“I really want the impossible to actually be set up as a contrast to what is possible in this city, and the idea really is that these odds are really against us, and so much has been stacked up that is not in our favor.” That’s how Karen Cheung, a writer and journalist from Hong Kong, and the author of “The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir,” explains the title of her book.
Her book documents the period from 1997 to 2021, which Cheung describes as “the space when so much felt possible,” and she addresses the devastating repercussions of silencing dissent while pointing also to different manifestations of resistance and creativity against that oppression. But the descriptions of the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and the fallout of China’s crackdowns on political freedoms in Hong Kong are just one portion of Cheung’s broader portrait of a “place always on the verge of mutilation.” Her descriptions of personal struggle and reports about the broader mental health crisis are part of this love letter to her city.
In this podcast episode, she elucidates, for example, how capitalism and gentrification affect Hong Kong’s daily life. She clarifies classist and racist stereotypes of the traditionally Chinese and South-Southeast Asian enclaves as well as the perceptions of the label “local.” She also offers what it means to write for a local audience or for a readership outside Hong Kong. In describing media coverage by some foreign journalists, Cheung writes in her book that “these foreign correspondents come with pre-existing ideas of the story they want and ask journalists here to interview locals until they get the story. Publications continue to act like the only time Hong Kongers deserve their own stories is when it’s a narrative about our death.”
Cheung dedicated the book to her “Hong Kong friends.” Listen to the conversation to learn the wider angle of solidarity and hope across borders while understanding in more detail the politics, culture and belonging in contemporary Hong Kong. It is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on YouTube here.
“Wider Angle” is produced and hosted by Riada Asimovic Akyol.