A back-to-school mixtape

Lausan's first curated reading list on Hong Kong history, society, politics, and culture

Protestors walk on a march in Hung Hom, 17 August 2019. Photo: Alex Yun for Lausan

In the months ahead, Lausan will be publishing reading guides addressing specific issues about the city, from histories of colonial-era Hong Kong to the challenges migrant workers currently face. We see it as a crucial part of our project to create and disseminate leftist, anti-capitalist, decolonial knowledges about and for Hong Kong; without returning to the work that already exists, we risk myopia, cordoning ourselves off from a rich history of thoughtful critique and grassroots organising that Hong Kong has always had. Some of the pieces included here have been written by Lausan members: Listen Chen has an even-handed analysis and critique of the anti-ELAB movement, and Brian Ng pushes back on the notion that the city is bereft of literary possibilities for writers. We offer this preliminary reading list as an invitation—though by no means exhaustive, this list contains multiple entry-points for those vested in the city’s liberation.

Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (1997)

Abbas proposes that analysis of Hong Kong culture suffers from both “negative hallucination,” a misrecognition, not seeing what is there, and a state of “disappearance,” which is defined by its pending erasure in the face of the Handover. He analyzes Hong Kong cinema, architecture, photography, and literature to think radically in search of a Hong Kong identity. 

Brian Ng, “Hong Kong Has a Poetic Future,” Cha (2017)

Ng argues that the setbacks on creating a viable political resistance in Hong Kong are an opportunity to imagine a new aesthetic. Leveraging the complex specifics of Hong Kong’s political situation, rather than excluding those not in its public, can create insightful, unstable categories of transnational solidarity. 

周奕 Chow Yik, 香港工運史 History of Hong Kong Labor Movements (2009; 2013 abridged) 

A seminal history of Hong Kong labor movements, organizations, and key figures throughout the colonial period. Crucially establishes the unique position of Hong Kong’s labor struggles especially in relation to the Qing administration in the north. 

CrimethInc., “Hong Kong: Anarchists in the Resistance to the Extradition Bill—An Interview,” CrimethInc. (2019)

A crucial analysis of the 2019 protests from a local leftist anarchist perspective. This critical and intimate interview makes levelheaded observations about the paradoxes in Hong Kong’s history and culture that create contradictions in the political movement, but nonetheless do not preclude the creation of an emancipatory future.

François Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih, eds., Minor Transnationalism (2005)

Minor Transnationalism’s contributors challenge the notion that transnationalism is necessarily a homogenizing force through minor-to-minor global analyses, and move beyond a binary model of minority cultural formations that presupposes a vertical relationship of assimilation and opposition between minorities and majority cultures. 

Henry Wei Leung, “City Without Solitude,” The Offing (2015)

In a moving essay, poet and writer Henry Wei Leung reflects on the political meaning of Hong Kong’s solitude, observing that “the circumstances of Hong Kong’s liminality are unique, but its experience is shared by a whole postcolonial modernity.”

Karen Cheung, “The Dangerous Romance of the Hong Kong Protests,” Foreign Policy (2019)

An account of the June 12 protests, Hong Kong’s history of protest, and a critique of international media’s focus on the “drama” and “romance” of large-scale demonstrations, while ignoring details of the sociohistorical context.

Law Wing Sang, Collaborative Colonial Power: The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese (2009)

Law’s book explores the sharing of power between colonizers and the Chinese people who chose to work with them since Hong Kong’s early colonial periods—with effects that persist today.

Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (2015)

Lowe’s influential text reveals the submerged link between various forms of labor, including enslaved, coolie, and indentured, as enabled by the violence of liberal economics, politics, and culture as well as how this violence continues in liberal humanist institutions and practices today. 

Listen Chen, “The perils of imperial alignment: Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition movement at the crossroads of Chinese class struggle and Western-backed self determination,” The Volcano (2019)

This essay underscores the need for solidarity with the Chinese working class and the class struggle and offers a rigorous critique of the discourse of “independence” or even “self-determination,” challenging its readers to imagine a future for Hong Kong by “building revolutionary, cross-border class struggle.”

Lo Mei Wa, “Letter to a Future Daughter on the Occasion of the ‘Fishball Revolution’,” Guernica (2016)

A searing letter from the writer to her future daughter, articulating anger and grief at her forced departure from Hong Kong, and the impossible choice faced by some as to whether to leave or to stay, with uncertain futures at the end of both horizons. 

Mark Hampton, “Hong Kong and British Culture, 1945–97” (2016) 

Hampton’s text examines Hong Kong in the British colonial imagination and unpacks common stereotypes and framings of Hong Kong.

Michelle K., “To my Eighteen-Year-Old Self, on your Departure for Cambridge September 21st, 2003,” Black Europe Body Politics, eds. Alanna Lockward and Walter Mignolo (2013)

A gorgeously-written and deeply moving letter to the author’s younger self that draws out the political importance of decolonial praxis when it comes to aesthetic judgement and enjoyment.

Pheng Cheah, Spectral Nationality (2003)

An alternative conception of the relationship between the concepts of nation and freedom—of death, rather than life—through close readings and analyses of German Romantic, Kantian, and postcolonial texts. 

Rey Chow, “Between Colonizers: Hong Kong’s Postcolonial Self-Writing in the 1990s,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 2:2 (1992) 

In this seminal text, Chow argues that Hong Kong’s colonization by the British and subsequent transfer to the Chinese state problematizes narratives of tidy decolonization, a “fascist manipulation of the idea of the [Chinese] folk,” and nation-statehood itself.

Shu-mei Shih, Chien-hsin Tsai, and Brian Bernards eds., Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader (2013)

Sinophone Studies is the study of Sinitic-language cultures born of colonial and postcolonial influences. Beginning from an analysis of all Sinitic-language cultures outside Mainland China, this anthology examines the nature of Chineseness in historically specific contexts of multiculturalism and multilingualism through place-based analyses that extend and refute the diasporic framework.  

Ultra, “Black vs yellow: class antagonism and Hong Kong’s umbrella movement,” Ultra (2014).

An anarchist post-mortem of the Umbrella Movement focused on describing the foundations of the movement, causes of discontent, short-sightedness of some aims, the class character of the protests, and the way Umbrella fundamentally changed Hong Kong to its very core.  

Xyza Cruz Bacani, We Are Like Air (2018)

Former domestic worker turned award-winning photographer, Xyza Cruz-Bacani crafts a photographic narrative that centers on the multi-faceted lives and sometimes contradictory experiences of Hong Kong’s Southeast Asian domestic migrant worker population.