ART – Akin Jeje’s Hong Kong Political Poetry

For years, Canadian Hong Kong resident Akin Jeje has hosted the Peel Street Poets open-mic events. The gatherings are held each Wednesday from 8pm at Peel Fresco Lounge. Jeje is  also a regular performer at Hong Kong’s monthly Poetry OutLoud events. 

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Akin Jeje performs at the Fringe Club

Today, he shares his favourite Hong Kong-related political poems, starting with a piece entitled ‘Chop’ about the attack on ex-Ming Pao editor, Kevin Lau. ‘Oppression is Naturalized’ tackles the issue of domestic workers in Hong Kong whilst ‘Twenty Four Years Later’ reflects on the annual Tiananmen Square vigil held in Victoria Park.


A chop, here in Greater China, is an emblem, carved in either icy stone, stern wood or delicate ivory. It is steeped in cloying black or scorching red ink before its indelible stamp.

Its mark is that of a company, an organization, a government or some other such institution. It emblazons the pride, spirit and convictions of the given institution.

On Kevin Lau Chun-to’s streaked and bloodied back last week, there were several.

Written Chinese is often difficult to decipher, but these marks were bold, simple and clear.

They read, ‘Heed the script. Do not attempt to revise what has already been set with your own brush. Next time, our correspondence will be more firmly stamped, and final. If you must write, keep it simple, clear. The script is correct as the permanent symbol of the seal, or as proper as the right grip on the brush’.

Blurred and fading on a man in pain, the marks did not originate from the most artful calligraphy, but the message was clear- on the back and for the eyes of those whose brushes flowed elsewhere.

Oppression is naturalized

Oppression is naturalized when stories of Indonesian helpless beaten, scalded and tortured in Hong Kong become as commonplace as kids shotshredded up in America’s school halls and streets, female fetuses aborted in back-alley clinics in Mumbai or Kolkata, or street kids in Manila scrounging the trash-strewn pavements, drunk fathers, dead mothers. Others see their plight, as they pass them, stare at them, and even get close enough to touch them. Most move by, ignoring the torment before them, or failing to realize.

Oppression feels natural where Asia’s World City has their DHs on the sidewalks, public parks, under the bridges, on traffic islands and the corridors of walkways on Sundays and holidays to congregate, to commiserate, when the city refuses to accommodate those with scant funds for the public plate. Even in their condition they tend to segregate- Filipinas, Central, Indonesians, Victoria Park, Sri Lankans in TST, Thais in Kowloon City, where their community still operates. Alienated, rather than expatriated from the larger community, they stay apart, if not completely separate.

Oppression is natural when there is a steady procession towards regression, like when the Court of Final Appeal rejected the suggestion of letting foreign domestic helpers stay here past their shelf life. Only oppression, not they, can naturalize.

Oppression is justified on lies, that somehow the entire nation of the Philippines caused the demise of innocent tourists on an ill-fated bus, with one ill-tempered cop who couldn’t stop himself from blazing a sharp, frantic path to infamy, so now Angel or Mariel or even Erwiana from Jakarta tidying up at home could be an impending calamity.

Oppression thrives even when justice is no longer denied for the abuse of a life- they gave that husband and wife three and five and a half years for their cruelty and lies. How that couple wishes they had lawyers like that Zimmerman guy, but for lashing Kartika with a bicycle chain and whatever else that could cause pain, they still got off light.

Oppression is not something our screens broadcast, of killings and conflicts in different climes.

It is on our streets, our daily lives. It is in our homes, in their swollen downcast eyes.

Oppression, its deeply seared impressions hardening into the softened faces of its victims, must be neutralized before it begins to naturalize.

Twenty four years later

Candle-light in the rain is beautiful,

Thousands of points of light that refuse to die tonight,

Lashed by downpours, seared by lightning,

Threatened by the ominous bass of dark thunder.

Aloft, peeking over the badlands of thin dank sheets and soaked umbrellas,

The lilies of this stormy valley, flickering and sizzling, remain lit and upright,

Twenty-four years later,

For those who no longer can. 

For more, you can buy Jeje’s book – Smoked Pearl – chronicling his observations and experiences in Hong Kong, Canada and Africa. The collection was long-listed for the inaugural International Proverse Prize for unpbulished writing in 2009.

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