If Hong Kongers once hoped they could create their own future, that dream was crushed in June 2020 when the Chinese Communist Party enacted a “National Security Law” in the former British colony. That move criminalized dissent, defeating a year of massive street protests and a decades-long struggle for democracy. In its wake is a painful stillness. Police continue to round up and jail anyone suspected of undermining the Beijing-backed government. Hong Kong has long been called a crossroads of East and West. Now it feels like both the graveyard of liberal optimism and the threshold to a disorienting new world.
This piece, by Hong Kong artist Deacon Lui, is about the uncertainty of how to move forward. In the photograph on the left, protesters form a corridor of umbrellas, shielding a figure heading down its center, maybe to deliver supplies to the front lines. On the right, a child stands before waters that stretch toward the distant city skyline of Shenzhen. Twenty years ago the skyline barely existed. Now it can be seen from miles away.
The diptych is overlaid by another photo, this one of Hong Kong’s iconic nightscape, streaked with light as if photographed with unsteady hands. In the book in which the piece appears, the image is printed so that all three scenes are only visible when the page is illuminated from behind. Lui wants viewers to lift the book high. In these times, he writes, “it is through action that we find light.”
Wilfred Chan is a journalist in New York City, formerly based in Hong Kong.