Listening: The Changing of the Flags
In Hong Kong Culture, editor Kam Louie takes his readers on a ride through the social expressions of several different authors, poets, film directors, linguists, and essayists into the new Hong Kong – Xianggang. The social commentary here does not hold back on its emotion, criticism, and reaction to events that have transpired in this most interesting geographical location since 1997. Art, in its many forms, is really what this book is about. The collision of many cultures, worldviews, epistemologies, and languages become excellent fodder for assorted artistic expression. I found this to be a tough but important read for at least two reasons. The first reason is that I am completely unfamiliar with Chinese thought, history, and context. The second reason is that I am not a connoisseur of the arts. Mind you, I am not a complete ignoramus; rather, these are just areas outside my comfort zone. However, despite my discomfort, this is an important read, especially since our cohort will find itself navigating Hong Kong in a mere three months. Thus we should know something of the history, culture, and people of this fascinating place.
The year 1997 was quite an important period of time for those who lived in Hong Kong during the transition of the colony going back into the hands of the People’s Republic of China and out of the hands of the British. I can only imagine both the fears and the excitement of those involved in this massive change. I can only imagine the emotion of watching the changing of the flags, the changing of leadership. I could only imagine. So who are the rightful owners of this land? Who are the indigenous peoples of this land? This made me think about my own culture and the land in which I live. Who are the indigenous peoples of my land? And what would it be like if there was a date when all of the land of the United States of America was given back to the indigenous peoples who were here first? How would things change? What would be different? What would stay the same? How would if feel to watch the flags changed, the leadership changed? And, what would the social critique look like under the new flag? How would artistic expression be different? What would it look like under the new regime?
No system is perfect. All one has to do to test this claim is to study history closely. What governmental system is best? Colonialism was thought to have a civilizing effect on the people it brought under its subjugation. But does that justify the system? What about communism? Doesn’t that system consider all people as equal? But history has shown that this is not true. The powerful and the rich and the brutal always seem to rise to the top, even in systems where equality is supposed to be the norm. This is true of democracy as well. Even in democratically elected representative governments there is still inequity and ruthlessness. Human nature, it seems, always finds a way to be dysfunctional. So what is the answer, or is there an answer? If there is an answer to this messiness, where is it? Is the answer found in religion? Again, a look at history shows that religious systems are also flawed. As hard is it is to admit, even Christianity as a system has a dark past, particularly in its treatment of indigenous peoples. So, if neither governmental systems nor religious systems hold the answers, where are the answers to the needs of humankind in this adolescent 21st century?
Do artists hold the keys to the problems we face? Probably not. But at least they try to bring the problems to the surface and offer enough commentary to make us look inwardly, look at new possibilities, and attempt to give a voice to reason. This is true in Hong Kong; it is also true wherever people are trying to come to grips with their present realities, even among the few indigenous people that are left on this planet. So perhaps we all need to pay attention to those who are not in power, to those who we might least expect to have the answers. Maybe it is there that we will find the beginnings of what we need to know and need to do to pull ourselves out of the messes we have gotten ourselves into. Perhaps this is the place that poetry and music have in cultures; they are the quiet voices that continue to ask the questions. Or maybe we just need to be still enough to hear the old voices, the voices in nature. Or maybe we need to listen to the older voices still, the voices of silence and great mystery. Perhaps it is in the silence where we will gain the wisdom we need to stop the craziness, stop the madness.
The turn of a verse
A Slight of hand
Each taking turns
To turn us around
With many a confounding turn
In the end
We turned inside out
And that was the end
Of all that turning
 Kam Louie, ed., Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011)
 Ibid., 76.
8 responses to “Listening: The Changing of the Flags”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Bill! Buddy! I knew you would have a unique perspective on this book, as you viewed it through the lens of your research. Coming fresh off a trip to the Dakotas, the similarities you noticed must have been plentiful.
Your last paragraph about the arts and music took me to the 60s. I think of all of the beautiful, and weird, lyrics that were written here in the USA, how Woodstock came about, and the expressions voiced through this medium. How powerful those expressions of emotion can be… I, personally, cannot wait to see and experience this collision of cultures for myself.
And I’m looking forward to sharing with YOU! Cheers to you, buddy! And Happy Father’s Day! Look at how far we’ve come!
Thanks for reading my post. I thought it was a little dark, but it is what came out this week.
This world is an interesting and baffling place. It is tragic to see what people can do to others who they think are inferior to themselves. Abuse is rampant. Racism is not dead. And this is all still going on in the 21st century, a time we should know better. But we keep repeating our mistakes, and they seem to at times grow in intensity. However, I am hopeful that we can make changes — there is always hope for change.
I know our cohort is changing and growing. I can see it in our posts and in our sharing with one another. I am grateful that we have this last Advance together and that we will be able to view everyone’s research this time around. I can’t believe it is only three months away! And there is so much to do before then! May God help each of us to be strong and wise as we do what we need to do before the trip. I especially look forward to catching up with you, my friend over Hong Kong brews. It will be here before we know it. See you soon!
I am always amazed at how much you write what I am thinking or experiencing. You write, “I found this to be a tough but important read for at least two reasons. The first reason is that I am completely unfamiliar with Chinese thought, history, and context. The second reason is that I am not a connoisseur of the arts. Mind you, I am not a complete ignoramus; rather, these are just areas outside my comfort zone.” Thank you! Exactly!
I might be a little more ignorant – you are much more traveled and have a broader cultural experience than I have. The performance and production of cinema and film making as a method of understanding culture was difficult for me, especially as many of the essays were written in a more technical genre. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been in a movie theater in my whole life (however, as a child, Dad would take us to the “drive-in” if you know what I mean) and we are not movie watchers at home, except, we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year when it is on TV. I probably just told on myself, horribly!
I did glean a lot from “Hong Kong Culture” in terms of culture, history, and geopolitical experience. Chapter one by John Carroll was the most informative for me as I now have some understanding of the political/governmental relationship of Hong Kong with mainland China and the Special Administrative Region (SAR). I do remember the fears reported in the 80s and 90s over the transition to China’s rule. Two quotes from the first chapter, one humorous and the other quite informative:
“The overwhelming majority of tourists are no longer Westerners but mainland Chinese, who often learn the hard way that their compatriots are only too happy to sell them replica watches and defective goods (manufactured, of course, on the Mainland).”
“the SAR did not fully recover [from huge decline in the Hong Kong stock market] until late 2000. On the other hand, the post-handover doom-and-gloom scenarios that had been predicted, especially in the Western media, did not materialize. Surveys in 1998, one year after the handover, showed that a growing public confidence in the SAR’s political future, even with the economic recession, was based on satisfaction with Beijing’s lack of interference in SAR affairs.”
Thanks for your thoughtful comments on my post.
Yes, it should be an interesting learning experience in Hong Kong. I can’t believe that it is a mere three months before we are all back together again. I am hoping that the readings we have done will assist us in grasping this mysterious place. It should be quite an adventure. I look forward to seeing you and to learning how your research is shaping up. I am glad that we will be able to participate in all the presentations this year. I think that is a very good decision. God bless you as you continue your journey, my friend.
Hey there Professor, thank you once again for going deep with this reading. Your insight is always valuable. You said: “So perhaps we all need to pay attention to those who are not in power, to those who we might least expect to have the answers. Maybe it is there that we will find the beginnings of what we need to know and need to do to pull ourselves out of the messes we have gotten ourselves into.” The ability to learn in new places from uncommon sources – that is so refreshing to consider.
I appreciate the way in which you have shared your own journey throughout the course of these last two years. Your authenticity and vulnerability have made a difference. I will miss that. I look forward to connecting again in Hong Kong. Keep well.
Thanks for your good comments. I appreciate them. I always try to be real and honest. Sometimes it is risky, but I am willing to take that risk. This has been a very good two years for me. There is a sadness that out chats and posts will be going away. I will miss “being with” all of the cohort weekly. We have become close through this whole process. For this I am eternally grateful. I think that some of our friendships will carry on for life. I would especially like to keep in touch with you, my friend. As you already know, your posts have touched me deeply. One of my hopes is to come and visit your church some day. We need to make that happen.
I look forward to seeing you and our cohort in Hong Kong.
Bill, thank you once again for your thoughtful comments! You ask very thoughtful question. I too was not sure if the artist can bring the ultimate solution to HK complex social and political issue. For that reason, I like you remind us “we all need to pay attention to those who are not in power, to those who we might least expect to have the answers.” Thanks again and looking forward to seeing sometimes soon. Blessings!
I join our colleagues in voicing appreciation for your insights and depths, in this post and in all the others. I did not find it “dark”, rather I noticed how you are pressing into the questions, the learning edge of where you are right now. You wrote, “The social commentary here does not hold back on its emotion, criticism, and reaction to events that have transpired in this most interesting geographical location since 1997.” This reading, your post reminds me again of “Collateral Damage” by Zymunt Bauman (I can’t believe how this book has impacted me) – there are of course intended consequences to our actions, but there are also unintended. Along side other reading I am doing by Marcus Borg on “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” I am struck by the subversive action of Jesus. You alluded to it in your questions. Perhaps as you recognize God is inviting us to learn to live in God’s ways, ways you are seeing …
Thank you Bill for your wisdom and grace …