Annual Conference 2021

Hong Kong Studies Association Inaugural Conference 


Panel 1: Teaching Hong Kong

The panellists shared different reasons behind the rising interest of UK-based students in Hong Kong Studies: dramatic political development, the affective dynamic, and powerful visual elements which trigger students to ask questions. In order to facilitate the growing curiosity of Hong Kong in a systematic fashion, a good example is the Hong Kong History Project at the University of Bristol. The project also establishes collaboration with the Hong Kong Studies Initiative at the University of British Columbia. Photographs are highlighted as useful and important resources of teaching Hong Kong.

The passage of the National Security Law means academics in Hong Kong need to adjust their teaching within the ‘red line’: varying from the elimination of sensitive topics to the practice of reframing certain issues. The ambiguity and fluidity of the ‘red line’ significantly restraints the liberal and flexible pedagogical environment in Hong Kong due to fear and censorship. But there are innovative teaching strategies, such as integrating book knowledge with the need of local community, to uphold academic freedom and encourage students to ask and reflect on important questions.

Panel 2 – Researching Hong Kong

There is a sharp decline in Hong Kong’ ranking of the Academic Freedom Index, which is now worse than Russia and Vietnam. At the university level the control over the freedom of thought is managed via controversial appointments, firing of teachers, biased funding, and even imposition of curriculum changes. Academic freedom is undermined by the persecution of academic scholars, with Benny Tai as the prime example. The ‘red line’ framing is the fundamental danger. The Hong Kong government has claimed that freedoms remain safely in place so long remains safely within the state’s ‘red lines’. The psychology of the ‘red lines’ is creating a broadly intimidating effect. The ‘red lines’ are in our heads, they are intentionally never demarcated, never made clear by the repressive government. We are to carry that ‘red line anxiety’ with us and therefore try to stay safe by retrenching further and further, the basic mechanism of self-censorship. The panellists pointed out that without further reflections ‘staying safe’ appears to make sense but further thinking reveals that obeying ‘red lines’ set by the government is a curious definition of freedom.

Facing such large political crisis, one of the panellists suggest we rethink our role as scholars researching on Hong Kong and image new forms of political subjectivity. Research in Hong Kong is about understanding Hong Kong in the context of China and the bigger issues in the post-colonial world. To decolonise ourselves we have to ‘do Hong Kong Studies’ to understand ourselves better and undo our own stereotypes and misunderstandings of Hong Kong and China. There is a fine line between the effort to bring Hong Kong to the international attention and the replication of a Western-centric discourse, which would be a common challenge to scholars in Hong Kong studies.

Keynote: Hong Kong Unbound

Global Hong Kong studies should aim to close the gap between society and scholarship in order to produce knowledge that is meaningful for Hong Kong itself. Often, borrowed theories from other countries are used to explain the city which neglect the unique Hong Kong experience. To situate Hong Kong within the global context whilst simultaneously ensuring that research remains true to Hong Kong, three approaches are proposed that connect knowledge about Hong Kong with knowledge elsewhere to guarantee Hong Kong’s importance and significance for scholarship.

· Hong Kong as a Case allows for comparative insight and understanding to be generated with global theoretical significance.

· Hong Kong Outside In sees Hong Kong as constitutive of global forces and master processes, which acknowledges that making sense of occurrences in Hong Kong requires an understanding of global China and international context.

· Hong Kong Assemblage appreciates that Hong Kong is an assemblage of contested projects that have resulted in the city’s uniqueness. This approach seeks to define the Hong Kong experience through analysing Hong Kong’s history, not simply the colonial era.

All three approaches recognise the subjectivity of Hong Kong as a spatial entity with temporality and demonstrate that Hong Kong is inherently global. The longevity of the 2019 movement was then highlighted, with an understanding that the protests could be sustained due to Hong Kongers’ rejection of police violence and their appreciation for civility and peace over repression which goes back to colonial history and the national project.

Panel 3: Recordings available and with the permission from Anders Hammer and Kanas Liu

Panel 4: Making Hong Kong Visible

Social and political developments in Hong Kong attract cognitive and aesthetic curiosity in the UK, particularly among university students. Digital media provides an important platform for extraterritorialised lives in Hong Kong to find their voices and express their agency. The social movement in Hong Kong, as visualised in digital media, renders digital media more than a means of communication. As mass media and political institutions fail to reflect protesters’ voices and represent their corporal struggle, digital media is also a mode of existence. The recording of Hong Kong’s political events through documentaries presents and anticipates possible (and unpredictable) outcomes. Documentaries invite us to re-think about the question of visibility as they offer the audience the opportunity to reflect upon their relationship with their digital existence.

Yet, to scale up the individual reflection to a collective level, the question of audience development in the UK cinema circuit is flagged up. Subsumed in the category of the ‘East Asian Cinema’, Hong Kong films are in a disadvantageous position as there is no active advocacy group to promote them. Even though documentaries about Hong Kong are gaining greater visibility in film festivals, its relative invisibility in the cinema circle does not do justice to the limelight they deserve.

Panel 5: Globalising Hong Kong

Panellists explored Hong Kong’s relationship with the global, engaging with this theme through both a domestic and international lens. Hong Kongers’ agency to claim the past, present and future of their city has been demonstrated since the preservation movements of the early 2000s. By disregarding the meaning of everyday spaces for Hong Kongers through demolishing the Queen’s Pier, the government can be seen to perpetrate acts of neo-colonialism, a mutation of the colonial era’s institutionalised violence.

Of particular interest is the outward-looking strategy dissenters employed during the 2019 movement, dubbed the “international front,” which saw unprecedented interactions between protesters and a global audience, the Hong Kong diaspora and international politicians. Reasons for a shift towards international engagement can be explained using the framework of social movement theory, especially ideas of political opportunities and mobilising structures. The yellow economy born out of the 2019 movement to support pro-democracy businesses and boycott pro-Beijing enterprises highlights the importance of the market as a venue for politics.

It is acknowledged that Hong Kong still plays an important role as China’s connection with the world economy, despite ideas of China opening its financial sectors. As a result, although Beijing aims to crackdown in Hong Kong, China’s hands on the city are constrained in the long run since they desire to maintain Hong Kong’s