Thursday, 31 March 2022

court of last resort

Since the return of the former British colony to China in 1997, UK justices have sat on the High Court of Hong Kong to ensure and safeguard the laws and liberties accorded to this special administrative area. The pair of senior judges on the Courts of First Instance and Final Appeal, however, recently announced their resignations, with immediate effect, declaring the their continued presence no longer a tenable situation and no longer wanted to appear as an endorsement or legitimasing factor in the erosion of the city’s freedoms. Recent changes to the administration of Hong Kong and its relation to the mainland have caused any degree of meaningful autonomy to dwindle.

Sunday, 9 January 2022

rms queen elizabeth

Whilst undergoing renovations to be re-christened as the “Seawise University,” the gargantuan ocean liner launched in 1938 and named in honour of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, caught on fire and was capsized in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong on this day in 1972. Tycoon and shipping magnate Tung Chao-yung had bought the decommissioned cruise ship with the intention of making her into a float international campus for a semester at sea programme two years earlier and there was some speculation that either insurance fraud or sabotage by Chinese ship-builders played a part in the destruction. The wreck was salvaged to prevent risk to other boats passing through the bay but about half of it remains at the bottom of the harbour and was the setting of a secret annex of MI6 in the 1974 Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

this day in colonial history

Commemorated as Australia Day, the First Fleet under the command of Admiral Arthur Philip arrived in Sydney Harbour to found the first permanent British settlement on the continent in 1788. This is also the 1841 anniversary of the formal possession of Hong Kong when Commodore Gordon Bremer arriving at a headland (since moved inland due to coastal reclamation) named Possession Point, the former park developed as a hotel and in the 1980s with the terminal for ferry service to Macau. Finally in 1855, the Point No Point was signed under considerable duress on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula (so named for its appearance from a distance as a promontory but receding as one nears it) in the territory of Washington, with the original inhabitants, the Skokomish, Chimakum and S’Klallam peoples, ceding their land in exchange for a small reservation, concession along the Hood fjord.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

panda diplomacy

Via Nag on the Nag’s expertly curated Sunday Links (always a lot to explore here), we are introduced to the latest obsession, research rabbit hole from the contributors of Artsy magazine in this 1861 portrait of a pedigree Pekingese by German transplant painter Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl, who specialised in the subject and received many commissions from the court of Victoria and Albert. Though living a contented to all appearances and happy eleven more years in the lap of luxury, there’s a dark side to little Looty and her role as a political prop—sort of like Nixon’s Checkers speech.

Charmingly called after the diminutive for the spoils of war by the queen, this example of the exclusive companion breed reserved for the Imperial family of China was one of five Pekingese dogs found guarding the corpse of a lady who took her own life in 1860 as an Anglo-French exhibition force advanced on the Old Summer Palace (The Garden of Perfect Brightness and royal residence) and under the orders of Lord Elgin in retribution for an earlier failed peace treaty began to ransack the place at the height of the Second Opium War. The plunder and destruction took a force of four thousand men three days to carry out, owing to the palace’s monumental size. The sentimental portrait takes on new meaning when looking at it through the fraught historical context of colonialism and is still a matter that the European powers are coming to terms with. Not to be outdone by his father that stole the Marbles, Elgin’s (who also served as governors of Jamaica, Canada and India) wanton act forced the capitulation of the Qing Emperor and ceded the rest of the Kowloon Peninsula to the crown colony of Hong Kong. Posing before a Ming vase that was surely also part of the pilfered treasure, you can detect a hint of saudade and longing her eyes. We’d like to give back Looty her old name as well.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

overseas logogram

The peripatetic polyglots at the helm over at Language Log direct us to a host of for the nonce Sinographs from Hong Kong which could be described as neologism—rather neographisms or visual portmanteaux inventing characters by mixing the component parts and meaning-bearers from different glyphs to form something nuanced and paraliteral.  The pictured example seems to borrow selectively from ้Žฎ้œ (zhรจnjรฌng, that is combined calm, poised) but taking on a new context in this form as equanimous and not un-dispassionate, unshaken.
As one reader commented, this zhรฌzร o (ๅˆถ้€ , making characters) is reminiscent of the 1987 publication originally to be entitled Mirror to Analyse the World: The Century’s Final Volume by artist Xu Bing but was instead ultimately called after the Chinese term tiฤn shลซ that itself originally was reserved for divinely inspired writing (akin to speaking in tongues) but came to signify gibberish in “A Book from the Sky.” Very much up to the interpretation of the reader, the bound edition limited to a single print run, the book is composed with a set of four-thousand characters (comparable to the lexicon of modern Chinese writing) and imitate natural language on the page in terms of diversity and frequency but are wholly made up, nonsense words, as if a book in a Latin script were filled with Wingdings. The above banners, however, have a meaning and message that can be puzzled out.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

bl 23

Ostensibly to prevent interference in territorial affairs and required under the twenty-third article of the Special Administrative Region’s Basic Law, police authorities had the chance to inaugurate the newly enacted security legislation by conducting mass arrests of demonstrators marking the anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong (see previously) from the UK to China in 1997.
Protesters were arrested and detained for unlawful assembly and for advocating for Hong Kong independence. Globally the response to what is perceived as heavy-handed encroachment in reaction to ongoing civil unrest that began around March 2019 over proposed changes including extradition to the mainland for those accused of sedition and other crimes to stand trial instead of facing justice in local courts has been one of consternation with UK pledging to fast-track citizenship for residents born under British rule who seek to leave.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

a riot is the language of the unheard

As anxious rage spreads across the US in response to the fatal and brazenly entitled manner—it was all filmed—that George Floyd (*1974) was detained over an alleged attempt to pass on counterfeit currency, the outrage at the injustice was institutional and a generous in the making, though Trump’s series of conspicuously violence inciting comments from his garbage pulpit (that again acted responsibly by flagging his words as incendiary while another swaddles itself in agnosticism and neutrality).
These protests are not about Trump no matter how he might have fanned the flames and made a bad situation much worse but rather seeking to restore a justice denied and rebel to reverse the sickening racial divide that has come to define America, with the only appreciable contribution of that doltish, impeached pretender being to have sewn such distrust in the media that the protests would take aim at an ally outlet—either that or Trump has brought in agitators to attack his own enemies, a tactic that the Republicans and their propagandists like to accuse the left of. The unrest—the National Guard is being deployed supported by military police units in a second domestic action after they were sent to the southern US border in support of wall building operations—will without a doubt be used as a pretext for postponing the election or calling its veracity into question. In other events that transpired at the same time, all rather backhanded set-backs presented as accomplishment Trump decided to postpone his hosting of the G-7 Conference when Merkel announced that Germany would not send a delegation until and unless there was dramatic improvement in the handling of the pandemic that’s also raging unabated across America, but only adding that the membership is outdated and wants to bring Russia and India to the table when the summit is finally held at some undetermined future date. The US severs its ties with the World Health Organisation and strips Hong Kong of its favoured status, undermining its position as a financial hub. Finally, for the first time in nearly a decade, the US has regained the ability to conduct crewed space missions from its own territory—although this is not really a restoration of core competencies as the work is being contracted out and has for an end goal not the enhancement of science or exploration but rather the commercial ventures of orbital tourism, prospecting the Moon and assembling a merchant marine force to fight off any claims-jumpers or extra-planetary activities that the US disapproves of. No one confuses destruction for up-building and no one wants to see their city razed but sometimes such actions are the only means to change

Saturday, 4 April 2020

bauhinia × blakeana

In anticipation of a post-colonial Hong Kong with the banner being first hoisted and flown during the transfer ceremony that took place 1 July 1997 onwards, on this day in 1990 the National People’s Congress approved the design for a new flag featuring a stylised five-petal flower of an orchid tree on a China red background to replace the defaced Union Jack on display since UK acquisition in 1843 after the Opium Wars. The design was submitted by a member of the selection committee, local architect Tao Ho (*1936 – †2019), whom unsatisfied with the entrants he had reviewed so far was inspired by a bauhinia blossom he found in his garden for its symmetry and dynamism.

Monday, 24 February 2020

urban oases

Via Present /&/ Correct, we really enjoyed the calming and inviting symmetries from on high from photographer Hoi Kin Fung with this aerial study of the now sadly endangered fountains and common areas of public housing estates in Hong Kong. The Housing Authorities’ policy dates back to a devastating fire in 1954 that consumed thousands of makeshift buildings leaving many homeless and prompting the government to intervene. Many of the apartment towers were constructed at that time with prefabricated designs referred to as Old Slab/New Slab, Cruciform and Ziggurat.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

a synallagmatic act

While former the former colonial outposts of Hong Kong and Macau are far better known, the port city of Tianjin (ๅคฉๆดฅๅธ‚, Tientsin) in the northern part of the country on the Gulf of Bohai hosted no fewer than nine concessions (small territories “leased” to foreign powers and because of this contractual nature are not subject to international law) granted at the turn of the last century by the Qing Emperor.
Reasoning that trade and missionary work would destabilise the empire, China tried to restrict such activities to special economic zones but was rather relentlessly pressured to allow in more international businesses. For their militaries’ role in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion (the Yihetuan—Righteous Militia—Uprising, ็พฉๅ’Œๅœ˜้‹ๅ‹•) that sought to overthrow the dynasty and expel foreign consuls, Belgium, Austro-Hungary, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US were given districts in the city along the Pei Ho (Hai River) and at the railhead that linked the north with the capital. These quarters were self-contained and had their own shops, barracks, schools, churches and hospitals. War, shifting allegiances and revolution have overseen the return of all of these holdings to China and outside of diplomatic compounds the majority of remaining concessions with extraterritoriality are cemeteries and monuments of foreign wars maintained by the sending nation—the exceptions being Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria.

Friday, 12 July 2019

้ๅœฐ้–‹่Šฑ

After the storming of the Legislative Council building on the 1 July anniversary of the 1997 return of the former UK crown colony of Hong Kong to China, protesters have embraced non-violent ways of continuing to express their displeasure and fear that the residents of territory will see liberties erode further.
Taking a cue from the Lennon Wall in Prague, activists have canvased any available space with colourful self-adhering notices, an outlet that’s passive and anonymous enough to keep most individuals out of danger but still one that the authorities cannot easily ignore and now the symbols themselves incite rallies around pro- and anti-government camps. The title refers to the spontaneity of the walls as “blossoming everywhere.” These mosaics, with tens of thousands of missives advocating for freedom and democracy, originate from a central display in Hong Kong five years earlier, erected during the Umbrella Movement, a seventy-nine day occupation of the city to demand transparency in municipal elections—which were perceived to be controlled by Beijing. Protesters carried umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas that the police lobbed at them to break up the crowds.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

boundary street

Though arguably the sunset for the British Empire occurred that moment when they could no longer operate unilaterally and the US opposed their seizure of the Suez Canal and the seaways of the Arab Gulf in 1956, those in attendance for the transfer of sovereignty ceremony for Hong Kong on this day in 1997 expressed a palpable sense of the UK’s imperium having come to a close.
Although Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula (with that unsupervised exclave within an enclave) were ceded to the UK in perpetuity under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking and only the New Territories around Hong Kong bay were subject to a ninety-nine year lease, but during negotiation between the Chinese government and Prime Minister Thatcher in the mid-eighties, the UK conceded that Hong Kong could continue to be prosperous without the full territorial integrity enjoyed for the last century. And with assurances that the residents’ previous capitalist system and way of life would remain unchanged for the next fifty years. While Hong Kong residents enjoy considerable autonomy and is considered a separate jurisdiction by other nations and international organisations, there is also a sense of incursion and abandonment from its former metropolitan. When the handover occurred, few would have predicted that China would have produced economic centres—bastions of finance and industry—to rival the former colony’s allure. Nonetheless, however, that capital diminished to an extent and Hong Kong, because of its special status, soon became more of a harbour to park wealth and facilitate money-laundering. Thinking strategically, perhaps if Hong Kong had remained unique as an economic powerhouse it was hoped that Hong Kong’s model would become something infectious for the mainland and result in the spread of democracy. With tensions rising on each successive anniversary, it’s becoming less and less clear whether Hong Kong’s culture and politics will be suffered lightly for the next thirty years.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

nine dragons

Via the ever-engrossing maker of fine hyper-text products, Kottke, comes an interesting glimpse at the former Chinese enclave of Kowloon Walled-City in the former British exclave of Hong Kong.
Originally purposed as a garrison to oversee salt trade, the property remained nominally under Chinese control when the territory was leased to the British but the matter of administration was disputed, with the compound by turns becoming depopulated and abandoned, and eventually transforming into a den of iniquity and refuge for thieves, beholden to no authority. Prior to its demolition in 1993, Kowloon Wall-City housed an amazing thirty-three thousand residents, living vertically stratified in an urban environment of their own design. Somewhat covertly, just before being razed, a group of architects and civil-engineers from Japan had thoroughly documented and photographed the place, including detailed cross-cut and cut-away schema, illustrating the resourcefulness of the denizens and economy of dimensions.