Hong Kong identity from a merman’s perceptive

March 05, 2016 08:04
The 2014 Umbrella Movement helped many people in  Hong Kong discover their identity. Photo: HKEJ

Theatre Horizon, a local performance group, is showing Nightmares -- episode 2 of the trilogy Century-old Dreams of a Fishing Harbor -- from March 4-13 at Cattle Depot Artist Village.

The protagonist is a “merman” -- a mythical half-man-half-fish creature -- who is a member of the Lu-Tings, a clan of Hong Kong’s indigenous inhabitants.

He tells the story of Hong Kong between 1941 and 1997.

The trilogy is a response by director Chan Chu-hei (陳曙曦) and playwright Wong Kwok-kui (黃國鉅) to young Hongkongers' desperate search for self-identity and the ideology of localism prevailing when waves of protests against the government's plan to introduce national education rolled over the city in 2012.

Theatre Horizon made its debut during the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, showcasing the prologue of the trilogy.

The final scene shows some angry protesters holding umbrellas marching against the brutal killing of the Lu-Tings.

The imagery, in hindsight, foretold Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, which came to be known as the Umbrella Movement, a few months later.

In the second episode, the protagonist, Lu Ting, lives through the Japanese occupation, the 1967 riots, the Sino-British negotiations over the return of Hong Kong to China, the Tiananmen massacre and the 1997 handover.

“Lu Ting always takes a passive stance and changes himself flexibly whenever necessary to embrace changes during the course of history,” Chan said.

“On the other hand, Lu Yue, a more radical peer, criticizes Lu Ting and urges him to preserve the Lu-Tings’ culture instead of changing himself to fit in the world.”

Chan said Lu Ting is an archetype of the people of Hong Kong, who struggle to survive under various administrations -- be they the Japanese, the British or the mainland Chinese -- but never think of taking up their role as the owners of their city.

Since the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the community has been frozen in an ambiguous state, pondering constantly what being a Hongkonger and a Chinese means, he said.

Many Hongkongers continued to be politically apathetic, while some others became democratic-reunificationists, Chan said.

However, the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, shook the hope of many of the people for reunification with China and replaced it with deep fear, he said.

While many advocated reunification, many others opposed it. It was unsettling, as each side's stance appeared to be justifiable, Chan said.

Instead of being driven to the desperation experienced during June 4, Chan argued, people prefer to remain in a state of ambiguity.

Conflicts arise as a result.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 3.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Director Chan Chu-hei aims to show how the identity of the people of Hong Kong developed over the years. Photo: HKEJ
Theatre Horizon is performing the drama Nightmares at Cattle Depot Artist Village. Photo: HKEJ

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