When We Shed Light on the Water Revolution

Preface by Yihsuan Chiu

The current social movement in Hong Kong began in March 2019 with the introduction of the Extradition Bill. The implications raised by the bill were met with mass mobilization by Hong Kongers, to which the state responded by rapidly accelerating police activity and introducing new legislation, such as the National Security Law (June 2020), that extensively criminalized acts of protest. The increasing digital surveillance and oppression of free speech pushed by the authoritarian Chinese government have damaged the freedom and autonomy of Hong Kong and forced many protesters to leave behind their lives and identities.

Meanwhile, the protesters’ ever evolving tactics and expertise in visual imagery have given rise to a new wave of creativity within contemporary culture and global protest. At the same time, Hong Kongers living overseas, the growing population of political refugees, and their international supporters have formed a crucial external support system for Hong Kong protesters by continuing to generate awareness of the movement within the international community. And, more importantly, a new collective identity of Hong Kongers has arisen through the exercise of civic rights, through rethinking Hong Kong’s society and history, and through various forms of resistance and collaboration. These changes, as well as the increasing profile of the movement in the international media, have led us to think about the ways we understand, narrate, and represent the movement in Hong Kong. Self-determination, diasporic identity, digital presence, anonymity, and cross-cultural translation have become important concepts and tactics to continue fighting for Hong Kong’s freedom.


These changes to our understanding of the movement in Hong Kong are also reflected within contemporary art and culture, as creative individuals and collectives are eager to foster innovative and ethical ways to represent and understand the movement, from both near and far and in between. Haze Publication is a collaboration among activists, artists, curators, journalists, and researchers based in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S. They bear various identities: local Hong Kongers, members of Hong Kong diaspora, and international allies. They are the sharp observers and brave responders to this critical period of change. Many of their texts depart from personal experiences in the movement. While today the movement’s center stage remains empty — as the visible, recognizable protagonists of previous sequences have all been vanquished or discredited — personal resistance becomes the precious resource out of which the new subjectivity will rise. Outlined below, the featured writings and interviews of Haze reflect the contributors’ work over the course of and beyond the movement since 2019. Due to security concerns, some contributors’ names have been redacted.


Promise Li, of Lausan Collective 流傘, advocates for the importance of leftist, decolonial perspectives in translation, journalism, and political organizing in Hong Kong’s current movement. He explores how the struggle for Hong Kong’s self-determination is an ongoing and unruly process of translation. In the essay “Contesting Regimes of Truth in the Hong Kong Protests,” Brian Hioe 丘琦欣, co-founder and editor of New Bloom Magazine in Taiwan, situates journalism about Hong Kong’s protests within a global context in which disinformation is spread by authoritarian actors in order to discredit popular forms of resistance against them. An interview with Hong Kong Reader 序言書室 (HK Reader), an independent bookstore often referred to as “academic” or “social movement” bookstore in Hong Kong, conducted by Asian studies researcher Ting-chun W., brings our focus to the production of culture in the social movements. The owner of HK Reader shares their observations on the changes within the cultural landscapes and ideological complexity of Hong Kong over the past decade. 


In a staged dialogue with herself, curator Joel Kwong reflects on her two identities as a curator and as a Hong Konger involved in the social movement by talking through her research project Be Water by Hong Kongers, which archives the communication tactics among the protesters; the project won the Prix Ars Electronica for Digital Communities in 2020. Artist Winnie Yoe introduces a chronology of the digital artworks she has made over the past two years as a way to demonstrate how she has made sense of the movement from afar as it evolves over time. Both texts explore how technological tools are shaping Hong Kong’s new collective identity, as well as how to gain individual initiative—to shift power, so to speak— in a digitally mediated world and digitally driven movement. 


While the diasporic identity is highlighted in Yoe’s essay, an interview by Yihsuan Chiu with Hong Kong Outlanders 香港邊城青年, an activist group in Taiwan, addresses the rationales behind diasporic political organizing. One group member shares their experience with anonymity with respect to political censorship and self-censorship. In the final contribution to Haze, human rights and art researcher Michelle S.’s poetic reflection on the nature of witnessing from afar invites us to ponder: How do international supporters and allies hold ideological alliances, and how can we embody a more empathetic mode of standing with Hong Kong? 


In addition to the efforts of many individuals, collectives, and institutions such as Lion Rock Café, the Bauhinia Project, and Asia Art Archive in America to bridge dialogue between Hong Kong protesters and their supporters in transnational and international contexts, this publication honors the methodologies and ethics used to bring out creative and informative content across all borders and languages in these challenging times. Today, increased police brutality, state surveillance, authoritarian governments, and isolation are highly visible global phenomena. The efforts by Hong Kongers, members of the Hong Kong diaspora, and their allies continue to be an inspiration to the world.


Haze Publication – Hong Kong’s Water Revolution in Contemporary Art and Culture is edited by Yihsuan Chiu as part of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College (CCS Bard). In addition to exhibition support provided by CCS Bard, the project is made possible by funding from the Center for Human Rights and Arts, Open Society University Network.


The current social movement in Hong Kong has many names. Some refer to it as the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement, the Hard Hat Revolution, and the 2019 Hong Kong Protests, to name just a few. For this project, I have chosen the term the Water Revolution because it honors the protesters’ “be water” philosophy, emphasizing the initiatives of Hong Kong protesters working to build a new collective future. When we shed light on the Water Revolution, we will come to understand the haze around it as the cultural and artistic representation that mediates its activity.