2019: HK Writer Hon Lai-chu — “Today’s Is Not the Only Reality”

Years of passionate protest for legality and citizen rights in Hong Kong by great numbers of people came to an end with what now seems to be the now seemingly definitive subjugation of the Hong Kong rights movement. Only a short time ago but history moves faster at some times than others and so 2019 can seem to be a long time ago. The legality and rights movement was a demand for legality and an assertion of local identity necessarily opposed to the Communist Party insistently (particularly in thse Secretary Xi latter days) defined national ‘patriotic Chinese’ identity that was being imposed upon them.

Hon Lai-chu Translation on the Leeds Centre for Chinese Writing Website

A translation of the novella Hon Lai-chun 韓麗珠 mentioned in the interview with Deutsche Welle, the German state broadcaster, below “Notes on an Epidemic” 《感冒志》is available in English translation on the website of the The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing at the University of Leeds as well as in Chinese: 《感冒志》. Students studying Chinese language or culture will find many articles in both English and Chinese about writing, literature and culture in China today.

Wikipedia has a biographical article about Hon Lai-chu.

Interview: What We Have Today Is Not the Only Reality

During the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019, Hong Kong author Han Lai-chu was invited to participate in several author discussion panels, including “Literature and Politics in the Asia-Pacific Region” and “Women and Literature in the Asia-Pacific Region”. She brought the voice of Hong Kong to the book fair. Deutsche Welle interviewed her.

Hong Kong writer Hon Lai-chu 韓麗珠

(Deutsche Welle): Why are participating in this book fair event?

Hon Lai-chu: The Frankfurt Book Fair wanted to invite writers from Hong Kong to participate in a discussion on “Literature and Politics” and so they approached me. The invitation came at the beginning of July, which coincided with the “March Against Extradition to China” on June 9. The movement had already reached a fever pitch in July, so this was the right topic for me. I wanted to express what a Hong Kong writer would think and struggle with when faced with such an event, and I wanted to bring out my thoughts.

Why does this incident affect people who write so much? Because it will have a direct impact on freedom of expression. And as a cultural and artistic worker, a writer, freedom of speech is very important, freedom from fear. Although the extradition ordinance has now been completely removed, other issues, some of the more important issues, a range of abuses that give us anxiety, including the issue of police brutality, police violence and their abuse of arrest authority. The Umbrella movement of 2014 was a failed civil disobedience movement. After the Umbrella Movement, we felt helpless for many years: many people were prosecuted for their actions during the protests, many legislators were DQ’d (disqualified), and we felt ever more helpless and angry. And through this anti-extradition movement is awakening society to consider what kind of a people we want to be, and I want to bring this voice outside of Hong Kong.

Deutsche Welle: As a writer, how do you think this movement to oppose the extradition of criminal suspects to China has affected you?

Han Lizhu: First of all, literature is all about life, and politics is everywhere in life. For more than four months, my mind could not detach itself from what was going on, and I believe many Hong Kong people did too, because we all felt deeply emotional about it. The situation in Hong Kong, every day, became ever more ridiculous than before. Every day is different. Every day I wake up, I look at my phone, I look at the news, and all this news scares me because it’s not the Hong Kong we are familiar with. It’s becoming fast, and it is arguably degenerating fast.

But as someone who writes, I don’t look at the reality we see now as the only reality. Many of my friends around me say that they feel desperate about the social upheaval caused by this politics, but I don’t see it as completely desperate. Of course, there are a lot of very horrible and cruel things going on around me, but as someone who writes, I know that this reality is not the only reality. There are many aspects to reality. There is another aspect, we have created the reality we have today because it is created by the common mind of many of us in Hong Kong. What is in the mind is reflected in the world. Why has society become like this today? I think it is “karma”, the karma of karma. It is because we have done a lot before, so now we are bearing the fruit, and now we have to face the result together.

Deutsche Welle: It sounds very Buddhist and very metaphysical.

Han Lizhu: It seems that you can only find a way out for yourself from this perspective. Because if we don’t think of a way out for ourselves, then we will be buried by that hatred and anger. Every day there are very tragic things happening, such as protesters being beaten and bleeding, some forced into exile in other countries, three people lost their eyes, one of them was a journalist in Indonesia, many female protesters were sexually assaulted, sexually assaulted in police stations, many people suffered a lot, many people committed suicide, many mysterious deaths, not knowing whether it was suicide or homicide, but the police don’t go to investigate. The state of our society is horrible every day. So, I can only see this reality not as the only reality and thus I can see it more clearly.

Deutsche Welle: What was your writing status like during these months of the oppose extradition of accused people to China movement?

Han Lizhu: I wrote a lot of articles, mainly columns and poems. I have a column in the daily newspaper, which is updated three times a week; a column in the weekly magazine, which is updated once every two weeks; and a column in the literary website, which is updated once a month. Besides that, I also write about the struggle every week. Actually, my job is to write novels, but my writing is very fragmented at the moment, and I haven’t been able to finish one yet. Writing a novel requires some distance, a lot of calmness, and not letting a lot of emotions overshadow you. But there have been a lot of emotions these past few months, and the reality is very unsettling, so I can’t be in a very settled state to write a novel either.

So it’s mostly experience. A person who writes is not actually writing twenty-four hours a day. Part of the time, one needs to experience life. So sometimes I go to the street, to the scene of action. I know I can’t do much because it’s hard for me to take a place on the front lines; but because I am a writer, I need to see and witness how events happen. After seeing it, I may not be able to write about it right away, but I need to feel the emotions of all people, the energy of all people, how the event develops; I need to put myself in it.

Deutsche Welle: At the event of the Book Fair, you mentioned that language stimulates your imagination, can you elaborate on that?

Han Lizhu: In Hong Kong there are three languages: two written languages and three spoken languages. The spoken languages are Mandarin, Cantonese and English, and we communicate in Cantonese in our lives. We don’t use English or Mandarin unless we are with outsiders. The written language is the written language, but the language used is not Cantonese. And when I think about things, I don’t always think in Cantonese. Probably also because of the influence of the colonial period, when we write emails we usually use English, and we live with a lot of English intermingled with the language.

A language that carries with it a full set of cultural values, values and emotions behind it, and the relationships between people are implied in the language. So I think that totally affects what Hong Kong people write about.

Language directly affects my writing. When I write, I don’t write from my heart. But because of this, every time I put pen to paper, I have to create a new language for the world of fiction, so the world of fiction and the world of reality are not the same world.

Because language is so far away from my daily life, the world of fiction is like a hole in which I can hide. In the world of fiction, anything can happen. Of course, it is not completely detached from the real world, but it enters reality from another portal. Fiction is not a true story of course, but fiction is meant also to be a kind of truth that cuts through the many of the lies in real life. In real life, people get along with each other based on politeness, based on social norms. In fact we keep telling many lies and hide our true feelings. Otherwise our interpersonal relationships would be simply horrible. And what that world of fiction is all about is bringing back the truth, through fiction and imagination.

Deutsche Welle: It was also mentioned at the Book Fair event that your imagination also comes from the role of women in the family, can you explain that?

Han Lizhu: I would like to talk about the book “The Kite Family”, which contains six short stories that are interconnected.

One of the short stories of the same name, called “The Kite Family,” is about three women: a mother, an aunt and a daughter. This family has a disease in which the women in the family become more and more obese as they grow older, their bodies even grow to the size of a house, and nothing can be done to stop it. And when the body grows to a certain level, they will be obese to death. The protagonist of the story, the daughter of the family, but her body is surprisingly thin, so thin that she can fly away. Auntie was very good-looking when she was young, so she got a lot of career benefits and was with a lot of men. However, in middle age, she became fatter and fatter until she got to the point where she lost all that she had gained in the first half of her life. The whole story is told around the change in women’s bodies.

There is also a short story called “Notes on an Epidemic” 《感冒志》 . The story takes place in a fictional city in which people have a bad cold. When they wake up in the hospital, the government lets them out, but instead of being allowed to return to their old families, they are assigned new family members: fake brothers, fake parents, fake husbands, all strangers. In the new family, they had to readjust. Why were the new family members assigned? The government’s explanation was that this severe cold started precisely because people refused to enter family life. Solitude tends to cause disease, so you are not allowed to be alone anymore. Solitude is germ-bearing, so everyone must enter the family.

Hong Kong Writer Hon Lai-chu at a panel at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

When writing this novel, the question I pondered was, why do we all have to enter the system of family? Why don’t we have the freedom to be alone? The reason is that society controls the individual, and one of the means is through the structure of the family. When everyone has an identity, such as father, son, mother, when you need to use a lot of energy to build your family, you no longer have the energy to think about who you really are, you don’t think about your own identity anymore. When you don’t have the space to think about your own identity, you don’t fight it either. It’s good for society and it’s safe. This is a novel I wrote ten years ago.

My latest full-length novel is called “Empty Faces”. In the story everyone in a city is forced to undergo plastic surgery to get a face that conforms to social norms in order to get an ID card and continue living. This story is also about changes in the human body and how those in power demand that your body be changed to conform.

Deutsche Welle: The latter two seem quite political.

Han Lizhu: Yes, but I wouldn’t actually say it’s political. Because literature and fiction are very much about life, and our lives are full of politics of all kinds, for example, that we can be manipulated, or that we can manipulate others without realizing it. I think my novel is more about the relationship between people, and human relationships involve a lot of wrestling. In a family, as long as there are three or more people in that family, then there is also political wrestling within that family.

Deutsche Welle: No wonder you are called the “Kafka of Hong Kong”.

Han Lizhu: I don’t really like this name because I am me and not someone else. Being imaginative is not being Kafka. I think everyone who writes is different. We sometimes need to categorize an author because we are not familiar with him, so we feel that we can understand him more easily after categorizing him. But actually this categorization can cut down on his imagination or his ability to understand other people, because in fact everyone is very unique. Also, there is something very important in literature, and that is some very subtle distinctions, which is the most important thing.

Interviewer: Guang Yang


文化经纬

专访:我不会将我们现在看到的看作是唯一的现实

2019年法兰克福书展期间,香港作家韩丽珠受邀参加了“亚太地区文学与政治” 及 “亚太地区女性与文学”等几场作家讨论活动,将香港的声音带到了书展现场。德国之声对她进行了专访。

    

香港女作家韩丽珠

(德国之声中文网)德国之声:为什么会参加这次书展活动?

韩丽珠:法兰克福书展希望邀请香港的作家参与”文学与政治”话题的讨论,他们找到了我。接到邀请是在7月初,恰逢6月9日发生了”反送中”大游行,而运动在7月已进入白热化阶段,因此这个话题对我来说正合适。我希望表达的是,对于一个香港的写作者,在面对这样的事情的时候,他会有什么样的想法,会有怎样的挣扎,我很想将我的想法带出去。

这次的事件为什么对写作的人影响这么大?因为这将直接影响到言论自由。而作为一个文化艺术工作者、一个作家,言论自由非常重要,免于恐惧的自由。虽然反送中的条例现在已经完全取消了,但其他问题,一些更重要的问题,还是会让我们落入那种恐惧之中,包括警察滥暴的问题,滥用暴力和滥用拘捕的问题。2014年的雨伞运动是一次失败的公民抗命。雨伞运动后,我们积压了许多年无助的情绪:很多人被秋后算账,很多立法会议员被DQ(disqualification, 褫夺资格),我们积聚了许多无助、愤怒的情绪。而藉着这次反送中,其实这是一次社会的觉醒,意识到原来我们想做什么样的人,而我想将这种声音带到香港以外的地方。

德国之声:作为一个写作者,你觉得这次反送中运动对你有什么影响?

韩丽珠:首先,文学是关于生活的一切,而政治在生活中无处不在。在这四个多月以来,我的头脑无法从事件中抽离,我相信很多香港人也是这样,因为我们沉浸在一种很深的情绪之中,而且香港的情况,每天都变得比之前更荒谬。每一天的状况都不同,每天起床,我都会看看手机,看看新闻,这些新闻都会吓到我,因为那并不是我们熟悉的香港。它变得很快,可以说是堕落得很快。

但作为一个写作的人,我不会将我们现在看到的现实看作是唯一的现实。我身边很多朋友都说,对这次政治所引起的社会的动荡觉得很绝望,但我并不认为完全绝望。当然,身边有很多很恐怖、很残忍的事情正在发生,但作为一个写作的人,我知道这个现实并不是唯一的实相。实相有许多方面。还有一方面,我们之所以会创造了今天的现实,是因为这是我们很多香港人共同的心念所创造的。心里有什么,就会反映到世界中。今天的社会为什么变成这样?我认为是”业”,因果业报的业。是我们之前做了许多,所以现在结了果,而我们现在要共同面对这个结果。

德国之声:听起来很佛,也很玄。

韩丽珠:似乎只能从这个角度才能为自己找到一个出路。因为如果不给自己想一个出路的话,那我们就会被那种仇恨和愤怒所埋没。每天都有很悲惨的事发生,例如示威者被打得头破血流,一些被迫流亡到其他国家,有三个人失去了眼睛,其中一个是印尼的记者,很多女性示威者被性侵,在警署里被性侵,很多人受了很多的伤害,很多人自杀,很多的神秘死亡事件,不知道是自杀还是他杀,但警察不去调查。我们社会的现状,每天都很恐怖。所以,我只能将这个现实不去看作是唯一的现实,从而我可以看得更清楚。

德国之声:反送中运动的这几个月时间里,你的写作状态是怎样的?

韩丽珠:我写了很多文章,主要是专栏和诗。在日报的专栏,每星期更新三篇;周刊的专栏,每两个星期更新一篇;另外还有文学网站的专栏,每月更新一篇。除此以外,我每星期也会写关于抗争的稿子。其实我的本职工作是写小说,但目前的写作都很零碎,还没能完成一篇小说。写小说需要一些距离,需要很冷静,不能让许多情绪掩盖了自己。但这几个月有很多情绪,而且现实很不安定,所以也无法在一个很安定的状态去写小说。

所以主要是体验。一个写作的人,其实并非24小时都在写作。一部分时间,他需要去体验。所以有时候我会上街,去行动的现场。其实我知道我能做的不多,因为我很难走得很前;但因为我有作家的身份,我需要去看,去见证事件如何发生。看完之后,我可能未必马上能将它写出来,但我要去感受所有人的情绪,所有人的能量,这件事如何发展;我要将自己置身其中。

德国之声:在书展的活动中,你提到语言刺激了你的想象,可以详细解释一下吗?

韩丽珠:在香港有三种语言:两种书面语言,三种口头语言。口头语言是普通话、广东话和英语,生活上用广东话沟通。除非见到外人,否则我们不会用英语或者普通话。写下来的语言是书面语,用的却不是广东话。而我想事情的时候,我不一定用广东话去思考。可能也是由于殖民地时期的影响,我们写email的时候通常会用英文,我们生活中的语言夹杂着许多英文。
一种语言,它带着全套的文化价值、价值观和背后的情绪,语言里暗示了人与人之间的关系。所以我觉得,这完全会影响香港人所写出来的内容。
语言直接影响了我的写作。我写作的时候,并不是“我手写我心”。但正因为这样,所以每次落笔写作的时候,我必须要创造一种新的语言给小说的世界,所以小说的世界和现实的世界并不是同一个世界。
因为语言离我的日常生活很遥远,所以小说中的世界就如同一个洞,我可以藏身其中。在小说的世界里,什么都可以发生。当然,它也并非完全脱离现实世界,而是从另一个入口进入到现实。小说是虚构的,但虚构是为了要凿穿现实生活里许多的谎言。现实生活中,人与人之间的相处基于礼貌,基于社会规范,其实我们不断说出许多谎言和隐瞒,否则的话我们的人际关系会很恐怖。而小说的世界其实是将真相还原出来,通过虚构和想象。

德国之声:书展的活动中还提到,你的想象还来源于女性在家庭中的角色,可以解释一下吗?

韩丽珠:我想说的是《风筝家族》这本书,其中包含六个短篇,相互之间有关联。
其中一个同名短篇,叫《风筝家族》,讲述的是三个女性的故事:妈妈、阿姨和女儿。这个家族有一种病,家族中的女性会随着年纪的增长越来越肥胖,身体甚至长到和房子一样大,没有任何事可以阻止。而当身体长到一定程度的时候,她们会肥胖致死。故事的主角,家族中的女儿,身体却出奇地瘦,瘦到能飞走。阿姨年轻的时候长得很美,因此得到很多事业上的好处,和很多男性在一起。然而,人到中年,她变得越来越胖,直至到失去了前半生得到的所有。整个故事都是围绕着女性身体的变化而讲述的。
另外还有一个短篇故事,叫《感冒志》。故事发生在一个虚构的城市,里面的人患了一场严重的感冒。当他们在医院中醒来的时候,政府让他们出院,但不可以回到原来的家庭中,而是被分配了新的家人:假的弟弟,假的父母,假的丈夫,全部都是陌生人。在新的家庭里,他们要重新适应。为什么要分配新的家人呢?政府的解释是:这次严重的感冒,起因正是人们不肯进入家庭生活。孤独容易致病,所以你们不准再孤独。孤独是带菌的,所以每个人都必须进入家庭。


香港女作家韩丽珠在法兰克福书展一次讨论会上。


写作这篇小说的时候,我思考的问题是,为什么我们都要进入家庭的体系?为什么我们没有孤独的自由?原因是社会控制个人,其中一种手段就是通过家庭的架构。当每个人都有一个身份,例如父亲、儿子、母亲,当你需要用很多精力去建立你的家庭的时候,你就不再有精力去思考,你到底是谁,你不会再去想你自己的身份。当你没有空间去思考自己身份的时候,你也不会去反抗。这对社会很有利,也很安全。这是我十年前写的小说。
我最新的一篇长篇小说叫《空脸》。故事中一个城市的所有人都要强制接受整容手术,要整成一张符合社会规范的脸,才能拿到身份证继续生活。这个故事也是关于身体的变异,以及当权者如何要求改变你的身体以符合要求。

德国之声:后两者看起来相当政治。

韩丽珠:有,但其实我不会说这是政治。因为文学、小说和生活很有关,而我们的生活里又充满了各色的政治,例如我们会被操控,或者我们会操控他人而不自知。我觉得我的小说,更多的是人与人之间的关系,而人与人之间的关系,本身包含了很多角力。在一个家庭里,只要这个家庭有三个人或以上,那么这个家庭里就有政治角力。

德国之声:难怪你被称为“香港的卡夫卡”。

韩丽珠:其实我并不喜欢这个名字,因为我是我,而不是其他人。想象丰富并不就是卡夫卡。我觉得每个写作的人都是不同的。我们有时候需要将作者归类,是因为我们对他并不熟悉,所以归类后觉得能够更容易理解。但其实这种归类会削减他的想象力,或者削减他对其他人的理解能力,因为其实每个人都很独特。而且,在文学里有一种很重要的东西,那就是一些很细微的分别,这是最重要的。

采访记者: Guang Yang
 

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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