I just released an international split seven-inch on my label, Gary Records, from the bands Hot & Cold (of Beijing and Toronto) and Skip Skip Ben Ben (of Taiwan). My heritage is Chinese and I spent my childhood in Taiwan. I also used to intern for this paper. The powers that be at the Reader decided to let me write a little something about my own release (a pretty obvious conflict of interest) because I had something to say about the new seven-inch in relation to the recent protests in Hong Kong—and because I had some pictures to back it up. A friend of mine who teaches English near Hong Kong attended the protests and allowed us to share the images in this post. He’d prefer to remain anonymous for fear of losing his visa—as you’ll see, fear is a recurring theme where China and protests are concerned.

Update Mon 10/13: The photographer has consented to be identified; thank you to Andy Fox for the pictures.

This record wasn’t supposed to be a political record—not on my part, and not on the bands’. It was a collaboration between two groups who also happen to be friends. But the timing of the release aligned with the massive street demonstrations in Hong Kong (and Taiwan). A few people have asked me if there’s any intentional symbolism behind the release, and quite frankly, there isn’t—but the coincidence did cause me to think anew about the situation. Even as you’re reading this it’s the National Day of the Republic of China (October 10), a commemoration of the uprising that established the Chinese government that fled the mainland for Taiwan in 1949. Talk about timing. Historically, political protests and music have gone hand in hand—and even half a world away, protestors have made signs with lyrics from John Lennon and Tupac Shakur.

For those not familiar with the situation, here’s a brief summary:

When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, marking the end of more than 150 years of rule by the United Kingdom (beginning after the First Opium War in 1842), China made assurances that a “one country, two systems” approach would prevail for at least 50 years—i.e., those in Hong Kong would see no political change, and could vote for their own chief executive (governor). However, in August, China changed its mind and now states that candidates for the chief executive office must be approved by a committee loyal to the Communist Party, meaning that citizens in Hong Kong are no longer free to nominate anyone they choose for the election in 2017.

Aggravating the effects of that announcement are economic instabilities and cultural conflicts between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese citizens—people from China are coming to Hong Kong to buy, say, cheaper powdered milk, which has caused a shortage; in order to get the benefits granted to Hong Kong citizens, women from mainland China are choosing to have their babies in Hong Kong, in some cases making it difficult for mothers from the island to get hospital beds; rich mainland Chinese are purchasing real estate in Hong Kong, thus inflating housing prices. All of this has triggered protests, mainly led by student organizations called Occupy Central and Occupy Central with Love and Peace. There have been violent scuffles between police and protesters, sexual assaults on women, and large-scale use of pepper spray on crowds, who ingeniously used umbrellas to block it (hence the nicknames Umbrella Revolution, Umbrella Movement, or Umbrella Protests).

China, fearing the spread of pro-democracy protests to the mainland, has attempted to censor any news about this. In the back of everyone’s minds lurks the memory of Tiananmen Square. Someone else I know who works in China (and remembers Tiananmen) says, “The government wants it to be violent so that it will have a legitimate claim to send in police or troops with force.” The protests have died down a bit, and there were supposed to be talks between the government and protest leaders this week, but the slogan 加油 (“add oil”—as in “add fuel”) rings on, encouraging protesters to stand their ground. On Thursday the government called off the talks, stating that it would be “impossible to have a constructive dialogue.”

As for Taiwan’s involvement in the protests, it comes down to self-determination as well. The island isn’t identified as its own country in most world atlases, and it’s not recognized by the United Nations. During international sporting matches it has to identify itself as “Chinese Taipei,” and fans can’t wave the Taiwanese flag. China has been eyeing the island for some time now, and what happens in Hong Kong will no doubt affect Taiwan. Because of this, Taiwanese citizens have been protesting in solidarity with Hong Kong. I’d like to go into more detail, but friends in Taiwan advised me to leave that part out so no one would get in trouble. I even have to censor myself.

So is releasing a record that includes a Chinese band and a Taiwanese band a pro-unity statement? Is it a symbol of the younger generation looking for some sort of resolution? Is this music a reflection of the current political situation between China and Hong Kong? Well, as we learned in English class, a blue carpet might’ve meant that a character had, say, a deep Oedipal complex—unless it didn’t mean anything at all. Look for symbolism where you want. Meanwhile, the world waits to see what will happen next, and we should all pay attention.

  • Thomas Sauvin
  • The cover of the new Gary release is by Thomas Sauvin, who created the Silvermine Project. He collected anonymous color negatives from a Beijing recycling zone and spliced them together. The photos cover a period of 20 years, from before digital photography started taking over.

For good measure, here’s a track from the split: “Nothing but Scared” by Hot & Cold.

  • This can be interpreted as “To be responsible for the endless future; therefore, we yield/call/declare/request for democracy.”