Filming the Individual and the Collective

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “Filming the Individual and the Collective: The 2019 Pro-democracy Movement in Hong Kong Independent Documentaries,” by Judith Pernin. Find a teaser below. For the entire essay, go to: Our thanks to Judith Pernin for sharing her important work with the MCLC community.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

Filming the Individual and the Collective:
The 2019 Pro-democracy Movement in Hong Kong Independent Documentaries

By Judith Pernin[*]

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright October 2021)


Between June and December 2019, Hong Kong became the stage of large-scale pro-democracy protests, during which participants elaborated original strategies, along with slogans, posters, songs, videos, and documentaries. This outpouring of political creativity during social movements has many parallels in the world, and, in Hong Kong, was preceded by the 2014 Umbrella movement. The seventy-nine-day occupation inspired around thirty independent documentaries, an unprecedented number of productions for Hong Kong. Fueled by ongoing social discontent, the reconfiguration of the local documentary scene, and the convenience of social media and online platforms, audiovisual records of the 2019 protests are both diverse and ubiquitous. As in 2014, live broadcasts, investigative reports, visual manifestos, personal diaries, and documentary films reported on the movement and their actors. These media also express personal views on Hong Kong and circulate ideas and inspire mobilization locally and abroad. However, given the evolution of Hong Kong’s political situation and the shifting of local protest strategies, one could expect marked differences in the filmic treatment of the 2019 protests. The Umbrella movement was followed by 5 years of “abeyance” amid strong rebuffs against the pro-democracy movement (Lee et al. 2019). When opposition to the proposed extradition bill erupted massively on the streets in June 2019, protests and their actors had already drastically changed. Furthermore, during the half-year of the 2019 pro-democracy movement, protest modes kept on evolving, constantly adjusting to escalating police tactics and government reactions. What kind of documentaries have been produced on the 2019 movement, and how do these documentaries translate the evolution of protest modes and Hong Kong’s rapidly changing political context?


Scholars of Asian documentary cinema (Park 2015; Nornes 2007) have studied the influence of specific political environments on protest modes, filmmaking practices, and representations, influences that are also found in documentaries made on the Umbrella movement (Pernin 2020). Before examining recent productions on the 2019 protests, it is important to review the visual culture from which these new productions emerged. Despite the dominance of Hong Kong’s commercial cinema, an unprecedented number of individual and collective independent documentaries were produced on the 2014 occupation and its aftermath. Using observational techniques, young filmmakers in particular have depicted a plethora of complex characters—at once political heroes and vulnerable young people—such as the well-known activists Joshua Wong 黃之鋒, Yau Wai-ching 游蕙禎, and Edward Leung Tin-kei 梁天琦 who appear alongside ordinary protesters and citizens.[1] Their streetwise, on-the-ground politics, and emotional turmoil are subtly exposed through first-person direct narration or by the subjective voiceover of the filmmaker-participant.[2] Apart from depicting confrontations with police, these films give much space to discussions, arguments, speeches, and various forms of public address among protesters, mirroring Hongkongers’ desire for a voice through democratic processes. This tapestry of characters from distinct local cultures and subcultures, gender identities, religions, educational backgrounds, and political leanings reconfigures the image of the righteous model protesters often projected in the media, deepening our understanding of Hong Kong’s diverse society through personal stories. Close to their protagonists, the filmmakers are also able to translate their changing state of mind, from hope in the early days of the movement to despair after the clearing of occupied sites, which are often depicted as micro-utopias. What grew in the void left by this largely ineffective movement was a feeling of doom, but also the hope to take to the streets again, though in a different way, as illustrated by a couple of documentaries reflecting on the aftermath of the Umbrella movement.[3] Reviewing the breaks and continuities between 2014 and 2019 in Hong Kong documentaries, this essay is also informed by the growing scholarship on the creative practices of protests in Hong Kong in the fields of music, slogans, and visual arts (Veg 2016; Wong 2019; Veg 2020). . . [READ THE WHOLE ESSAY]


HKU on the frontline of a battle for democracy

Source: CNN (9/18/21)
One of Asia’s most prestigious universities is on the frontline of a battle for democracy
By CNN staff


Hong Kong (CNN)Students and lecturers at Hong Kong‘s most prestigious university returned from summer break this month to a very different institution.

The Democracy Wall at the University of Hong Kong (better known as HKU) — a pinboard where students once shared political thoughts — is gone. The student union, which once advocated for students, is all but defunct, with four of its members facing charges of advocating terrorism.

Although many students and academics were happy to be back on campus — many for the first time since the start of the pandemic — a political chill hangs over the university that some staff say is influencing how they teach.

While the Hong Kong government told CNN the city’s universities “continue to enjoy academic freedom,” four current HKU staff who spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity said they are more cautious about what they say in class, afraid that their own students could report them to authorities.

The self-censorship began after June last year when Beijing imposed a controversial and sweeping national security law on the city. Since then, more than 140 people have been arrested under the law, including activists, journalists, politicians and educators, and, of those, 85 have been charged. Continue reading

HK film censorship bill

Source: Nikkei Asia (9/1/21)
Hong Kong film censorship bill takes page from mainland script
Amendment up for debate on Wednesday would add to national security law pressure

A shot from the Hong Kong protest documentary “Revolution of Our Times”: The film’s director says no cinema in the city will be willing to show it. (Image courtesy of “Revolution of Our Times” team)

HONG KONG — A film censorship amendment due for debate in Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday is poised to further squeeze local artists already feeling the pressure from the Beijing-imposed national security law.

The bill, submitted by the government, would alter the existing film censorship law to establish a new mechanism to prohibit films “that would be contrary to the interests of national security,” according to the legislation’s preamble. Its passage would continue rolling back freedoms that once helped the city earn the nickname “Hollywood of the Far East,” creating a censorship environment ever closer to that on the mainland.

As it is, many Hong Kong filmmakers are simply giving up on screening movies with controversial themes.

Mok Kwan-ling, a director and video journalist, told Nikkei Asia that she has no chance of publicly showing her latest film featuring a young couple who met during the protests that swept the city in 2019. She rejected the government censor’s demands in June to make 14 cuts as well as change the title “Jap-uk” — which literally means to “tidy up the house” in Cantonese. The name comes from a scene where the girl rushes to her boyfriend’s house to clean up after he is arrested, before the police can search his room. The official English title is “Far From Home.” Continue reading

Translating Hong Kong–cfp

CFP: Translating Hong Kong

The topic of the 2021 edition of Backreading Hong Kong: An Annual Symposium is “Translating Hong Kong” 翻譯香港. We are interested in the research that considers translation as a metaphor that attempts to freshen the studies of Hong Kong culture, literature, and languages. We invite presentations that ask inspiring and contentious questions about the translation among various forms of cultural expression about Hong Kong. Does translating Hong Kong imply an open or closed circulation of her culture? How has translation, broadly defined, bettered a global understanding of Hong Kong culture? Does translating Hong Kong only serve to reiterate the colonial dominance of English? What can we say about translating into Hong Kong English or other kinds of English? And what can we say about translating between Cantonese and English? Does translating Hong Kong creative output legitimise it? We also welcome discussions of discoveries and new developments in any facets of translation and Hong Kong, both literary and non-literary. In particular, we would like to explore novel ways of viewing translation in the Hong Kong context.

The 2021 Backreading Hong Kong Symposium, co-organised by the Department of English Language and Literature at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), the Department of Language Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), and the literary journal Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, will take place online on 10-11 December 2021. Continue reading

The Offense of HK Cinema

Dear colleagues,

You are welcome to join the book launch zoom meeting on 10 September 2021 at 1100 Hrs (+8 GMT) Hong Kong and Singapore time. Thank you for your attention (and attendance)! Please go to this registration link.

“The Offense of Hong Kong Cinema: Censorship and Creativity”
Book launch of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: Hong Kong Cinema with Sino-links in Politics, Art, and Tradition (Hong Kong: Chunghwa Bookstore, 2021), by Kenny K.K. Ng
吳國坤:《昨天今天明天:內地與香港電影的政治、藝術與傳統》(香港: 中華書局(香港)有限公司,2021)

“Confucius never talked about strange phenomena, physical violence, social chaos, or spirits” (子不語怪力亂神). In the 1930s the Nationalist government implemented film censorship which resonated with the Confucian teachings intended to maintain social harmony and political stability. Cantonese pictures, ghost and fantasy genres, racy and racially insulting Hollywood images were baleful weeds that threatened to disrupt national security. After 1949, British officials in Hong Kong exercised clandestine measures to quarantine Communist movies, pro-Taiwan pictures, and politically provocative Hollywood productions to stabilize colonial rule; meanwhile the mainland Communist authorities continued to exorcise the demonic and undesirable spirits from their state-owned screens. Continue reading

Mirror, the joy that HK needs

Source: NYT (8/12/21)
This Boy Band Is the Joy That Hong Kong Needs Right Now
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The popularity of the group, called Mirror, has offered the city a rare burst of unity and pleasure after years of political upheaval.
By Vivian Wang and 

Jer Lau, a member of Mirror, the Cantopop group, during a promotional event in Hong Kong last month. Credit…Anthony Kwan for The New York Times

HONG KONG — They swarm public squares, crowd shopping malls and form lines that stretch several city blocks. They lean over barricades that strain to hold them and ignore police officers who try to corral them.

The crowds filling Hong Kong in recent weeks aren’t protesters fighting for democracy. They are devotees of the city’s hottest boy band.

For more than two years, Hong Kong has badly needed a source of uplift. First there were the mass protests of 2019, then the coronavirus pandemic, then a sweeping national security law. The city has been politically polarized and economically battered.

Enter Mirror, a group of 12 singing and dancing young men who seemingly overnight have taken over the city — and, in doing so, infused it with a burst of joy.

Their faces are plastered on billboards, buses and subway ads for everything from granola to air-conditioners to probiotic supplements. They have sold out concert halls, accounting for some of the city’s only large-scale events during the pandemic. Hardly a weekend goes by without one of the band’s (many) fan clubs devising a flashy new form of tribute: renting an enormous LED screen to celebrate one member, decking out a cruise ship for another. Continue reading

Latest target of HK crackdown: children’s books

Source: NYT (7/22/21)
The Latest Target of Hong Kong’s Crackdown: Children’s Books
A story that portrayed the police as wolves helped lead to the arrests of five leaders of a speech therapists’ union.
By Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May

A hooded suspect led by a police officer during the arrests of five leaders of a speech therapists’ union in Hong Kong on Thursday. Credit…Vincent Yu/Associated Press

HONG KONG — The fluffy white sheep were constantly harassed by wolves, who tore down their houses, ate their food and even sprayed poison gas. It became too much, and 12 sheep who had tried to defend their village were forced to flee by boat. But they were captured and sent to prison.

That story was told in a children’s book published last year in Hong Kong. The sheep represented 12 activists arrested at sea while trying to escape to Taiwan. The wolves were the Hong Kong police.

On Thursday, the police arrested five leaders of the group behind the book, a speech therapists’ union, accusing them of instilling hatred of the government in children.

With the arrests, the authorities expanded, to the most elementary level of printed materials, a crackdown on political speech aimed at stamping out the dissent expressed during mass protests in 2019. Continue reading

Teaching Hong Kong–cfp


Teaching Hong Kong, Hong Kong Teaching: A Hong Kong Studies Symposium (Saturday 4 December 2021)

The late Hong Kong writer Leung Ping-kwan famously asked, “Why is the story of Hong Kong so difficult to tell?” The enduring nature of the question and its unanswerability is partly due to the city’s constantly changing identity and the various factors that influence how its story can be told, or can be told at all. In this symposium, we try to look at another facet of Hong Kong and its local and global representation—in terms of teaching. How do we teach Hong Kong in Hong Kong, and how do we teach Hong Kong in the world? What considerations are taken? Which Hong Kong? What aspects of Hong Kong can be taught? Can Hong Kong teach the world something? Can Hong Kong be taught something from elsewhere in the world?

Interested scholars are encouraged to submit an abstract of 300-500 words along with a third-person biography of around 150 words in one WORD document for consideration.

Submissions should be sent to before Friday 15 October 2021. Fully developed articles post-symposium (6,000-8,000 words) will be considered for publication in forthcoming issues of Hong Kong Studies.

HK film Revolution of Our Times

Source: SCMP (7/16/21)
Hong Kong director has sold rights to protest documentary screened at Cannes, but says he won’t leave city in spite of risks
Hong Kong director Kiwi Chow says he does not want to be ruled by fear of the Beijing-imposed security law. His film, Revolution of Our Times, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday after being kept secret until the last minute.

Filmmaker Kiwi Chow says he will not leave Hong Kong in spite of security law risks after his film was screened at Cannes. Photo: Reuters

Filmmaker Kiwi Chow says he will not leave Hong Kong in spite of security law risks after his film was screened at Cannes. Photo: Reuters

The Hong Kong director of a protest documentary screened at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday has sold the copyright of the film to protect himself from legal repercussions, but has decided to stay in the city, saying he does not want to be ruled by fear of the national security law.

Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai, an award-winning local director, surprised the Hong Kong film industry on Friday by having Revolution of Our Times, a 2½-hour documentary about the city’s anti-government protests in 2019, featured at the internationally renowned cinema showcase in France.

But Chow, 42, told the Post he no longer legally owned the film after handing it off to a distributor in Europe, noting he had also taken the step of deleting all the footage in his possession.

“I sold my copyright too,” he said. “You can say it’s a kind of risk assessment. In Hong Kong, I did not do any distribution of the film and I don’t have any clips with me.” Continue reading

HK philospher taught life’s meaning, now he visits students in jail

Source: NYT (6/30/21)
Hong Kong Philosopher Taught Life’s Meaning. Now He Visits Students in Jail.
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Chow Po Chung pushed his students to participate in public affairs — idealism that he worries could cost them their freedom.
By Li Yuan

Chow Po Chung, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has been deeply involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

When taking a group photo with college students from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2012, Chow Po Chung, a prominent political philosopher, joked that he hoped none of them would end up in jail in 10 years.

The group erupted in laughter.

Mr. Chow, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, had the mainland students in mind. He never expected that it would be two from Hong Kong who would end up in jail nearly a decade later.

A year after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the territory to crush opposition to the ruling Communist Party, visiting friends and former students in prison has become part of his routine.

A best-selling author and a public intellectual whose passionate books and speeches have influenced many young Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, Mr. Chow said the security law had turned his life upside down. Continue reading

China remakes HK

Source: NYT (6/29/21)
‘A Form of Brainwashing’: China Remakes Hong Kong
Neighbors are urged to report on one another. Children are taught to look for traitors. Officials are pressed to pledge their loyalty.
By Vivian Wang and Alexandra Stevenson; Photographs by Lam Yik Fei

One year after it imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, Beijing is pushing to make Hong Kong more like a mainland city.

One year after it imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, Beijing is pushing to make Hong Kong more like a mainland city.

HONG KONG — With each passing day, the boundary between Hong Kong and the rest of China fades faster.

The Chinese Communist Party is remaking this city, permeating its once vibrant, irreverent character with ever more overt signs of its authoritarian will. The very texture of daily life is under assault as Beijing molds Hong Kong into something more familiar, more docile.

Residents now swarm police hotlines with reports about disloyal neighbors or colleagues. Teachers have been told to imbue students with patriotic fervor through 48-volume book sets called “My Home Is in China.” Public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including one about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Continue reading

Apple Daily, ‘the four noes’ and the end of media independence

Source: China Heritage (June 24, 2021)
Apple Daily, ‘The Four Noes’ & the End of Chinese Media Independence
By Lee Yee; introduced, translated, and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé

Hong Kong Apostasy

This is the second part of an envoi written for Apple Daily, until this day, 24 April 2021, the leading independent media outlet in Hong Kong, by Lee Yee, a renowned essayist, editor and journalist. In the conclusion to the first part of his farewell, published in China Heritage under the title ‘Lee Yee on the Demise of Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily, Lee wrote:

Regardless of how it has all ended up, there is no doubt that the advent of Apple Daily in Hong Kong represented something significant in the history of Chinese newspaper publishing. It showed that a businessman could actually run a news enterprise more successfully than the usual kind of literati figure. Perhaps, I dare say, its success could be compared to the glory days enjoyed by L’Impartial [aka, Ta Kung Pao] under the editorship of Zhang Jiluan [張季鸞, 1888-1941] from 1926. ‘The Four Noes’ editorial principle that Zhang championed — no to giving in to unquestioning political bias; no to accepting government money or patronage; no to serving narrow vested interests instead of the broader society; and, no to giving in to fashion, conspiracies, mass sentiment and popular prejudice  — became a model and guide for Chinese media.


Below, in part two of Lee Yee’s memoir the writer elaborates on what he meant when he said:

‘The owner of Apple Daily might not have known about the “Four Noes” but, then again, he only ever managed to put some of them into practice.’


The second part of Lee Yee’s essay on Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily was published in the print and electronic versions of the last edition of Apple Daily, one million copies of which were printed in the early hours of 24 June 2021. Copies of the paper were soon snapped up by readers in one of the city’s final acts of collective civil protest against Beijing and its Hong Kong puppet regime.

I am, as ever, grateful to Lao Lee for permission to translate his work. Continue reading

Apple Daily to close

Source: NYT (6/23/21)
Apple Daily, Pro-Democracy Newspaper in Hong Kong, Says It Will Close
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
The police also arrested an editorial writer as part of an expanding national security investigation into the newspaper that has triggered concerns about free speech.
By Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May

Employees preparing stacks of freshly printed editions of the Apple Daily in Hong Kong last Friday, a day after police arrested the editor in chief and other executives of the newspaper. Credit…Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — Apple Daily, a defiantly pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, said on Wednesday that it would cease operations, in the face of a pressure campaign by authorities that has eroded media freedoms in the city.

The newspaper said it would stop publishing in print and online by Thursday, less than a week after the police froze its accounts, raided its offices and arrested top editors.

The closure will silence one of the biggest and most aggressive media outlets in the city, reinforcing the vast reach of the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing. Since its passage nearly a year ago, the law has sent a chill through Hong Kong’s once freewheeling news media as they navigate a treacherous environment where speech can be a potential crime.

In recent months, the authorities have moved to overhaul RTHK, a public broadcaster with a history of hard-hitting journalism. Police officials have warned against media outlets spreading “fake news.” And in April, a court convicted a journalist, who was critical of the police, for making false statements. Continue reading

HK booksellers walk a fine line

Source: NYT (6/20/21)
In the New Hong Kong, Booksellers Walk a Fine Line
Some independent shops flout the new limits on free expression. Others try to come to terms with them. For readers, they offer a sense of connection in a changed city.
By Tiffany May

Mount Zero, an independent bookstore in the Sheung Wan district of Hong Kong. Over the front door, a message is spelled out in tiles: “Ideas are bulletproof.” Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

HONG KONG — When Hong Kong public libraries pulled books about dissent from circulation last month, Pong Yat Ming made an offer to his customers: They could read some of the same books, free, at his store.

Mr. Pong, 47, founded the shop, Book Punch, in 2020, after Beijing imposed a national security law in response to the antigovernment protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. The law broadly defined acts of subversion and secession against China, making much political speech potentially illegal, and it threatened severe punishment, including life imprisonment, for offenders.

Mr. Pong said he had opened Book Punch precisely because he did not want the city to fall silent under the pressure, and because he felt it was important to build a more empathetic, tightknit community as the law cast its shadow over Hong Kong.

“The social movement has changed the way people read and the value they place on books,” he said. “I want to bring out that kind of energy, that desire for change through reading.” He added, “Books are powerful, like forceful punches responding to the social environment.”

Continue reading

HK cracks down on pro-democracy newspaper

Source: NYT (6/16/21)
Hong Kong Cracks Down on a Pro-Democracy Newspaper
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Police arrested the top editors of Apple Daily, froze its assets and raided its newsroom, in a sharp escalation of the government’s campaign against dissent.
By Austin Ramzy and 

Hong Kong police officers entering the headquarters of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital, on Thursday. Credit…Apple Daily, via Associated Press

HONG KONG — When the Hong Kong police last year arrested Jimmy Lai, a pugnacious newspaper publisher, they seemed to be going after a longtime government critic. On Thursday, the city’s authorities sent a message to the rest of the media industry: Be careful what you write.

Hundreds of police officers raided the newsroom of Mr. Lai’s defiantly pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily; scrutinized journalists’ computers; arrested top editors; froze company accounts; and warned readers not to repost some of its articles online.

The raid and new restrictions were the most aggressive use yet of Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law, imposed last year by Beijing, against a media outlet, and could put the newspaper’s survival in question. The operation was a sharp escalation in the authorities’ intensifying frontal assault on media outlets in Hong Kong, a former British colony once known for its vibrant media scene and broad free-speech protections. Continue reading