On Borrowed Time
“A Borrowed Place, On Borrowed Time.”
A phrase commonly used to describe Hong Kong’s unending state of impermanence. The region’s transient nature and intertwining history can be understood in two-folds — a colonial legacy that it has struggled to reconcile, and an authoritarian future that has been difficult to predict.
As Britain and China negotiated the conditions of the Handover, two promises were woven into the constitution in order to “ease the hearts” of Hong Kong people about the transition. The first assurance came under the “one country, two systems” principle, an arrangement that would honour the region’s unique way of life for fifty years to ensure a peaceful return to the motherland. The second agreement promised Hong Kong the "ultimate aim" of universal suffrage, which would allow Hong Kong people to fully govern their own region in the future.
Beyond the constitutional details, these two promises would hold a more symbolic meaning to a new generation of Hongkongers, and inspire a sense of hope that the region could someday dictate its own future. Throughout Hong Kong’s conflicting history, the region has never had the opportunity to experience democratic qualities such as self-determination, universal suffrage, or genuine democracy. Hong Kong’s fate has always been beholden to forces larger than itself.
Therefore, one of the goals of this project is to shed light on the journey that Hong Kong has undergone, and to document the courageous measures that Hongkongers have undertaken in its pursuit for genuine democracy.
In order to tell the story of Hong Kong with accuracy and care, the project is broken down into several layers. At the surface, it outlines the historical account of Hong Kong’s handover since the Sino-Joint Declaration was signed in 1984. From another perspective, it is an archive of digital artifacts that resurface a collection of stories, imagery, and musings of how people felt in a particular moment in time. And at its core, it is an anthology of reflections that attempts to forge meaning from the tragic events that have transpired. It invites questions of what it means to be Hongkonger? Can freedom survive in the absence of democracy? And what role does memory play in cultivating identity?
On a more personal note, this project has also provided the editors of the work an opportunity to explore our own personal history and sense of belonging. It has given us the space to examine how our lineage is woven into our identities, and has provided us a glimpse of the modest role we play within a larger narrative that extends beyond ourselves.
While Hong Kong is no longer considered “a borrowed place”, the region is still — in a sense — on borrowed time. As the region’s fifty year grace period slowly ends, China’s encroaching influence and presence have grown larger, and the promises that were once made to Hong Kong are now under threat. New legislation, such as the National Security Law, has been weaponised to silence pro-democracy advocates, and has forever reshaped what can be said and fought for in Hong Kong.
It is within this historical context that On Borrowed Time was created. The project contributes to the shared endeavour of documenting Hong Kong’s unique status in the face of censorship. While some may argue that Hong Kong’s impermanence is inevitable, it is through preserving the collective memory of Hong Kong that a common truth—and the spirit of the things we love—may persist.
This project is currently a work in progress. Feel free to reach out If you would like a sneak peek.