholar, whom I'll refer to by his first name, was a not infrequent visitor and resident, although based at Duke University in Chapel Hill, NC, and later at the University of Oregon, Eugene.
Only recently, just prior to a 13 November 25 2017 Chinese University of Hong Kong screening of Evans Chan's "Raise the Umbrellas", an insightful, lengthy documentary on the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, in which Arif Dirlik appears, its director announced to a stunned audience that he was saddened if honored to have received what he believed to be Arif's final email, and that Arif "was dying".  Arif indeed passed away 18 days later, on 1 December, 2017, in Eugene, Oregon.  Evans Chan dedicated that CUHK screening to Arif, and says he plans to also dedicate future screenings to Arif.

In around 2004, when he was teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I was visiting Hong Kong and we met over lunch at the massive New Town Plaza in Shatin, two train stops away from his campus.  I recall accompanying him as he loaded up a shopping cart at the City'super supermarket on a higher level of the shopping center, where he politely asked the sales clerks to carve meats and cheeses.  As we reached the cashier he suddenly became frustrated and angry, at having to pay the 50-cent (Hong Kong currency, or 8 cents in US) charge for each plastic bag.   Arguing he had not be forewarned, he dumped his shopping load on to the counter and stormed away.

Here was my only public experience with his temper, usually  aimed at other academics privately but not, I would have thought, at members of the working class, especially on an environmental issue for which he is generally supportive.  As I related that incident to friends later, I realized that was part and parcel of what made Arif special, if not adorable, i.e., his stubborn unwillingness to compromise, but to stick to his principles, however misguided as in this instance.

An October 2004 interview with Arif at CUHK appears (in English) in indie musician and radical Lenny Kwok's bilingual (Chinese and English) retrospective compilation that came out in 2007, Body of Work, 1984-2004 (see cover image below), by Blackbird (i.e., Lenny Kwok).

In that 2004 interview ("WTO Protests, Place-based Democracy, Tiananmen & 7-Chinas: The Arif Dirlik Interview", see image below) Arif is amazingly prescient about Hong Kong, saying that democracy has to be grassroots-based.  Referring to the then-forthcoming WTO protests in Hong Kong, Arif said:

"In the case of Hong Kong, I think it is really important to keep in mind the community bases...The local community bases.  And the linkages between the local bases of the other bases...".  He expected China to crack down on protesters, given the Chinese government "made such a big effort to get into WTO... they are not going to like anti-WTO protests in Hong Kong.... They'll certainly pressure the SAR government to suppress the movement", athough he did not think they would use the army (PLA).

Arif continued:  "Hong Kong is really interesting because Hong Kong was a global city before globalization! It has economically been tied in so many ways with the world and that you have the local elites.

And they're not gonna like this.  The PRC government is going to get together with them to suppress the actions."

He suggested instead of activists focusing exclusively on protests, they convene a "counter meeting. In other words, do a Counter-WTO, rather than an Anti-WTO. The alternative of what's happening.  Contribute to the education of the people.  You might be able to include people from the PRC under those circumstances, because there are people willing to talk about the enormous waste involved in the so called globalization craze - the waste of money building the Olympic Centre in China, so that it could represent itself as a global power.  The problems of ecology, the problems of social inequality etc.  This might be the time to bring people together to talk about these things."

On the 7-Chinas, including Hong Kong, Arif told Lenny:  "To me it is really important these various Chinese societies achieve some kind of democracy.  And I don't see how you can achieve a democracy in a country of this size ruled from Beijing, according to habits which are very dictatorial.  I try to conceive of it in reverse, that the government in Beijing, instead of fearing that if Taiwan separates out, then maybe Tibet would follow, and then Xin Jiang too.  I think that's what they are afraid of.  But they also could use Taiwan, or Hong Kong, as an example of creating democracy slowly from the bottom up rather than controlleĥd from the centre.  That could happen.  Why not?"

He warned against the rise of "Chinese chauvinism" as China asserts a more "racialized nationalism". In contrast what he is suggesting is "this other thing", that "democracy must be based on differences, not homogenate."  And he explained that is why he is "all for what's going on in Taiwan... democracy from the bottom up."

I suspect while Arif, an avowed radical, would have been critical of some of the pan-democrats and localists in Hong Kong, he would totally embrace their assertion of democracy from the bottom up.

Indeed in one of his last pieces written for publication, he endorsed the activists in Hong Kong who were in the streets fighting against an authoritarian Chinese government across the border.  In "The Mouse that roared: The Democratic Movement in Hong Kong," Arif called "one country, two systems" an "unstable arrangement "openly favoring the corporate and financial ruling class in Hong Kong which is in turn prepared to align its interests with those of the Communist regime in a mutually beneficial relationship."

Originally published in Turkish and English in the newspaper Agos, near the end of the Umbrella Movement on 6 October 2014 and in boundary 2(29 October 2014), an updated version appeared in 2016 in on-line public access journal, Contemporary Chinese Political Economy and Strategic Relations: An International Journal.

Arif then ties the Umbrella Movement to "the latest chapter in a narrative that goes back to the 1980s, the emergence of a neoliberal global capitalism of which the PRC has been an integral component, and the Tienanmen movement which was one of the earliest expressions of the social and political strains created by shifts in the global economy."

In the article, Arif writes that [s]truggles for autonomy in Hong Kong raise significant theoretical and political questions about issues of "Chineseness" as well as the relationship between colonialism and historical identity-formation."  Both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong, Arif argued that "there are different ways to be Chinese."  He adds:  "Declarations that 'we are not Chinese, we are Hong Kongers' or 'we are not Chinese, we are Taiwanese' are at one level protests against political homogenization that presupposes a homogeneous political identity centered in Beijing.  In a deeper sense, they raise questions about a racialized ethnic and national identity in the name of local identities that nourish off the experience of diverse historical identities that challenge de-historicized and de-socialized notions of "Chineseness.' "

For Hong Kong, the "colonial legacy has proven to be more deep-seated than the regime had wished.  It would be simplistic to attribute Hong Kong demands for democracy and independence to lingering nostalgia for colonial rule, or even the political and legal norm established under it."

He continues, "What is equally significant is that the colonial pasts offer alternative historical narratives that are invoked against the nationalist narrative of a single history based on common ethnicity and imagined homogeneity that justifies Beijing's claims".   Indeed, "from the perspective of these alternative narratives... unification with the Mainland adds up to little more than a new round of colonialism."

He also spoke at the local cultural studies bookstore, Hong Kong Reader, in March 2008.

I also visited with him earlier when he taught once at the Hong Kong University of Science and

Source: ICAS 8 Day 2 Newsletter
Technology. I tagged along with Chinese American poet and editor Russell Leong, who had been invited to Arif's class to guest lecture there, on that beautiful, then-new campus.  Arif was generous enough to let me talk to the students about my mother, who was a U.S. born woman of Chinese ethnicity. More recently, he gave a lecture at ICAS 8, meeting in 2013 in Macau.  Just past the casino tables he gave a keynote speech on the rise of Asia, warning not to be deceived by the rhetoric.

I will miss his pugnaciousness, generosity of spirit, and willingness to mentor emerging scholars.  I regret never having interviewed him for my show, and especially these last months, not making the trip up to Eugene from southern California to meet up with him, although we kept in email communication and on Messenger until he fell ill.  His final email (August 24, 2017) to me was uncharacteristically succinct:  "Neat" in response to my email about finding some historical material of interest from my own archive before heading to Hong Kong for an extended research stay at CUHK.  I did not learn till writing this blog entry that he also was once a Fulbrighter.  -  Daniel C. Tsang.

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) recorded16 October 2017 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.

[Weeks after the interview Ray Wong absconded to Germany, which granted him and fellow dissident Alan Li asylum as a refugee last May. -- 26 May 2019 Update.]

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.