Without crossing any border lines, the people of Hong Kong are waking up in a different country as their city enters new realities under Chinese governance – are they the diasporans who never left?
A diaspora is defined as a dispersion of people outside of their homeland. While many have left Hong Kong, those who remain are also faced with calling an unfamiliar place their home.
China’s crackdown on Hong Kong confronted by mass protests in 2019 has fueled a controversial custody battle, one could say. The deal was the deal: Hong Kong, a former British colony that entered the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy in 1997 as an autonomous region with its own laws, government and economy, was due to return under Chinese jurisdiction. Not without a fight, however. The pro-democracy protesters who opposed re-unification knew they were entering the ring with the winner already decided, and still refused to shy away.
A city known for its thriving cosmopolitan culture has been polarized: for some, Hong Kong is now entering the dark ages while others welcome returning to the motherland.
Immediate ramifications of the hand-over back to China are mostly seen in the realm of freedom of speech. The Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s major pro-democracy newspaper with close to 10 million online-readers, was closed down in 2021 leaving an estimated 1,000 journalists out of work, and its founder Jimmy Lai and six other executives behind bars. Hong Kong’s future leader John Lee was in fact leading the police crackdown during protests, and is expected to continue enforcing stricter laws targeting government-opposition. Activists who led the protests face legal punishments including prison sentences.
As Hong Kong’s government shifts to the State Council of the PRC (People’s Republic of China,) elections were delayed 14 months because of the pandemic. This gave leaders time to guarantee more seats while also banning pro-democracy candidates and shutting down anti-PRC efforts. The only form of protest left was omitting the poles.
The streets of Hong Kong have since quieted down and another Covid-19 wave sent people back inside, while Chinese flags are being erected around the city and statues like the Goddess of Democracy are being taken down – the inevitable fate of Hong Kong looms in the air.
For this month’s series, Diasporas and Dichotomies, IMAGO takes a look at some of its street photographers in Hong Kong today, as well as those who documented the protests in 2019. We also look back to 1997 when Hong Kong entered the ‘One country, Two systems’ policy – now a thing of the past. While some have left through visa loopholes, those who have stayed are indeed the diasporans who never left.