essay and photography by Aaron Anfinson
Hong Kong's voice is not homogeneous. It consists of a multitude of voices. From domestic workers advocating for equal rights to the grim prospects facing many recent graduates, it is diverse and multifaceted. And yet it is coherent. It has permeated across varying socio-political lines to become increasingly salient. Recently emphasised with yellow umbrellas, it has constituted a dissent that confronts the violent centralising processes of the State and the aggressive decentralising austerity measures of transnational capital. For me, this wary tension pleads to be documented, and I've been lucky enough to be here in the streets, witnessing the sacrifices of so many Hongkongers willing to risk everything in order for the voice to be heard.
Hong Kong's voice is often positioned in relation to a well-documented and frequently articulated resistance to China's authoritative governmentality. It is depicted as a convalescence of anger and frustration directed at Beijing's increased attempts to centralise power, discipline "Chineseness" and erase all traces of dissent—instances that have extended well beyond the symbolic violence of State media narratives and Hong Kong's electoral reforms. For me, this frustration is most apparent in the July 1st protests. Marking the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China, July 1st is often met with contention. Since its inception, the official holiday has been a day of protests. For many it involves remembering a transition from one form of colonial rule to another. As a result, commemoration is much more than memorialising the administrative transition to China. It is about autonomy, universal suffrage and the continued preservation of free speech. Since Establishment Day, Hong Kong's voice has constituted a plea for basic civil rights. Recently, however, this plea has faced an even greater impediment.
As Asia's so-called "World City," Hong Kong has also been implicated in what has become the "common sense" way in which we structure inequality and justify our position in the world. Touted as the perfect model of a free-market economy, its financial centre has been implicated in the aggressive investment of transnational capital—the "offshoring" and "outsourcing" processes of evasion and exploitation that have, among other things, encouraged global austerity. Not only has this brought about one of the greatest income disparities of any developed society, but it is increasingly stifling dissent. As China has come to embrace an open economy, Hong Kong's autonomy and free speech are increasingly labelled as "bad for business." Since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, it is becoming difficult to discuss Hong Kong's voice. Coupled with censorship across the border, corporate self-censorship exists well beyond Hong Kong and the "Great Firewall" of China. Mere mentions of Hong Kong's protests are considered too political and out of bounds for both established multinationals and new startups hoping to avoid blacklists and be the next big thing in China.
From my perspective, Hong Kong's voice exists trapped within this tension. Dissent remains uniquely contentious. And yet, at the same time, Hongkongers continue to be heard. Against all odds, the frequent censorship has only strengthened and unified Hong Kong's voice, raising all kinds of questions about authority and how we will continue to position ourselves in the world. This has left me continually fascinated and drawn to documenting Hong Kong's voice.