Which films exactly show the culture of Hong Kong?

Who knows where exactly the red lines run - there is uncertainty in Hong Kong's cultural scene

Recently activists in the pro-democracy umbrella protest movement in Hong Kong were convicted of inciting and disturbing public order. The sentence is still open, but Beijing is passing on the tariff. Concern and fear are palpable in the cultural and intellectual scene.

A horse, the trunk cut in half, at the lower edge of the picture; the city behind it is cloudy, and entertainment is prescribed by loudspeaker: this is how artist Tina So sees Hong Kong after the umbrella revolution. The optimism of this movement, which paralyzed the traffic center of the economic metropolis for almost three months in 2014, slips away from the young man in the picture, disappears like the colorful balloons in the clouds. The disappointment was bitter and the search for a way out was tedious, says Tina So today, and thanks that five years later someone is interested in things that still move Hong Kong today.

I myself saw the beginnings of “Occupy Central” back in April 2014, when a handful of protesters put up their first tents in the pedestrian overpass at the General Post Office and called for more democracy. Later, in the fall, three groups protested: the “Occupy Central” movement formed by university teachers around law professor Benny Tai, a student association and then an activist group made up of schoolchildren and students. They all called for a boycott of lessons in order to demand more political say and free elections. They no longer wanted a 1,200-strong committee to propose candidates who were acceptable to the Chinese government in Beijing. And many a group went so far as to demand independence from China - which in turn met with incomprehension in large parts of the population.

Red lines everywhere

The police used tear gas massively against the protests and occupations, while the demonstrators protected themselves with colorful umbrellas, hence the name “umbrella movement”. Civil disobedience was discussed peacefully in tents, exchanged with people who were by no means only part of the intellectual population of Hong Kong; some took care of the food supply, others of the cleanliness. "It was like a utopia and I was proud of Hong Kong," says Tina So. At the time - in memory of the violent suppression of the student protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989 - I thought it was a game with fire and I feared all of them Months for the well-being of friends and acquaintances.

To date, Hong Kong society has not really recovered from the impact of realpolitik. The rainbow movement is no longer an issue for the population, but at least irregularities in elections are followed more closely than ever. People are insecure. When I talked to the employee of a small publishing house about it, she thought for a long time before she quasi asks herself: What can you do, what can you say, where is the red line? What effects may my actions have at a later point in time, and will my children be affected by it? The kidnapping of five booksellers in 2015 was a warning shot that Hong Kong intellectuals understood very well. A paralysis had spread. The same thing could happen to you at any time, without warning, so be careful. And Tina So complains about the abundance of imaginary red lines that one shouldn't cross. Beijing alone knows exactly where these run. Self-imposed censorship and subliminal fear block her artistic work.


Uncertainty hangs over the city like powdery mildew. At first there is just a moment of silence, then a struggle for words when I ask someone what the rainbow movement means to them. You have polarized society, which is now under pressure, say two activists. It was good that everything had gone off peacefully, but what remained? Perplexity. Today there are the blue (the pro-China movement) and the yellow (the umbrella movement and its sympathizers). The crack sometimes goes through families and groups of friends. If you met carefree beforehand and exchanged ideas, today you first clarify the “color” of the other.

The "localists" emerged stronger from the movement, who, according to the motto "Hong Kong first", reject any interference by Beijing and adopt nationalist tones towards the new immigrants from the mainland from the People's Republic. “The elders themselves came from China and came here as immigrants,” says a former activist who, like many others, has discovered ecology as a social concern for herself as a way out. Environmental concerns are accepted, but only if they do not run counter to state interests such as the gigantic bridge from Macau to Hong Kong or the creation of artificial islands. Other protesters look to books by Gandhi and Thoreau and literature on civil disobedience for a way out; or in Buddhism as a philosophy that sharpens one's own awareness and the feeling of responsibility towards the general public.

Politics was never an issue in schools before. The parents had fled China to Hong Kong for economic or political reasons, wanted to have peace and quiet and live in prosperity. But the material is no longer decisive, says the artist and teacher Mary Terry *, who has been teaching for more than thirty years. The young people no longer accept everything without being asked and sometimes comment on political events that used to be unthinkable. The umbrella movement drove young people to be clear about their own values.

Columnist Nury Vittachi confirms this impression: the city's DNA has changed and, for the first time in Hong Kong's history, young people can be seen and heard. You would have fought for more freedom and independence in the youthful furor. That was naive, but it shows an effect. Under Carrie Lam, the current head of government of the Chinese special administrative region Hong Kong, a lot of money has recently been flowing into the construction of inexpensive accommodation for students, but also in start-up companies.

Three levels of resignation

Still, Carrie Lam's popularity among 18-29 year olds is not great. Many felt powerless, looked in vain for orientation and became cynical about it, says Mary Terry. This is also expressed in a poem by a young student I met in a literary circle: “Because we have our government appointed / because she always goes against her people / because she loves spending money on Tomorrowland / and putting teenagers behind bars. [. . .] But more importantly because we never give up / because we cherish democracy / because we still value our voice / because we have friends and family whom we love / because we still care. Because it is our forever home. "

The President of PEN Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng, sums up the situation in “Unsafe Harbor: Shrinking Space of Free Expression in Hong Kong”. There are three types of resignation in the city: some have given up because they should have realized that resistance is futile, others turn their backs on the place when they can no longer afford it financially. And the third group is still trying to slow down Hong Kong's decline in the spirit of the umbrella movement.

* Name changed - Alice Green Fields is a sinologist and freelance editor. Her debut novel, “The Desert Walker”, about Xinjiang was recently published.