“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.“
It was the 15th of December in the year of our Lord – or at least He used to be for us – 2015 that I left for Hong Kong, one of the two SAR’s, or Special Administrative Regions as they are called, lying both on opposite sides of the Pearl River Delta. In ancient China, rivers like the Huang He and Yangtze were the lungs with which the imperial body breathed in its agricultural life force. In modern China, the province around this particular watery gate, i.e. Guangdong, is the nostril that sniffs in GDP at staggering rates. It is the fastest growing portion of the fastest growing province in the fastest growing large economy in the world.
Hong Kong itself was already one of the Four Asian Tiger economies well before Xiaoping, like a Peter the Great, decided to build his own St. Petersburg, Shenzhen, there in Guangdong, aiming it as a window to the, at least up until recently, Western-led world market. But instead of a sea, it has Hong Kong on its doorstep. A metropolis that is the offspring of the British-led Opium Wars in the 19th century. A crown jewel of the old maritime empire that left off where the Dutch had merely begun two centuries earlier (I’ll return to those chaps later). That Elizabethan entity that once, in its own words, ruled the waves.
Shenzhen’s close proximity to this very city was reason enough to designate it as a ‘Special Economic Zone’, a test area for the practise of market policies. But despite its experimentation with a market economy, Shenzhen is still under the ‘community’ its auspices, which itself is, of course, guided by the ideals of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
It could be said that what made these regions ‘special’ is mostly its colonial history and the social, cultural, economic and political remainders therefrom still echoing among the populous. Hong Kong and Macau are Western edifices overgrown and thus reclaimed by the Asian roots it tried to domesticate for its own purposes at the onset of modernity. Left behind at the turn of the century, these old nexuses of East and West, born from trade ( mostly in Macau’s case ) and war ( mostly in Hong Kong’s case ), are slowly being reintegrated into the Chinese powerhouse. Respectively by 2047 and 2049, both Hong Kong and Macau will see the end of the “one country, two systems” policy. That should have done its trick: slowly returning them back into the fold. Gradually, so Beijing hopes, the SAR’s will become unrecognizable from the mainland and, consequently, there will be no need for any special administration thereof.
So about a year ago, on that same day, this particular SAR saw the terminus to its Arab Spring-like insurrection: the Umbrella Revolution. Mostly the millennial youth had hit the streets in the areas around Admiralty, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. What they tried to undo was in all actuality the coming future that awaits them at the age their leaders now have. They failed. The whole umbrella movement was swept aside by the authorities. The hardest core claimed they would continue their revolutionary work underground, but little has thus far been seen to amount to much.
It’s a bit of a misnomer, the Umbrella Revolution. A revolution attains permanence, duration, while the uprising is by its nature temporary. In the words of Peter Lamborn Wilson:
“In this sense an uprising is like a “peak experience” as opposed to the standard of “ordinary” consciousness and experience. Like festivals, uprisings cannot happen every day–otherwise they would not be “nonordinary.” But such moments of intensity give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life. The shaman returns–you can’t stay up on the roof forever– but things have changed, shifts and integrations have occurred–a difference is made.”
I’m not sure if the shaman had momentarily returned to Fragrant Harbour, as I wasn’t there to witness. But I was coming. And I was going to use my mental Geiger counter to measure any of the psychic fallout.
“Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun” by Nicolas Poussin
For a few weeks I’ve referred to Hong Kong as “Blade Runner: The City“. Not only is the skyline very reminiscent of the one of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s adaption of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Sleep?, it is my personal belief that cities as such are constructed for artists to be inspired by, moreso than the reverse. A bit like how Slavoj Žižek claims that San Francisco was built so that Alfred Hitchcock could film his Vertigo.
In Blade Runner, we see the 1970’s optimism about Japan and other Asian Tiger’s their tremendous rise come to its extreme conclusion: the cultural and ethnic colonization of the West by Asia. It is very similar to the future we now foresee with the rise of China. Except the economic rise of Japan and a few others stalled. Almost 3 years removed from 2019, we are nowhere near the future as envisioned in this film.
I called this article Shoulder of Orion a bit before I read up on what happened on the mythical Orion’s shoulder, not the stellar one that the main replicant is referring to at the end of the movie that I associate with Hong Kong’s sprawling light and highrise architecture. I googled the quote from the film and stumbled upon the figure of Cedalion. The story goes that Cedalion healed the blinded giant Orion by standing upon his shoulder and guiding him to the East. There the rays of Helios, the sun, restored Orion’s sight.
I found it peculiar that this whole notion of the “shoulder of Orion” stuck with me, only to find there to be an actual myth where it was the seat on which Cedalion helped Orion travel to the East. Exactly what I’m doing. Am I the giant Orion, or the youth Cedalion? Maybe both? Unconsciousness and consciousness in dialogue. Exchange between the two, leading to a rebirth.
But even if this was indeed about me, and how could it not be, this was also about the sinosphere itself I was about to go meet. I had questions about what future it awaited, or rather, what future the people there think it awaits.
So on that day, where last year’s upsurge ended, and maybe possibly, the vision of hopes and dreams got blinded for the Hong Kongese, I set forth to see for myself what was abrood in this city. I wasn’t travelling on foot, like Orion, but on Icarus’ wings of steel.