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A Hong Konger’s river from America

There are no guides to identity formation in the midst of crisis. No instructions, no textbooks, and no courses on how to understand your self and your relationship with the world and the various bits therein as things look like they’re falling apart.

I bring this up because every document I’ve been able to find has always been about reconciling identities with the past. This happened, and now here are ways to emotionally accept it. This was you, and here’s how you can make that a part of you now.

There are no instructions on how to do that for worlds, for communities, and for identities still forming.

A video grab taken from Cupid News on Monday shows a policeman shooting a pro-democracy protester in the chest during a protest in Sai Wan Ho district. (Laurent Fievet/Cupid News/Afp Via Getty Images/The Washington Post)
A video grab taken from Cupid News on Monday shows a policeman shooting a pro-democracy protester in the chest during a protest in Sai Wan Ho district. (Laurent Fievet/Cupid News/Afp Via Getty Images/The Washington Post)

The past — however many years of my life — has been one of constant change and uncertainty. It is difficult to express, in precise terms, how much loss I can feel about things that never existed. Are all people like this? Do we all live our lives like this? The philosophical gap that exists between me and another person — between my self and another’s — is one that I know I yearn to grasp, and fear that I will never have the opportunity.

I speculate upon this because I am trying to connect to people so, so far away. I look upon their pictures, their video clips, their writings, and recognize them as my own — the outpouring of a decade of frustration, of anger, of resentment, of promises made and broken, of a society formed and deconstructed, of a place that has never known itself but has always been molded, reformed, and abused by the hands of “civilization” and “unity.”

The visuals that I see — the photographs, the video clips, the descriptions — are of a place that I was so fond and can still recognise at a moment’s notice. A sharp view over Hong Kong’s mountains? Done. A little-traversed reservoir in the southeastern tip of the islands? Walked it, twice. For charity. Those lights flickering among the tall buildings? I know someone who lives there.

Chinese President Xi Jinping poses with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a meeting Monday in Shanghai. (Ju Peng/Xinhua News Agency/AP/The Washington Post)
Chinese President Xi Jinping poses with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a meeting Monday in Shanghai. (Ju Peng/Xinhua News Agency/AP/The Washington Post)

My mother and I always get into fights. We’ve been doing it for over ten years — I can’t remember when we started, and it never seems to finish. She always says “despite our fights, we still love each other,” but I’m not so sure. There are so many things where we differ, and honestly, I don’t know if I know what love is anymore.

Maybe I’ve never known.

I share none of my mother’s admiration and “love” for the mother country. At best, I am indifferent; at worst, I resent it. I was told many things growing up about the moral values of the Chinese, of how we value our family members, how we treat one another with respect, we care for the old, the young, the sick and the infirm, and we are a family of a families — how the Chinese phrase for country literally translates as nation-family.

Fuck this. It is all a lie, spun for the prolific benefit of a few — the sorry belief that the country is weak and the leaders must be strong so the country is strong. It is a pitiful, disgusting, and ridiculous lie. It is a claim upon the collective ancestry of the peoples of China while airbrushing over the bits that the nation-family’s patriarchs don’t like. Like my grandmother, and the visa I never got to see her before she died.

America’s approach to awkward conversations at Thanksgiving is to not bring up uncomfortable topics. China’s approach to the New Year is to deny they ever happened.

She calls me back to come home, although I do not know where that is anymore, but I am certain it is not the land she calls a nation-family. So she would not only weaponize my ancestry, but she will co-opt and corrupt my memories, too. She’ll poison the schools I attended, the trains I rode on, the buses that carried me to the airport to say goodbye and the shopping malls where I bought the suitcases in the trunk.

She’ll invoke the phrases that I have pledged to protect — the “rule” of “law” and the “freedom” of the “press” — for her own, singleminded interests and her hegemony over me. She believes that because I am of her body, my mind is of her mind. She does not see that I am who I am. She will spread her vines across the surface of the earth to reach me in places that have barred her scare.

As a very young child, I used to cling by her side at night, refusing to sleep anywhere but beside her. It was my mother who forced me to sleep in my own bed. And that is how all my beds have been since. Alone.

By Leo Ji

software engineer and news nerd