#WRITERSRESIST in Hong Kong — Introduction

Writers Resist in Hong Kong | Sunday 15 January 2017


Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Good afternoon to you all and thank you for coming. This reading, co-organised by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, is part of the global #WRITERSRESIST initiative, which is taking place all over the United States, as well as in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Vancouver, and in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Today, 15 January, has been chosen for #WRITERSRESIST, as it is the birthday of the American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. (15 January 1928 – 4 April 1969). King spearheaded the fight against racial segregation in the US and remains an inspiration for protest movements worldwide. He made many remarkable speeches, and he lives on through numerous memorable citations that continue to have relevance for the world we live in today. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, for example, he said:

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

It is this audacious belief—particularly, that ‘peoples everywhere can have dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits’—that has prompted many writers from all over the world to gather together today, and to form a force of resistance against individuals, institutions and entire governments that challenge the ideals of democracy, freedom and compassion.

A measure of how timely Dr King’s legacy is was provided yesterday when the president-elect of the United States Donald Trump used Twitter to attack John Lewis, a companion of Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement and now a US Congressman from Atlanta. Lewis had angered Trump by calling him an ‘illegitimate president’ and Trump responded by saying Congressman Lewis was ‘all talk […] no action or results’. A strange thing to say, indeed, about a man who risked his life and was arrested 45 times in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans. It was clearly a statement of intent by Donald Trump as to how history would be read by his administration.

In the United States, quite a few of the readings have been labeled or promoted as ‘anti-Trump’ or ‘anti-inauguration’ readings. What are we—writers based in Hong Kong—resisting?

A Singaporean friend recently told me about the situation for writers in his country:

Unlike other countries, we don’t live under an overtly oppressive regime. We have a lot of freedom to publish and say what we want and we are in fact supported by a ton of government grants and so many of us are wrapped up in government employment of some form or other that we almost naturally self censor to avoid the risk of losing livelihood. So it’s a much more covert form of censorship/oppression.

What about Hong Kong, then? Like our counterparts in Singapore, we don’t live under an ‘overtly oppressive regime’. But let’s be honest, in Hong Kong, intellectual oppression, suppression of thought, and a pernicious air of paranoia that causes one to check their ideas, to self-censor in advance, for fear of making life difficult for oneself are becoming part of our daily reality. And the situation is only getting worse.

Just last year, we witnessed the disappearance of five Causeway Bay booksellers and their forced televised confessions that followed. There was also the intervention in the Legislative Council’s oath-taking controversy and cases of violations of press and academic freedom.

In this environment, I believe writers have the responsibility to do something with their words: to document, comment, reflect, critique, challenge, provoke, inspire—and most importantly, to create, to resist and to unite—instead of being passive or silent. To quote Martin Luther King Jr. again, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’

As writers, we may not necessarily be writing about politics, or political and social issues all the time, but it is important that we know our stance and obligations—among them, the promotion of understanding and freedom of thought. Dr. King also said, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’

Here we are, standing (or sitting) in the light, against potential darkness. We are unafraid, for ‘the time is always right to do what is right.’ Thank you again for being here today, to show your support and solidarity, and your belief in the power of words.

{Learn about the featured readers here.}

writers-resist-hong-kongVenue: The House of Hong Kong Literature 香港文學生活館 

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