Humans of Hong Kong

Humans of Hong Kong

Translated version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News. 立場新聞專題、人訪的英文版本。

2020/1/19 - 14:01

A Lennon Ship Carrying the Hong Kong Stories in Taipei Museum

As the 2020 Taiwan presidential election neared, a boat with “Reclaim Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” (光復香港 時代革命) written on its sail and Post-it notes pasted all over its hull could be seen outside the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (MOCA Taipei). This is known as the “Lennon Ship”, an artwork by the “Concern Group for HK Anti Extradition Bill” at the Taipei National University of Arts (TNUA). It is also a part of the “Co/Inspiration in Catastrophes” exhibition in MOCA Taipei.

The eye-catching “Lennon Ship” enjoys extensive coverage on Taiwanese media, with headlines like: “A ‘Lennon Ship’ built by HK students: We have a duty to let Taiwan know what is happening in HK,” (United Daily News) “Liberty Lennon Ship sailing into the exhibition in MOCA Taipei” (ETToday) and “Liberty Lennon Ship sailing into MOCA Taipei, by anti-China HK Students at TNUA.” (Liberty Times Net)

But the sailboat was not in the plan of the exhibition at first, according to Huang Chien-hung, a curator at MOCA Taipei.


The boat that carries Hong Kong’s story
Huang, the associate professor of Taipei National University of Arts, in the Institute of Trans-disciplinary Art, has kept his finger on the pulse of Hong Kong politics for the past six months. In June 2019, when the anti-extradition movement erupted, he got in touch with Hong Kong students at TNUA to check on their well-being. It struck him that the students had a lot of pent-up feelings that aren’t being expressed.

At that time, he was preparing for the exhibition, the theme of which revolves around all kinds of natural and man-made disasters. No Hong Kong artists were part of the original lineup, which led Huang to think – wasn’t a political “disaster” happening in Hong Kong? He felt the need to invite those Hong Kong students to participate in the exhibition.

The result was the “Lennon Ship” outside MOCA Taipei, created by the anti-extradition bill concern group at TNUA. That part of the exhibition also includes a series of protest-themed posters and video artwork.

Hongkongers in Hong Kong build “Lennon Walls,” Hongkongers in Taipei build a “Lennon Ship.” Apart from the similar pronunciation of the words “wall” and “ship” in Mandarin, it carries a deeper meaning than just a wordplay.

“The students’ idea is that in order to tell Hong Kong’s story in Taiwan, they need to be on the move,” Huang explained. In Hong Kong, the resistance can be seen throughout the city; Lennon Walls are ubiquitous. But in Taiwan, there are much fewer Lennon Walls, so a ship must be built, which would bring the stories of Hong Kong to new audience whenever it sails to.

It is evident that many Taiwanese feel deeply about Hong Kong. The hull of the Lennon Ship was covered with encouraging messages on Post-it notes. Others made paper cranes and created a series of woodcut prints to paste on the hull. Since the Lennon Ship was built, several layers of Post-it notes have adorned its hull.

‘Most Taiwanese want to maintain the status-quo’
One Post-it note reads: “Tsai Ing-wen, add oil!” It links the protest in Hong Kong to the 2020 Taiwan presidential election.

The Hong Kong protests had enormous influence over the 2020 Taiwan presidential election. Although many take the polls with a pinch of salt, the general consensus in Taiwan is that when Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement burst onto the scene, the tide of public opinion turned in favour of Tsai. One need not look further than local media reports, like the one in Global Views Monthly entitled “Anti-Extradition in Hong Kong is the turning point; support for Kuomintang drops to 18%,” or Storm Media Group’s piece entitled “Does the triumph of the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong send KMT to its grave?” China Times carried a headline: “Tsai snatches a pistol via the anti-extradition movement! ”

The phrase “snatch a pistol” is used by the Taiwanese to describe the political windall which Tsai Ing-wen gained because of the Hong Kong protests. Like an individual who is weak and small but by good fortune came across a pistol and snatches it – thus becoming formidable all of a sudden – that is a description for Tsai Ing-wen’s situation in the 2020 Taiwan presidential election.

The election had always been an uphill battle for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for the reason that pro-Kuomintang voters and the swing voters together make up the majority on the island. “The bulk of Taiwanese people are reactionary. They just want to keep the status quo. That is to say, they harbour certain expectations for China,” Huang said.

For Hongkongers who pursue democracy and freedom, it is difficult to understand their sentiment towards China. Especially since recent years have seen China tightening its grip on Hong Kong – the one-way permit for Chinese emigrants to Hong Kong, patriotic education, mainlandization, infiltration, election meddling... the list goes on – what can we expect from China?

The same doesn’t necessarily hold true for many Taiwanese. Hong Kong and Taiwan are different. What Beijing does to Hong Kong may not necessarily happen in Taiwan as well. As cover this election in Taiwan, more than a few interviewees talked about the differences between Hong Kong and Taiwan – such as: “Hong Kong is de facto part of China, but Taiwan isn’t,” and “Taiwan has its own army, but Hong Kong does not.”

On top of that, Huang says: “Hong Kong independence and Taiwanese independence are two different things.”

2019: the year Hong Kong and Taiwan connected
In the eyes of many Taiwanese, two incidents in 2019 linked the destinies of Taiwan and Hong Kong in some sense. The first was Xi Jinping’s speech in January last year declaring his intention to implement “One Country, Two System” in Taiwan. The second was Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement, which showed Taiwan the true colours of “One Country, Two System.”

For Huang, he can perceive a subtle threat posed by the extradition bill.

“As long as the Chinese Communist Party government considers you a Chinese person, then they can send you over. This is very dangerous for Taiwanese people.”

Then, in June, the marches attended by one million people, then two million people to protest against the extradition bill drew Taiwanese people's attention. “I was overwhelmed. I thought Hongkongers were resilient, and very brave.” Huang said.

But what truly shocked Taiwanese people was not the extradition bill itself, but the Hong Kong police’s brutality, Huang said.

“The greatest shock came from police brutality – the way police are authorised by the government, and how they use their violence.” Huang said. “Even a place as international and developed as Hong Kong was hurtling towards such a destructive end, because its government let it do so.”

The “government” in Huang’s mind refers to the Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist Party government behind it.

It is precisely because Hong Kong and Taiwan have a common enemy in the Chinese government that people from both places bind together. Earlier this month, Huang and two other public intellectuals, Chang Tieh-Chih and Liu Ka-shiang, spoke at a forum. One audience member asked: “Why do you have such deep ties with Hong Kong?” Huang answered: “In spite of our differences, we share many cultural similarities. Hong Kong is geographically close to us. And above all: we both have got to face China. These are our commonalities, and that’s why I have special feelings towards Hong Kong.”

“In fact, so long as a greater repressive force exists, then our experiences will be linked in some ways,” Huang added.

At the forum, Liu Ka-Shiang mentioned one thing which moves Huang deeply. Liu said that after WWII, many Taiwanese’s wish was to “return to the motherland,” until a distinct “Taiwanese consciousness” dawned after the “228 incident” of 1947.

Huang said Hong Kong is following a similar path. “When Edward Leung first talked about ‘Reclaiming Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’, he only represented a minority. After the anti-extradition movement, this has become Hongkongers’ slogan. Just like the Kuomintang government created an awareness of Taiwanese independence, the Chinese Communist Party is also making an awareness of Hong Kong independence a reality.”

“I think the Chinese government must think carefully about this.”