The tragedy of Hong Kong
It’s hard being a Hong Konger and watching your country change while you’re in exile.
Louisa Lim says she’ll probably never return.
A book that documents the protest movement won’t help.
Dr Lim is now acting director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.
She lives in the eastern suburbs and works in Carlton and her journalistic credentials give her a means of approaching the tragedy of her home.
But a longing for belonging and a return to the “mouthy, loud” democratic values of Hong Kong thread her narrative.
Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong has just been long listed for the Stella Prize and stands out among a home-grown field.
Most of the previous winners of this award for Australian women’s writing dig deep into the local culture.
Dr Lim is writing about localism and how it blossomed in the face of the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 2019.
She said she wasn’t surprised when two million of the country’s population of seven million took to the streets. She was one of them.
Indelible City is a complex book, attractive for an Australian audience in its close-ups of the protestors and the political leaders, many of them young and determined.
At first Lim is worried about stepping over the journalistic line of impartiality when she joins them to write slogans on large banners.
“I was there as a participant not as an observer,” she told Inner City News. “The idea of objectivity is quite a fallacy. It’s hard to be detached from a place when you’re from that place. Journalism is shifting. The idea of transparency is more important.”
She said that objectivity was often used by power holders and analysed the way “Beijing’s propaganda machine was trying to change the language around the protests to stop people from talking about it”.
This is a frank account by a woman who “loves writing full stop” and is trying to bring up a family while negotiating her journalistic career across borders.
She lives with her two children on an outer island in a tiny flat and they have to get up at 5.45am to catch the ferry each day.
Even during democratic times, the cost of living is high, but they believe as Hong Kongers “in the beautiful experiment of political co-existence” which accepts refugees and both the British and Chinese have promised will be under local control.
In June 2020 the government passed “draconian” national security legislation in response to the protests, replacing the Home Law, and Lim put her flat on the market. By this time, she was working in Melbourne where she spent the lockdown.
“I won’t go back. Things have got a lot worse since the book was published. There’s the trial now of 47 democrats (for conspiracy to commit subversion). One had his bail revoked because he met the wife of someone else. They said it was collusion.”
“China’s like a bird cage. You don’t know where the bars of the cage are until you hit them.”
Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong, Louisa Lim, Text Publishing, 2022.