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Hong Kong

Culture and the Politics of Disappearance

1997
Author:

Ackbar Abbas

Hong Kong

A consideration of what the culture of Hong Kong tells us about the state of the world at the fin-de-siècle.

In an intriguing and provocative exploration of its cinema, architecture, photography, and literature, Ackbar Abbas considers what Hong Kong can teach us about the future of both the colonial city and the global city.

Hong Kong, has no pre-colonial past, only a colonial present and always the imminence of its disappearance. Ackbar Abbas’s extraordinary account centers on these junctures and becomes an examination of culture in a space of disappearance. Hong Kong’s then, is a particular form of presence, one which illuminates for us the elusiveness of colonial space. Abbas does this by dissecting Hong Kong’s architecture, cinema and writing to show us something about the question of subjectivity and the relation of disappearance to speed.

Saskia Sassen, author of The Global City

On June 30, 1997, Hong Kong as we know it will disappear, ceasing its singular and ambiguous existence as a colonial holdover and becoming part of the People’s Republic of China. In an intriguing and provocative exploration of its cinema, architecture, photography, and literature, Ackbar Abbas considers what Hong Kong, with its unique relations to decolonization and disappearance, can teach us about the future of both the colonial city and the global city.

The culture of Hong Kong encompasses Jackie Chan and John Woo, British colonial architecture and postmodern skyscrapers. Ironically, it was not until they were faced with the imposition of Mainland power—with the signing of the Sino-British Joint Agreement in 1984—that the denizens of the colony began the search for a Hong Kong identity. According to Abbas, Hong Kong’s peculiar lack of identity is due to its status as “not so much a place as a space of transit,” whose residents think of themselves as transients and migrants on their way from China to somewhere else.

Abbas explores the way Hong Kong’s media saturation changes its people’s experience of space so that it becomes abstract, dominated by signs and images that dispel memory, history, and presence.

Hong Kong disappears through simple dualities such as East/West and tradition/modernity. What is missing from a view of Hong Kong as merely a colony is the paradox that Hong Kong has benefited from and made a virtue of its dependent colonial status, turning itself into a global and financial city and outstripping its colonizer in terms of wealth.

Combining sophisticated theory and a critical perspective, this rich and thought-provoking work captures the complex situation of the metropolis that is contemporary Hong Kong. Along the way, it challenges, entertains, and makes an important contribution to our thinking about the surprising processes and consequences of colonialism.

Copublished with Hong Kong University Press

Hong Kong

Ackbar Abbas is senior lecturer in comparative literature at University of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

In this age of continuous change, rapid mobility, and worldwide connectivity to anyone anywhere in the world, the challenge for the cultural observer is defining what is culture amidst flux. Ackbar Abbas takes on the challenge and does it with elegance. Abbas’ book is slim, elegant, and specific. It deals with defining and preserving culture in one of the world’s densest and most dynamic metropolis, Hong Kong.

Pacific Reader

In seven pithy yet densely argued chapters, the author provides a coherent and provocative reading of Hong Kong’s unique historical situation by concentrating on how cultural forms interact with a sense of the city’s changing spatial relations. The book’s main contention is that contemporary Hong Kong culture needs to be conceptualized via new modes of critical thought because its own characteristics are themselves new. Anyone with an interest in the politics of culture in Hong Kong must be grateful for being presented with the opportunity to learn from such a stimulating and erudite book.

Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

Hong Kong, has no pre-colonial past, only a colonial present and always the imminence of its disappearance. Ackbar Abbas’s extraordinary account centers on these junctures and becomes an examination of culture in a space of disappearance. Hong Kong’s then, is a particular form of presence, one which illuminates for us the elusiveness of colonial space. Abbas does this by dissecting Hong Kong’s architecture, cinema and writing to show us something about the question of subjectivity and the relation of disappearance to speed.

Saskia Sassen, author of The Global City

This is a rich and thought provoking book which tries to capture a complex historical, cultural and political postcolonial situation in the unique metropolis of contemporary Hong Kong.

Mayfair Yang, University of California, Santa Barbara