Inspired by the Baltic Way, a protest 30 years ago in the Soviet states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, Hong Kongers united and held hands, forming human chains that encircled major areas of the city. Beijing already skittish about a potential color revolution in Hong Kong may view last nights protest as a provocation given its reference to the historic protest against Communist rule in the Baltics. The protest was entirely peaceful with many protestors carrying signs soliciting support from other nations, particularly the United States.
Over the last week, troubling developments have directly impacted major Hong Kong companies, Cathay Pacific, our airline, and MTR. Corporation which is a public / private partnership that oversees our subway system. The Communist party in China have applied significant economic pressure to Cathay Pacific in order to stifle any anti-government sentiment amongst its crew. Cathay Pacific, last week announced its CEO was leaving as well as a pilot that voiced support for the protestors during a landing announcement. Staff have been instructed to avoid the use of social media or discussing the protests. MTR will no longer run trains at protest areas if there’s major disturbances caused by protestors, effectively eliminating a vital means of escape for protestors during a police clearance operation. Fashion brands and media outlets have not been spared either, being forced to alter their positions on the political crisis in Hong Kong or risk losing access to Mainland Chinese markets.
Personally, a friend at a major financial industry firm, owned by a China state enterprise, recently shared with me that he had been instructed to avoid using Cathay Pacific from now on, to and from Mainland, China. I have received concerned calls from participants in a portrait project I’m working on in Hong Kong. They requested that they be removed from the project. The conversation was troubling because the participants signed releases, aren’t politically aligned in their portraits, and the work has already been published. Here is the link for your reference. http://www.chinafile.com/multimedia/photo-gallery/i-love-hk-hate-it-same-time . By removing them from my project, I’m effectively being censored. Self-censorship in the Hong Kong arts community is pervasive. Essentially, an artist who is banned from performing or working in Mainland China cannot make a living. They’re deprived of the ability to make a living doing something they love and being true to their own set of values and beliefs. At the same time, a regional photo festival contacted me about hosting this work but it was struggling to find a venue because the organizer was concerned about the host country’s relationship with China. The project may upset local China representatives and disrupt the festival.
Protests continue in Hong Kong, almost daily. Everyone is uncertain of their outcome but what is taking shape is that Hong Kong will be permanently changed. The city’s reputation and free market values are on the line.