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Hong Kong, my vanished city

In recent months, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have chosen the path of exile. They are fleeing the repression orchestrated by Beijing, but also the severity of the anti-Covid measures. And, like journalist Louisa Lim, who grew up in the former British colony, they have to deal with nostalgia for a territory where nothing will be the same.

In Melbourne, during the long lockdown, I became addicted to an app that live streams the view from another person’s window to various locations around the world. I loved being in front of the luminous azure of the Aegean Sea or the russet leaves of a tree-lined mountainside in South Korea.

One day while browsing the app, I came across a sunset filmed from the window of a seaside housing estate on the Hong Kong island of Ap Lei Chau. I could hear the comforting Cantonese melody, the sound of the gas stove, and the sizzle of food being sautéed in oil. I didn’t have the heart to close the window. I continued to watch. I saw birds crossing the sky, which turned from pink to gray, then darkness came. I had discovered a portal to the past, to a home where I could no longer return.

In 1997, the impossible flight

As the lockdown ended, a Melbourne cinema screened a series of films by Hong Kong arthouse director Wong Kar-wai. I attended each of the screenings. One evening, Kristy Matheson, the organizer of the event, briefly presented the feature film HappyTogether. Shot in Buenos Aires and released in 1997, the year Hong Kong returned to China, the film describes the troubled relationship between two homosexuals, which many have interpreted as an allegory of the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing. One has the impression that the couple, who live in exile, are somehow floating in limbo: no familiar rituals or significant moments mark the passage of time. Kristy Matheson concluded her presentation with a quote from the filmmaker describing the atmosphere that reigned in 1997 before the former British colony was returned to China:

We wanted to run away, but the more we wanted to run away from Hong Kong, the more inseparable we became. Wherever we went, Hong Kong was in us.”

It’s a feeling familiar to new exiles in Hong Kong. The population of this city of 7.4 million inhabitants is dwindling. Some residents leave so suddenly that they abandon their luxury car in a parking lot. The city has lost nearly 150,000 residents since the end of 2021, including more than 50,000 in the first half of March alone. According to the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, almost a quarter of the city’s residents have planned to go into exile.

The reasons for the current exodus

This exodus is partly explained by the draconian measures adopted by Hong Kong to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Until recently, people who tested positive for the drug were sent to isolation camps. A Hong Kong charity also estimates that up to 2,000 infected children have been separated from their parents in hospital.

The main factor, however, remains the political climate that has reigned since the monster demonstrations of 2019 [contre un amendement qui devait permettre les extraditions vers la Chine continentale et pour la défense de la démocratie dans la ville]. In June 2020, Beijing passed the Hong Kong National Security Law. This prohibits separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. These offenses are so ill-defined that it now appears that applauding during a hearing constitutes seditious activity, as does criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic on social media or wearing a T-shirt or possessing stickers featuring the popular protest slogan “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time”.

According to a database, 183 people have been arrested under the national security law since its adoption, including a third for making speeches or chanting slogans that contravene it. Vigorous civil society organizations were forced to disband and the arrest for subversion of 47 political activists accused of organizing primaries “illegal” [dans le camp démocrate, en vue des législatives] completely transformed the face of the Autonomous Territory’s Legislative Council. While it previously had to deal with a combative opposition, the body now only has pro-Beijing patriots. Because the national security law is extraterritorial in nature, the potential threat it poses goes far beyond Hong Kong’s borders. [les autorités hongkongaises peuvent notamment demander les données de n’importe quel compte de réseau social dans le monde, dont les activités violeraient la loi de sécurité nationale].

Lack of helpful advice

When the passage of the law was announced, I was chatting with members of my study group on Zoom. I am part of a small group of Hong Kong PhD students who live in Melbourne. We are affiliated with various Australian universities and our research focuses on Hong Kong identity. Throughout the duration of the confinement, we met by videoconference once a week p

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Source of the article

FinancialTimes (London)

Founded in 1888 as London Financial Guide, a four-page journal intended “to honest investors and respectable brokers”, the FinancialTimes is today the leading financial and economic daily newspaper in Europe. There is not a financial institution or bank worth its salt that does not receive a copy of this British newspaper instantly recognizable by its salmon-pink paper.
Bought by the Japanese group Nikkei in 2015, the “City newspaper” saw its number of subscribers to the paper edition gradually erode (155,000 in February 2020), but has more than 740,000 digital subscribers; 70% of its readership resides outside the UK.
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