As documentary filmmaker Kiwi Chow walked through a pedestrian tunnel in Hong Kong on a recent day, he spotted a team of cleaners scraping off glue left by illegal ads and scrubbing the walls clean with mops.
In the year since the security law was introduced, minutes before the July 1 anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule, China has also overhauled the city’s political system, demanding that anyone holding public office is “patriotic” and loyal to Beijing. Most opposition politicians and democratic activists are either in jail, ensnared by the new law or for other reasons, or in exile.
In mid-April, Hong Kong authorities marked “National Security Education Day,” with school activities, games and shows, and a parade by police and other services performing the Chinese military’s “goose step” march.
In schools and cultural centres, residents were invited to build national security “mosaic walls,” a top-down, organised version of the 2019 Lennon walls. “Supporting the national security law is not an issue. Support! Support! Support! I hope we can be one with the mainland,” one Post-it on a wall set up at the Wong Cho Bau Secondary School read.
Children were given toy versions of police guns and played with them under the watchful eye of cops in riot gear, including inside a replica of a subway train carriage. To many in Hong Kong, these images were a surreal shadow play of the widely televised scenes of police officers charging onto a train on August 31, 2019, pepper-spraying and hitting cowing youngsters with batons.
BATTLE OF THE SYMBOLS
The fight with the government in the arena of symbols, words and culture is a sequel to the more chaotic battles of 2019, when petrol bombs were thrown almost on a daily basis for months on end in one of the world’s most peaceful cities, activists say.
This, too, is a battle that authorities are not shying away from.
Chow, the filmmaker, said his children are literal reminders of Hong Kong’s history: His son was born in 2014, the year when protesters of the “Umbrella movement” occupied the main arteries of the financial district for 79 days; his daughter was born in 2019.
“The regime wants us to forget. I hope to use my camera to remember,” he said. “We are resisting in our memories. We are resisting forgetfulness.”
(Photo editing Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson; Text editing Kari Howard; Layout Julia Dalrymple)