In the first of its kind for the HKRB, Carolyn Lau curates a special issue on the pioneer of Taiwanese queer literature, Qiu Miaojin (邱妙津).
I first got to know Daniel C. Tsang when he visited The Chinese University of Hong Kong as a Fulbright Research Scholar. As Distinguished Librarian Emeritus at University of California, Irvine. Dan gave a lecture on archiving collective memories of social movements and I was in the audience. This was in early 2018, after the Umbrella Movement and before the Anti-Extradition Bill rallies which have come to be known today as the 2019 Hong Kong Protests.
In May that year, I wrote to Dan to see if he would be interested in contributing an essay to the Hong Kong Review of Books on his work as an activist-archivist. The essay has yet to come into being, but he did invite me to a tea gathering at his residence on campus. Deviating from my usual avoidance of standing around tables of bite-size snacks and pleasing strange faces, I said yes, largely driven by an unfounded belief that the sight of a staff residence could spur my half-convinced academic ambitions.
Dan invited some of his co-conspirators along to mull over life after the Umbrella Movement. As my activism credentials are despairingly negligible, I was respectfully silent. Looking back, the hopefulness and frustrations overheard by the cream-coloured walls on that crisp but forgiving early summer dusk now seemed quite beside the point, and at the same time inseparable from things falling apart.
Among those invited by Dan was the film director Evans Chan. Evans had been producing two documentaries about the Umbrella Movement, Raise the Umbrellas and We Have Boots, which is due to premiere as part of the “Ordinary Heroes: Made in Hong Kong” programme at the Rotterdam Film Festival this year. I was daunted by Evans as he did not take off his sunglasses in the living room that day. An easily distracted listener, I was drawn to the elegiac recollections about Harcourt Village, while recalling scenes from the essayistic and fantastical but always unpredictable counter-histories weaved by Evans.
A year later, I received an email from Dan about interviewing Evans for the Hong Kong Review of Books on his latest film Love and Death in Montmartre (2019) – a film about the pioneer of queer Sinophone literature, Qiu Miaojin. Evans was also lining up an extraordinary list of contributors and previously unpublished and untranslated texts by Qiu and her mentor Hélène Cixous. That was in June 2019, when every media outlet in Hong Kong started a distressing cover story with no closure in sight.
As a literary magazine published in English in Hong Kong and largely run by academics, HKRB is aware of its limits when it comes to offering a ceaseless inventory of daily fallacy and iniquity. What we can do is trace overlooked resonances between words and ideas that speak to the present but are not necessarily produced with us of the here and now in mind. Attempts to imagine into being the otherwise by wielding resilient irony and wit against monoliths are never to be dismissed, even when and especially when they are stunted. As such, I hope that readers will recognize some of the wider reasons for publishing this special issue on Qiu Miaojin in this chapter of Hong Kong’s story which will not be signed off hastily, however much some might wish it so.
On behalf of the Hong Kong Review of Books, I wish to first and foremost express gratitude to Daniel C. Tsang, who initiated and compiled patiently this special issue, and above all to Evans Chan for his art as well as his boundless generosity in sharing with our readers his collaborations with influential thinkers, writers, and translators of our time.
We would also like to acknowledge Hélène Cixous and her publisher Notabilia for their kind permission to translate and publish previously unreleased texts.
Lastly, and on behalf of Evans Chan, HKRB would also like to thank Dudley Andrew, R. Selden Rose Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of Film Studies and former Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Yale University, and Alice Kaplan, John M Musser Professor of French and Chair of the Department of French at Yale University, for inviting Jennifer Carr to produce the first English translation of “Chinese Orpheus”, a character sketch of Qiu Miaojin by her former teacher Hélène Cixous.
Jennifer Carr holds an MA in translation from the American University of Paris and recently completed a PhD in French at Yale University. Her interests include contemporary French and Francophone fiction, feminist theory, and experimental writing practices.
Evans Yiu Shing Chan (www.evanschan.com) is a New York and Hong Kong-based critic, librettist and an independent filmmaker of more than a dozen fiction and documentary films, which have been screened at the Berlin, London, Moscow, Vancouver, AFI-Docs, and Taiwan Golden Horse film festivals, among others. His directorial debut To Liv(e) (1991) was listed by Time Out as one of the 100 Greatest Hong Kong Films. He was the librettist for the opera, Datong: The Chinese Utopia, which is based on his Datong: The Great Society, named Movie of the Year by Southern Metropolitan Daily in 2011. A critical anthology about his work, Postcolonalism, Diaspora, and Alternative Histories: The Cinema of Evans Chan was published by the HKU Press in 2015. We Have Boots and Umbrella Road are his latest films about Hong Kong’s democratic movement and ongoing protests. Both films were preceded by his acclaimed documentary, Raise the Umbrellas (www.raisetheumbrellas.com), which explores the 79-day Occupy/Umbrella Revolution of 2014. We Have Boots was premiered at the 2020 Rotterdam International Film Festival.
Hélène Cixous is a writer and philosopher.
Ari Larissa Heinrich is known for translations of key works of queer literature from Taiwan in the late 20th century, including Qiu Miaojin’s Last Words from Montmartre (New York Review Books, 2014) and Chi Ta-wei’s The Membranes (under contract with Columbia University Press). Their writing has appeared in venues ranging from the Los Angeles Review of Books to Duke University Press’ “Perverse Modernities” monograph series. They are Professor of Chinese Literature and Media at the Australian National University.
Janet Koenig is an artist and translator who lives in New York City.
Daniel C. Tsang is Distinguished Librarian Emeritus at University of California, Irvine. He has served as a Fulbright Research Scholar in Hanoi, Vietnam and more recently in Hong Kong. He has also been a Visiting Scholar at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Honorary Data Archivist at Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, and Honorary Research Fellow in Social Sciences at University of Hong Kong. He has been a film studies and French literature bibliographer (among other subjects). He has also been an activist since the early days of gay liberation. He has freelanced for Far Eastern Economic Review, San Jose Mercury News, AsianWeek, Frontiers, OC Weekly and Hong Kong Free Press, where he interviewed Evans Chan twice. His op eds have appeared in the Los Angeles Times. He blogs occasionally on subversities.blogspot.com and interviews writers, filmmakers and activists for his Subversities Show podcasts (on KUCI and iTunes). He alternates his time between Orange County, California and Hong Kong, where he was born.