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.