This was written in response to the people of Hong Kong’s demand for universal suffrage and other democratic reforms.  Protests have been ongoing in the island territory for a while now; things abated with COVID-19, but have roared back.

The Hong Kong people are protesting the Mainland Chinese government’s shameless attempt to ram unconstitutional national security laws through its rubber-stamp legislature, bypassing the territory’s own legislature and Basic Law (the island’s mini-constitution). The  Chinese government has dropped all pretense that Hong Kong is a quasi-independent territory, and its tactics are increasingly alarming and inhumane.  The government has turned Hong Kong’s common law legal system, widely regarded as one of Asia’s finest, into a mockery, jailing dissidents and retaliating against those engaging in civil disobedience.

Further, and laughably, the Mainland Chinese government has asserted that Hong Kong’s colonial-era policing laws are insufficient to quell the protests.  This, of course, is ridiculous as British Hong Kong was in fact used as a testing ground for the Crown’s most brutal riot-policing tactics.  Suppression is as heavy-handed and relentless as it was decades ago.  Only the master has changed.

This poem is fundamentally in response to the Chinese government’s callous disregard for the people of Hong Kong.  The nature and character of the territory’s democratic system, with rights hard-earned in the post-colonial era, will be irreparably damaged by the government’s actions.  The poem is a fictional account of a protestor and their establishment/government partner; it can be read as a queer poem because some of the most-visible leaders of the protests are queer people.  This is all the more controversial in the conservative territory where many people do not even come out to their friends and loved ones.


Fire alarm, 3 a.m.
Feet shuffling
Soldiers marching
Ball and chain
Innocent eyes
Central Park Five
Hey, he said, voice thick with sleep
Don’t go out, Blue Shirt warned
He obeyed, he hid
Firefighters and police came and went
Ruse to flush him out

—  —  —

He heard that the protests were different this time
Disparate, decentralized
The one who got whacked
Drew the short straw
His parents met him at the airport
Don’t do this, they said
Staring at them, he realized that he was looking at strangers
How had they grown so far apart
He wondered if he had always been this way, or if he had changed

—  —  —

He noticed bits of food all over the street
Alkaline noodles here
Errant wing there
He hoped the protesters would get it together
They needed some galvanizing force
A personality to rally around
Attractive, credible, sane-sounding
乱拳打死老师傅
Sometimes the unskilled win

—  —  —

Still a colony, just with a different master
Contract with America
Contract of Adhesion
Talk to the mothership
Naked exploitation
Shocking the conscience
Like when that Swedish pop sensation Nils
Turned out to be a guy from Kentucky

—  —  —

He longed for someone he could build a common code with
The same vernacular, vocabulary
He met Blue Shirt somewhere in Mid-Levels
Blue Shirt’s hands clasped in prayer
Whiteness folded together
He took Blue Shirt to the same restaurants, the same bars, as if retracing their steps
He couldn’t decide if Blue Shirt’s presence sullied those places or cleansed them, shaman-like
Ward off those evil spirits, you know
Does that make what came before mean less
The thing that bothered him most was the fact that the ex didn’t vote

—  —  —

He remembered 强龙不压地头蛇
He couldn’t shake the feeling of fraudulence
Most of his friends had come back
Working in the skyscrapers in Central
Clouds and fog blocking out the cries and pleas below
Air-conditioned shops, sparkling clean
$98 for salami
Spanish pig treated better than Spanish citizen
He pretended to like Starbursts because they were Blue Shirt’s favorite candy
What are we fighting for, Blue Shirt said, lurching forward as he spoke
Define ‘we,’ he replied, defiant

—  —  —

You have to leave, Blue Shirt cautioned
Straight away, as they say in England
He looked bruised, disarmed
No, he insisted, I can’t keep seeing you
My superiors . . . Blue Shirt started, voice trailing off
He remembered their trip to Big Wave Bay
The sun hitting Blue Shirt’s face just so,
hair the color of yuenyeung, smooth skin glowing like a stone
I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life, he said haltingly
As if to convince himself
He got up to leave
He fought the urge to look back

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MICHAEL CHANG (they/them) is the proud recipient of fellowships from Lambda Literary, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Brooklyn Poets, & the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Their writing has been published or is forthcoming in the Vassar Review, Minnesota Review, Santa Clara Review, Summerset Review, Heavy Feather Review, Yellow Medicine Review, Juked, Radar, LandLocked, Poet Lore, Ninth Letter, Hobart, & many others.

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