‘I Am the Daughter of Black Writers’: Amanda Gorman on the Sanctifying Power of Words

Delightful interview with Anderson Cooper and everyone’s favourite youth poet laureate. Gorman’s observations about how words have fared under Trump are especially illuminating:

COOPER: It’s so interesting to me that you’re not thinking visually, that it’s not the images that motivate you — it’s the text, the words that you come across.

GORMAN: To me, words matter. And I think that’s what made this inauguration that much more sentimental and special. We’ve seen over the past few years the ways in which the power of words has been violated and misappropriated. And what I wanted to do is to reclaim poetry as that site in which we re-purify, re-sanctify not only the Capitol building which we saw violated, but the power of words, and to invest that in the highest office of the land.

Words. Another gift that Trump and his acolytes have tried to steal or ruin. Gorman is living proof that they haven’t fully succeeded:

COOPER: I understand you have a mantra that you say before every reading you give. Can you reveal what that is?

GORMAN: Certainly. I do it whenever I perform, and I definitely did it this time. I close my eyes and I say: “I am the daughter of Black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”

They do indeed.

January 22, 2021

’Hong Kong Has Arrested Almost Everyone in the Political Opposition’

Viola Zhou, Vice News:

Hong Kong police arrested more than 50 pro-democracy politicians, former lawmakers and activists in morning raids on Wednesday that effectively wiped out the entire political opposition in what one critic called a “reign of terror.”

Deploying some 1,000 officers, the police carried out the stunning assault on the city’s pro-democracy movement using a new national security law written and passed in Beijing last year, legislation that raised the cost of dissent in the former British colony to life imprisonment. […]

The arrested are accused of “subverting state power” by organizing or participating in a poll for pro-democracy activists in July, which was aimed at helping democrats win a majority in Hong Kong’s legislature.

Incredibly disheartening to see anti-democratic forces win the day.

January 6, 2021

Rev. Raphael Warnock Wins Georgia’s Runoff Race, Making Him the State’s First Black Senator

Ryan Brooks, Buzzfeed News:

Warnock is the first Black person elected to represent Georgia in the Senate and will be only one of three Black people in the Senate once his term begins. His victory is a testament to the decades-long political organizing of Black women in Georgia, coming just two months after President-elect Joe Biden beat Trump in the state — the first Democrat to win a presidential race there since 1992. […]

He declared victory in short remarks broadcast online after midnight Wednesday. Recounting his upbringing in coastal Georgia, Warnock recalled that his mother picked “someone else’s cotton” while he was growing up and now she had gone to the polls to pick her son to become a US senator.

Incredibly gratifying to see pro-democratic forces win the day.

January 6, 2021

Benedict Rogers: In Hong Kong, Churches Face a Difficult Choice

A sobering op-ed from the founder of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Hong Kong:

Exactly a week from today, we will celebrate Christmas. Yet for the first time ever I worry for the fate of the Church in Hong Kong, and the ability of Hong Kong Christians to worship and live out their faith freely. […]

Hong Kong’s most prominent lay Catholic, the great Jimmy Lai, is in jail, facing serious charges under the National Security Law, along with fellow Catholic Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong, who has always been clear about how he is motivated by his Christian faith. And last week Hong Kong police raided the Good Neighbour North District Church and HSBC froze the bank accounts of the church, its pastor, Roy Chan, and his wife. Two of Pastor Chan’s colleagues were arrested, and his own arrest has been ordered.

Merry Christmas from Xi Jinping.

Freedom of worship — the ability to go to church on Sundays — may not be restricted immediately. But freedom of worship is only one dimension of religious freedom, and an anodyne one if it is bereft of conscience, values and meaning.

Church buildings may remain . . . but if pastors are hounded for standing for justice, priests ordered by their hierarchy to tone down their sermons and if churches that help vulnerable young activists in need of humanitarian and moral support are raided by the police, then religious freedom in its fullest form is already under assault in Hong Kong.

This is basically how international (i.e., expat) churches currently operate in China. Passports are required for entry. Worship is permitted so long as sensitive topics are off the table. “Anodyne” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

It seems that the Church — along with everyone else in Hong Kong — is effectively being presented with a choice: be loyal to the CCP or suffer the regime’s retribution. Or, to put it in more moral, theological terms, sell your soul to the devil or be prepared to carry your cross. […]

Churches have a tough choice to make — to compromise and sell out; to stay silent and hope to stay safe; or to live up to their values and risk everything. Their choice is not made any easier by the shameful silence of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The words of the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up to the Nazis should, however, ring in their ears: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”.

This is a dreadful choice to have to make. Below is a prayer for those who must make it. It’s taken from the Orthodox compline service — fitting, given the dark night that Hong Kong now faces.


Lord, O Lord, who deliver us from the arrows of temptation that fly by day, deliver us also from every deed of darkness. Accept the lifting up of our hands as an evening sacrifice. Grant that we may also pass through the course of the night without blemish, untried by evil, and deliver us from every trouble and from the fear that comes to us from the devil. Grant penitence to our souls, and let our minds be concerned with Your dread and righteous judgment. Nail down our flesh in fear of You, and mortify our earthly bodies, that in the calm of sleep, we may be made bright by the contemplation of Your judgments. Take from us every unseemly imagination and harmful desire. Raise us up at the time of prayer, strengthened in faith and advancing in Your commandments; through the good pleasure and goodness of Your Only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your All-holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

December 28, 2020

A Psalm (and Hashtag) for Hong Kong’s New Political Prisoners

Some follow-up to my previous post on Joshua Wong:

About a week after the passing of Hong Kong’s new security law, Wong, facing the prospect of torture and imprisonment in China, posted the well-loved Psalm 23 to Twitter.

I’ve been using this psalm to pray for him and Hong Kong’s other political prisoners/exiles over the past few weeks. In particular:

  • Tony Chung, 19, arrested for a Facebook post,
  • Agnes Chow, 24, now immortalized as “the real Mulan,”
  • Jimmy Lai, owner of the feisty pro-democracy outlet, Apple Daily,
  • Ted Hui, a legislator who has repeatedly interposed himself between police and protestors,
  • Pastor Roy Chan of the legendary group Protect the Children, and of course
  • the twelve Hong Kong youths whose speedboat was intercepted by Chinese forces while fleeing to Taiwan.1

Hardly comprehensive, but it’s a start. I’ve included the psalm below, so feel free to weave it into your own spiritual practice. And share it with the hashtag #HongKongPsalm23 if you can.


#HongKongPsalm23

Psalm 23 — a psalm of David.2

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
 he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
 for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
 your rod and your staff—
 they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
 in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
 my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
 all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
 for length of days.


  1. After three months in Chinese prisons, they were finally charged yesterday.

  2. From the New Revised Standard Version. (Wong quotes the New International Version in his tweet.)

December 17, 2020

‘We Rejoice in Our Sufferings’: Joshua Wong Held in Solitary Confinement

From the New York Times:

Joshua Wong, the Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner, pleaded guilty along with two other activists on Monday to unauthorized assembly charges over a 2019 protest, capping a month of arrests of activists, journalists and politicians in the city.

Mr. Wong, along with Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, who were all members of the since-disbanded group Demosisto, was immediately jailed by a court in the West Kowloon District and will be sentenced next week.

After the hearing, Wong, who turned 24 last month, was held in solitary confinement under bright lights for seventy-two hours. Corrections officers demanded that he use surgical masks as makeshift blindfolds. Such conditions skirt perilously close to the UN’s definition of torture.

Prior to Monday’s hearing, Wong reflected on his impending imprisonment and the suffering of Hong Kongers in light of his Christian faith:1

Ever since the outbreak of the movement last year, when the smell of tear gas has become our collective memory, I always remember what one of Hong Kong activists, @BrianLeungKP, said, “More than language and values we share, what connects all the Hongkongers is the pain.”

Hence, despite possible jail sentences ahead, it is my honour to stand with each of you from the very beginning, fight shoulder to shoulder, and bring our voices to the world. Nevertheless, whatever storm we might face, I always have my faith in my fellow Hongkongers.

Five years ago, after the Umbrella Movement, we all once believed mass movements were no longer possible. Nevertheless, it was the courage and resolution of each Hongkonger that have brought us through darkest valley and made the impossible possible.

“We rejoice in our sufferings,” Romans 5:3–4 reads, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Once sown, seeds will one day sprout. Weary and distraught as some of you might feel, please have each others’ backs.

His parents certainly named him right. Would that we all had such faith.2


  1. I’ve edited some of the original formatting for clarity.

  2. For more on Joshua’s story, check out Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower on Netflix.

November 28, 2020

‘Trump Fires Christopher Krebs, Official Who Disputed His Election Fraud Claims’

Paragraph of the day (via the New York Times):

Mr. Krebs, 43, a former Microsoft executive, has been hailed in recent days for his two years preparing states for the challenges of the vote, hardening systems against Russian interference and setting up a “rumor control” website to guard against disinformation. The foreign interference so many feared never materialized; instead, the disinformation ultimately came from the White House.

Four years. That’s how long it took to become our own worst enemy — a truly Trumpian achievement.

Krebs’ response:

Honored to serve. We did it right. Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow. #Protect2020

November 17, 2020

Judith Butler: ‘Is the Show Finally over for Donald Trump?’

As a US-born Hong Konger, I’ve found it difficult to peel my eyes away from the debacle of Trump’s refusal to concede. Butler’s op-ed describes my feelings exactly:

When we went to the polls, we were not voting for Joe Biden/Kamala Harris (centrists who disavowed the most progressive health and financial plans of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) as much as we were voting for the possibility of voting at all, voting for the present and future institution of electoral democracy.

Feels weird to say it out loud, doesn’t it?

Those of us outside of carceral institutions lived with a sense of enduring electoral laws as part of a constitutional framework that gave coordinates to our sense of politics. Many of those who had not suffered disenfranchisement before were not even aware of how their lives rested on a basic trust in the legal framework. But the idea of law as something that secures our rights and guides our action has been transformed into a field of litigation. There is no legal norm that cannot be litigated under Trump. A law is not there to be honored or followed, but as a potential site of litigation. Litigation becomes the ultimate field of law’s power, and all other kinds of law, even constitutional rights, are now reduced to negotiable items within that field. […]

We are still frightened to have seen the fragility of the laws that ground and orient us as a democracy. But what has always been distinctive of the Trump regime is that the executive power of the government has consistently attacked the laws of the country at the same [time] that he claims to represent law and order. The only way that contradiction makes sense is if law and order are exclusively embodied by him. A peculiarly contemporary form of media-driven narcissism thus morphs into a lethal form of tyranny. The one who represents the legal regime assumes that he is the law, the one who makes and breaks the law as he pleases, and as a result he becomes a powerful criminal in the name of the law.

No wonder Trump admires Xi Jinping.

Trump has been neither a Hitler nor a Nero, but he has been a very bad artist who has been rewarded by his supporters for his wretched performances. His appeal to nearly half of the country has depended upon cultivating a practice that licenses an exhilarated form of sadism freed from any shackles of moral shame or ethical obligation. This practice has not fully accomplished its perverse liberation. Not only has more than half of the country responded with revulsion or rejection, but the shameless spectacle has all along depended on a lurid picture of the left: moralistic, punitive and judgmental, repressive and ready to deprive the general populace of every ordinary pleasure and freedom. In that way, shame occupied a permanent and necessary place in the Trumpian scenario insofar as it was externalized and lodged in the left: the left seek to shame you for your guns, your racism, your sexual assault, your xenophobia! The excited fantasy of his supporters was that, with Trump, shame could be overcome, and there would be a “freedom” from the left and its punitive restrictions on speech and conduct, a permission finally to destroy environmental regulations, international accords, spew racist bile and openly affirm persistent forms of misogyny.

That, there, there is the essence of Trumpism. It really is a kind of perverse liberation theology. This video shows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such “freedom.”

November 13, 2020

An Architecture Critic on Four Seasons Total Landscaping

Justin Davidson offers some delicious commentary on this all-too-perfect episode:

But the president was mistaken; the press conference was in fact scheduled to take place at a different, unrelated business ten miles away: Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The name itself is magnificently Trumpian, goosed by that meaningless, grandiose modifier, total, which suggests that the firm is in the business of dynamiting mountains or, on a different scale, will mow any patch of body hair its customers desire. […]

The end of an administration marked by episodes of sordid sex, wishful thinking, and mass death took place next door to a dildo-and-porn store named Fantasy Island and across the street from a crematorium. If you were hunting for such a symbolically rich stage, how would you even Google it?

Feels like the coda to a chapter from the book of Kings.

November 9, 2020

‘Night Fell: Hong Kong’s First Month under China Security Law’

Xinqi Su and Jerome Taylor, AFP News:

Despite assurances that the law would only target an “extreme minority”, certain peaceful political views became illegal overnight and the precedent-setting headlines have come at a near-daily rate. […]

Schools and libraries pulled books deemed to breach the new law. Protest murals disappeared from streets and restaurants. Teachers were ordered to keep politics out of classrooms.

Local police were handed wide surveillance tools — without the need for court approval — and were given powers to order internet takedowns.

On Monday Jimmy Lai — a local media mogul and one of the city’s most vocal Beijing critics — was arrested under the new law along with six other people, accused of colluding with foreign forces.

At this point the article essentially becomes a list. You can almost hear the reporters struggling to keep up. Each of these developments is heartbreaking in its own right, but there’s no time for details — it’s just one blow after another. A tactic straight from the authoritarian playbook, of course.

Here’s one anecdote you shouldn’t miss:

In July, authorities announced 12 prospective candidates, including four sitting legislators, were banned from standing in upcoming local elections.

They were struck off for having unacceptable political views, such as campaigning to block legislation by winning a majority, or criticising the national security law.1

Imagine that: politicians trying to effect change by winning a majority. The nerve.


  1. Emphasis mine.

August 11, 2020

‘If You’re Black in America, Riots Are a Spiritual Impulse Not a Political Strategy’

Carvell Wallace expands upon Dr. King’s insight that “a riot is the language of the unheard”:

A riot is not a tactical decision for political gain. It is a liturgy. It is a spiritual grasping for emotional justice, for an assertion of self. It is an attempt to bring back into wholeness that which has been split. It is meant to reify the dual senses of life and death, hope and fury, that circumscribe the black experience. The flames of a riot are dramatic and angry. They are destructive and a violation of the most core aspects that bind our society together. And yet they are honest and true, dispassionate and inevitable. And by the time they arrive, they have been crying for centuries to be set free so they can do the work of consuming every little shop and bank, every receipt and toy, every pencil and photocopied government form that has played a part, no matter how small, in your continued oppression. When Jeremiah in the Old Testament was told he must not speak the name of the Lord for fear of persecution, he remarked that “his word is in my heart like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” In our days of darkest rage, the word of the Lord comes in the form of fire. In our days of darkest rage, fire is the only thing that makes sense.

Hong Kong last November (don’t miss the comment at the end):

June 28, 2020

Carrie Lam’s ‘Truth’

Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: the author of this post has asked to remain anonymous.

When Chief Executive Carrie Lam named her May 15th press conference “The Truth About Hong Kong,” I couldn’t help but recall George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. When I first read it in 1974, the term “dystopian” hadn’t appeared yet. We called it political satire then, and I used to wonder if what Orwell depicted would become a reality in 1984. I guess I needn’t wonder anymore — Orwell’s prophecy has come true in Hong Kong today.

Carrie Lam’s uncannily Orwellian press conference, May 15, 2020. Via Lo Kin-hei on Twitter

In the novel, there are various ministries in Oceania controlling the people: the Ministry of Love, the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Truth, and one more which I’ve forgotten. The Ministry of Truth is the propaganda department that decides what is true. It controls what people see, hear, and think, and it also oversees the media and education. One of the most important tasks of the ministry is to rewrite history to conform to what Big Brother says. In the future, this eventually becomes “the truth.”

The controversies surrounding Lam’s press conference may have been the product of human design, demonic schemes, divine providence, or even all three. But they were not coincidental.

For example, the “Independent” Police Complaints Commission’s farcical report on the triad attacks of July 21 is an attempt to rewrite history in front of our eyes. It concludes that there was no evidence of collusion between officers and the attackers, while also admitting that it had no powers to investigate. It categorically denies what the majority of Hong Kongers saw in person and through extensive media coverage. The massive influx of 999 emergency calls was interpreted as “irresponsible and destructive, obviously to paralyze the 999 control tower.” One should ask why anyone would want to do this. Following this logic, were the 150 million 911 calls on September 11 intended to paralyze emergency services while the Twin Towers crumbled in New York?

We could go on, but it’s clear that the IPCC is rewriting history not just for the present, but for the future. In 20 years their report will be treated as an official, accurate account of what happened on July 21 2019.1 As Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Likewise, the Hong Kong Education Minister’s public objection to a question about Japan in this year’s history exam also plays to ridiculous nationalistic sentiments. I’m not here to discuss whether or not the question is appropriate as many others have already shed light on this. Nor am I saying that the Japanese invasion of China was acceptable — and I’m certainly not forgetting the atrocities committed, either.

But what the minister’s accusation does is to pave the way for Carrie Lam to implement changes in our education system that control what people see, hear, and think. Anything that deviates from the narrative of Big Brother must be banned and silenced. This is exactly what the “Thinkpol” does in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Is it a coincidence that Lam named her press conference “The Truth About Hong Kong”? Was she aware of Orwell’s portrayal of the Ministry of Truth? I guess we will never know the “truth” (pun intended). But whether this happened by her own design, by cooperating with the devil’s schemes, or by divine providence (which exposes all schemes), one thing is certain: she and her officials are unwittingly carrying out what the Ministry of Truth is expected to do — rewriting history, creating false narratives, suppressing, punishing, and even criminalizing dissident voices and thoughts.


  1. Dr. Antony Francis Neoh, chairman of the IPCC, said in his press conference that “Perhaps after a period of time, this [report] will become a kind of ‘historical material,’ so to speak.” See 3:50–4:07 for original comment:「可能若干的時候,這個變成一個所謂歷史的一些材料。」

June 26, 2020

A Theological Statement From the Black Church on Juneteenth

Rev. Eboni Marshall Truman, Gary V. Simpson, Dr. Adolphus C. Lacey, and co-signers from over 400 black churches — “one for every year of our righteous discontent”:

The Black Church was born as slave religion in spite of the American slavocracy and in resistance to the degradation of Black life by white arbiters of power. In opposition to the gods of white theology, namely, white power, white supremacy and white capitalist acquisition that bought and sold the Black bodies of our forebears, the Black Church proclaimed by night as an invisible institution that Black lives matter to God. […]

We have been demonized by obstinate pseudo-scientific theories that have asserted Black biological inferiority. We have been dehumanized by the persistent logics of enslavement that constitutionally cast us as three-fifths of a human being. We have been bestialized by the enduring logic of Jim Crow that slaughters us like dogs in the street and we have been criminalized by the neoliberal logics of a new Jim Crow that builds prison cells based on third-grade reading levels in Black communities and that has exchanged a white hood for a gold badge, a burning cross for a taser, a horse for a cruiser and a noose for a gun. […]

There is no doubt that the Black community is “troubled on every side”; that we are persecuted and we are “cast down.” But we are not destroyed (II Cor. 4:8–9). As we stare down the barrel of this 21st-century iteration of white racist demonarchy propelled by the grandsons and granddaughters of old Jim and Jane Crow; and while the adversary roams around (I Peter 5:8) guiding the insidious political machinations of the highest offices of the land, the Black Church holds fast to the theological vision and social witness of those who came before us on the long arc of the Black Freedom Movement to irrevocably contend that God, the Crucified One who was lynched on a tree at the hands of the Roman empire, is Black (Gal. 3:13).

Glorious. Read the full statement here.

June 21, 2020

‘From 2047 to a Week’

It’s been a month since this was announced, but those of us from Hong Kong are still reeling from the news. Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, and Tiffany May in ”China Moves to Tighten Its Control of Hong Kong”:

China signaled on Thursday it would move forward with laws that would take aim at antigovernment protests and other dissent in Hong Kong. It is the clearest message yet that the Communist Party is moving to undermine the civil liberties the semiautonomous territory has known since the 1997 British handoff.1 […]

In the Communist Party’s view, tightened security laws in Hong Kong are necessary to protect China from external forces determined to impinge on its sovereignty.

“External forces.” Right, because the current protests couldn’t possibly be linked to China’s odious human rights record, megalomanic leadership, party-controlled judiciary, or Orwellian security apparatus.

Security rules proposed by the Hong Kong government in 2003 would have empowered the authorities to close seditious newspapers and conduct searches without warrants. That proposal was abandoned after it triggered large protests.

This time, China is effectively circumventing the Hong Kong government, undercutting the relative autonomy granted to the territory. Instead, it is going through China’s rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which holds its annual session starting Friday.

As Elson Tong put it, “The countdown timer has been accelerated from 2047 to a week.”

Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said at a news briefing on Thursday that delegates would review a plan to create a legal framework and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong. […]

“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of the country,” Mr. Zhang said. “Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, Hong Kong compatriots included.”

Funny how this “security” is making Hong Kong’s citizens — er, compatriots — feel less secure than ever.2

The protests in Hong Kong started in June last year after the local government tried to enact an extradition law that would have allowed residents to be transferred to the mainland . . . Though the Hong Kong authorities later withdrew the bill, the demonstrations continued over broader political demands, including a call for free elections and an independent investigation into police conduct.

The Hong Kong government and protesters have both adopted largely uncompromising positions, and demonstrations often descended into clashes between protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Hold on. “Uncompromising” may be accurate, but it also implies that both parties stand on equal moral footing. To the contrary: the protestors have pushed for five moderate demands and been met with tear gas, torture, and sexual violence at every turn. There is no “both sides” here: an authoritarian superpower is throttling a thriving, democratically-minded city, and its people are struggling — often literally — to breathe.3

The legislation to be put forward in Beijing is . . . “a necessary means to plug some glaring loopholes in Hong Kong’s national security laws,” said Lau Siu-kai, a former senior Hong Kong government official who is now vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, an elite Beijing advisory group. […]

Beijing blames much of the unrest in the semiautonomous territory on interference by unseen foreign forces, and the focus of the upcoming legislation would be to stop that meddling, he said.

I believe the clinical term for this is “blame-shifting.” Also: I’m guessing these “glaring loopholes” include a free press, an independent judiciary, and other constitutional limits on state power, yes?

Almost immediately, the move by the Chinese legislature prompted concerns about the ramifications for Hong Kong and condemnation by the city’s democracy advocates.

On internet forums and chat groups frequently used to organize protests, some people expressed concerns about whether their past conversations could implicate them should the new laws be passed. Others urged users to download virtual private networking services to cloak their identities, while some debated whether to delete their chat histories and disband the discussion groups.

Free speech and critical thinking are integral to Hong Kong’s DNA. That such precautions have become necessary is a tragedy beyond words.


  1. Minor correction: we’ve had these liberties since well before the 1997 handover.

  2. Also, this ideological fantasy of “all Chinese” as some racialized, monolithic mass is just gross. It’s Aryanism with Chinese characteristics.

  3. Here the Times falls into the trap that Adam Serwer so eloquently describes. “When those in power are caught abusing that power in ways that are morally indefensible and politically unpopular, they will always seek to turn an argument about oppression into a dispute about manners. The conversation then shifts from the responsibility of the state for the human lives it is destroying to whether those who object to that destruction have exhibited proper etiquette.”

June 20, 2020

‘Woh Yuhng’ by Lam Yik Fei — Final 24 Hours on Kickstarter

The award-winning photographer Lam Yik Fei has captured some of the most riveting images of the Hong Kong protests thus far. Here’s one of my favourites:

Because China. Lam Yik Fei | New York Times

See also his wry comment under “Risks and challenges”:

The risk for backers is trivial and low. […] After all, the most risky and challenging part — photographing under tear gas and bullets — has been completed already.

Unfortunately, it looks like things are about to get a whole lot riskier. All the more reason to back this project while you can.

UPDATE: Missed the Kickstarter campaign? Check out Lam’s photo essay in the New York Times. You’ll thank me later.

May 21, 2020

‘A Day When Mothers Wept’

Benedict Rogers on this week’s tumultuous Mother’s Day in Hong Kong:

It was a day when the Hong Kong Police Force fired pepper balls at shoppers, threatened a woman with a baby in her arms, pinned a ten-year-old child to the ground, chased a 17-year-old first aider and arrested a 12 year-old boy called Luk who was courageously and enterprisingly pursuing his dream as a cub reporter.

It was a day when journalists were assaulted en masse, when passersby were insulted and threatened, a woman was sexually harassed and detainees forced by the police to kneel and crawl on the ground.

It was a day when an elected legislator, Roy Kwong Chun-yu, was attacked by the police after he intervened to mediate between them and protesters. . . . It was a day when dozens of male police officers barged into the ladies’ toilets and hauled away a group of terrified, screaming women.

Breathtaking, really. And to think that just a few years ago Hong Kong’s police were revered as “Asia’s Finest.”

If the international community does not move rapidly — and robustly — Hong Kong itself will be killed. Hong Kong is an international financial hub that matters to the world, but its success depends on its way of life — the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, transparency, accountability, freedom of expression, autonomy. One by one these characteristics that have made Hong Kong are being dismantled with alarming speed.

The rest of the world is, understandably, focused on the Covid-19 pandemic. Presumably that is why the Chinese Communist Party is moving fast, in the hope that its actions will go unnoticed. We must not let this happen. This cruel regime inflicted the pandemic on the rest of us as a result of its repression and mendacity. We cannot allow them to take advantage of the moment to destroy Hong Kong.

There are three steps that are urgently needed.

Smart, concrete suggestions. Not a bad start.

May 15, 2020

Martin Lee: ‘I Was Arrested in Hong Kong. It’s Part of China’s Larger Plan.’

Cogent, poignant op-ed from the 81-year-old “father of Hong Kong democracy”:

When seven police officers came to my door to arrest me on Saturday, I had just finished my morning walk around Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak. . . . They took as evidence my cellphone and the T-shirt I wore to a demonstration last August that drew 1.7 million people — about a quarter of the population. We were protesting an extradition bill that would, if passed, have allowed for trial in China where there is no due process.

On Hong Kong’s geopolitical significance:

The novel coronavirus pandemic is Exhibit A for how damaging the subversion law would be to Hong Kong — and to the rest of the world. Hong Kong’s unfettered media was vital in alerting the world to the coverup by mainland officials and to the stories of front-line health workers such as Li Wenliang, a doctor who was reprimanded for warning about the outbreak. Indeed, Hong Kong was the only place in China that could publicly mourn Li’s death from the virus. […]

Hong Kong operates as an oasis of freedom because our people have long fought off China’s efforts to import communist concepts such as “subversion,” which in China is frequently used to send peace-loving political critics to jail.

“Our people.” Powerful words, these.

May 6, 2020

Beijing Tightens Its Grip on Hong Kong

A rough week for the city. Gerry Shih at the Washington Post:

The constitutional crisis engulfing Hong Kong expanded dramatically on Tuesday as the Chinese government voiced its support for the seizure of more than a dozen pro-democracy activists and asserted Beijing’s “rights and responsibilities to maintain the constitutional order” in the city.

With the statements, the Chinese government explicitly doubled down on its position that Beijing has the power to intervene politically in Hong Kong. The move threw further doubt over the credibility of the Hong Kong mini-constitution [the Basic Law] that ostensibly guaranteed the city a high degree of autonomy from Chinese meddling until 2047 […].

What this “Chinese meddling” looks like:

Long-standing questions about the efficacy of the [constitution’s] autonomy provision, known as Article 22 of the Basic Law, were sharpened last week after Beijing’s liaison office said Friday it was not bound by the noninterference law and was legally permitted as a supervisory body to voice its criticism of legislative affairs in Hong Kong […].

A day later, on Saturday, Hong Kong authorities arrested some of the city’s most strident anti-China voices in a coordinated and unprecedented operation, taking in figures such as the former legislators Martin Lee and Albert Ho and media tycoon Jimmy Lai on grounds of leading protests last year that did not receive police authorization but dominated world headlines.1

Makes sense to do this while the world is focused on the coronavirus. Dirty, effective, and very on-brand.2


  1. Minor quibble: these voices are far from the “most strident.” To quote Justin Tse: ”Um, these are the moderates.”

  2. See also: ”Under Cover of Coronavirus, Hong Kong Cracks Down on Protest Movement” (New York Times), and ”Explainer: Beijing’s 5-Day Crackdown on Hong Kong’s Opposition During COVID-19” (Hong Kong Free Press).

May 2, 2020

On the Poetics of Trampling Death

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from celebrating Pascha this year, it’s that Orthodox liturgies aren’t terribly suited to online streaming. It’s hard to beam nearly five hours of sensorial overload through a maze of choppy audio, frozen pixels, and mercurial Wi-Fi. Our liturgies — at least as I’ve experienced them in the Kyivan Byzantine Catholic tradition — are more akin to live theatre than big-budget TV shows. They’re built for bodies, not screens.

While I was reconciling myself to this new liturgical reality, this line of Greek text in the service booklet suddenly caught my eye. Reading the words was like an electric shock:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν!
Christos anestē ek nekrōn!1

Or: “Christ is risen from the dead!” The letters themselves looked alive. Then came the next line:

θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας
thanatō thanaton patēsas

AKA “trampling down Death by death.” That’s when it hit me — this was the Paschal troparion (i.e., the Orthodox Easter hymn) that I had been singing in English over the past several hours! Here it is in full:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christos anestē ek nekrōn
Thanatō thanaton patēsas
Kai tois en tois mnēmasi
Zoēn charisamenos!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down Death by death
And to those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

I’m seldom moved by words I can barely read. But the elegance of the second line, Thanatō thanaton patēsas (“Trampling down Death by death”), is difficult to miss. Compact and alliterative, it packs a satisfying punch — much like the long-awaited victory it describes.


  1. My own transliteration. And yes, I’m aware that ἀνέστη is usually rendered as anesti.

April 24, 2020

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’ Play Will Stream Online Until Tomorrow (April 24)

Chris Wiegand reporting for The Guardian (on April 6):

Fleabag [the play] is available to stream from today in the UK and Ireland on Soho theatre’s On Demand site. From 10 April it will be available for a two-week period in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as on Amazon Prime Video in the US and UK.1 The production will be available for a 48-hour download for £4, with the option to donate larger amounts of money.

The TV series ruined me, and I expect the play to do the same. For the love of all that is good and holy (and heartbreakingly bleak), go rent this now.

UPDATE: Saw it. Am ruined.


  1. If my calculations are correct, that means it’ll be available until April 24. (Emphasis mine.)

April 23, 2020