It is the month of May in Hong Kong in the Year of Political Anniversaries (plus some intrepid escape ideas)

It is the month of May and we at Madeleine’s can’t help noticing that we are here in the city of Hong Kong during a year with several sensitive anniversaries on the calendar.  The first of these is coming up in a few days: it’s the 100th anniversary of the May 4th movement.  What this movement was about is thought-provoking today, 100 years after: rejection of traditional Confucian values and embrace of western ideas, particularly “Mr Science” and “Mr Democracy”.  The scholars and leaders of the New Culture Movement, including Chen Duxiu, Cai Yuanpei, Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren, Hu Shi, amongst others, did not support the idea of a period of political tutelage espoused by Sun Yat-sen, the key figure behind the creation of the “Republic” and the end of dynastic rule in China in 1911.  It was Hu who helped modernise Chinese literature with his call for “plain writing” (famous slogan of “write what you speak”) – it is a good opportunity to visit the under-the-radar Sun Yat-Sen Museum in Mid Levels (see our introduction to Mid Levels Museums from a little hop there some time ago) which is also hosting a special exhibition with historical documents related to the May 4th movement including manuscripts from the 1st edition of Chen’s La Jeunesse [New Youth] journal loaned from the Beijing Lu Xun Museum).

The focus of the students who took to the streets in Beijing on 4th May 1919 was initially on the humiliation in the Treaty of Versailles, which handed German territorial concessions in Asia (including Shandong in China) to Japan instead of returning them to China.  But the unrest soon blossomed into a much broader political and cultural movement that led directly to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party two years later.

We believe only these two gentlemen [Mr Science and Mr Democracy] can bring salvation from all the political, cultural and intellectual darkness in China,”

Chen Duxiu wrote in New Youth in 1919.  (Chen would go on to help found the Chinese Communist Party, becoming its first Secretary, only to be discredited and expelled in 1929 for his support for a free press.)

In more ways than one, today’s China is a true child of the May 4th.  100 years on, it is Hu Shi’s forward-thinking thoughts about the advantages of alphabetisation of a language that resonates as we navigate a 21st century that sees so many Chinese people “spelling” out Chinese characters (via pinyin) as they run their daily lives on their smart phones (we at Madeleine’s have just learned this is called digraphia – we came across 2 very funny pieces about the clever, sophisticated ways in which users of a language that can be written out in character-form or, increasingly, spelled out in pinyin in today’s internet-dominant world here (“dumpling ingredients and character amnesia”) and here (“pinyin as subversive subtext”).

This Spring of Anniversary-filled Significance continues with 4th June this year being the 30th anniversary of a student movement that ended in massacre on Tiananmen Square, an event that still has very contemporary relevance and stir up much emotions in this city of Hong Kong.  For the last 29 years, there has been a very public mass gathering in Victoria Peak every year on this day.  (And yes, there are ties between the May 4 movement and the June 4; the true legacies of May 4th can be seen in a range of references and parallels made by the student protesters in 1989, including reading out a “New May 4 Manifesto” on the 70th anniversary of the 1919 protest.)

With unrelated but poor timing thus adding to the nervousness, the legal verdict and sentencing for the 3 leaders of the peaceful 2014 Umbrella Movement (this time, we are talking about Hong Kong, not Beijing) were handed down – after a long delay – last week.  The two professors-turned-movement-leaders were found guilty on colonial-era public nuisance charges for their roles in the protests calling for free elections, the largest civil disobedience movement in the city’s history.  (Read our “Something is in the air … new awakenings … the umbrella movement”.)

And so this spring, a somber mood is hanging over the city that is already caught somewhat in a crossfire in the trade war between US and China.  In the meantime, a big issue on a day-to-day basis for the inhabitants of this City of Lights with Chinese characteristics is about pork!  It is rather embarrassing that in this Year of the Pig, the Chinese pork industry is gripped by African swine fever.  With China producing more than half the world’s pigs and Hong Kong historically being very reliant on Chinese pork, and with the US-China trade war lingering, you are still going to find an abundance of Cha Siu buns and Siu Mai, but the pork inside these dim sums may be “imported from overseas”.

But if one feels the need for an escape (from this sense of malaise or the “anniversary overhang”, if not just the always-on, ultra-capitalism of in this intense city), one can always go visit an outlying island, even if for only half a day!  Yes, this is the perfect excuse to go visit some of Hong Kong’s islands (or, alternatively, suggestion to Legco members for a team-building day!?): these are called “outlying” islands because Hong Kong is itself an island!  There are over 200 of these and one of them, Lantau Island, is actually larger in size than Hong Kong island itself.  Lantau, together with Lamma and Cheung Chau, are 3 of these “outlying” islands that have undergone substantial developments and are highly populated but each with its own local island customs, cultural identify and its own charms.  Many living on Cheung Chau and Lamma still bike around, old-school bakeries still make crumbly goodies from days past, and ancient trees are preserved with care.

For the more intrepid, there is a significant range of interesting and generally smaller islands and many of these are accessible by ferries (or chartered boats), even if the services are not very frequent, with a range of geological formations and interesting local flavours.  Here are 4 of our favourites:

  • Tung Ping Chau – we love the rock formations on this crescent-shaped island which at the easternmost point of Hong Kong and is part of the protected UNESCO Geo-park. It is noteworthy that the island’s sedimentary rock strata, known as Ping Chau Formation, represents the youngest rock in Hong Kong’s geological history, and are arranged horizontally in thin layers like a layer cake.  The 6km round-the-island trail is perfect for a Saturday morning hike – take a dip in the waters after the walk and then fuel up at one of the small number of restaurants that pop up on the weekends.
  • Tap Mun (Grass Island) – this island with lovely views over adjoining islands, islets and coastline is in the northeast part of Hong Kong not far from the north part of Sai Kung.  In addition to amazing ocean and nature views, one finds centuries-old temples as well as a few quaint restaurants offering some of the best seafoods in Hong Kong.  There is a campsite which makes us think and imagine and dream … ferries run from Wong Shek Pier in Sai Kung or Ma Liu Shui pier (near the University MTR station).
  • Sharp Island – is an island just 2km off the Sai Kung main pier (it also lies next to the island home to Hong Kong’s only public Golf course). The water is clear, the sand silvery, and there are vistas of island reefs and woodlands.  When the tide is low, there is also the opportunity to walk along the 250-metre tombolo (sand levee) that connects the island with a small neighbouring islet, the Kiu Tau.  Wonderful fun!
  • Po Toi – hey, let’s go south too, and Po Toi is Hong Kong’s southernmost island (you’ll need to take a ferry from either Stanley or Aberdeen that goes once a day only except Sundays when it goes 4 times a day).  Most visitors take one version of the scenic trail that is in the figure of an “8” – the larger “loop” is 5.9km and the smaller loop is about 4km in length.  These take in little streams, an abandoned house, rock carvings, and lots of rock formations.  Popular rock formations are formed from weathered granite include the large Buddha Hand as well as Tortoise Rock that is facing the Monk Rock (the two keeping each other company).  A walk around Po Toi is a fun outing; it’s as if nature’s wind and rain shaped its rocky citizens in ways that draws expressive ideas and thoughts and emotions from its flesh-and-blood citizens).  We suggest: “find your own rock”.

And for an island visit of a different kind – a rather off-the-beaten-path idea – you can visit a “floating solar island” on a reservoir (even if no on-island browsing is possible!).  2 of these “islands” have been installed to-date, in Shek Pik and Plover Cove reservoirs, and they are both still small – and Hong Kong does not have many other renewable energy projects, especially when compared with other major cities in the world – but definitely very accessible and easy to include as part of a hike while you are in Hong Kong.  Is this a good example of nature and technology living in harmony with each other?   (The Hong Kong Government, who owns and manages the city’s reservoirs, has even made a video showcasing the projects).

P.S. There is one other sensitive Significant Political Anniversary in 2019 and it will come in autumn.  This one is watched very closely by the Chinese Communist party too: 2019 is the year that the party’s time in power will exceed the reign of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, which ruled the vast Russian empire from victory in the civil war in 1922, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.  So, from 2019 onwards, the Chinese Communist Party, for as long as it is in power, happily or unhappily, it will be the communist party that is longest-ever in power (even if it is one that has presided over the transition to what is arguably a “communist” or “socialistic” form of capitalism?).  It is certainly history being made and still in the making, but is it also history making people jumpy?