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Jeffrey Wasserstrom Leverhulme Lecture - Hong Kong and Bangkok, 2019-2023

Venue: Birkbeck Clore Management Centre

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This fourth talk in the series returns to a theme of the first one, the value of placing Hong Kong into comparative perspective, but breaks away from a focus on Chinese settings to bring in a Southeast Asian one. It begins in 2019, the year when the biggest demonstrations in the history of Hong Kong took place, and then moves into the 2020s when intensified repression in the city has dramatically reduced the space for and increased the risks of collective public action. We have seen, however, tactics and symbols deployed first on Hong Kong's streets continuing to influence protesters around the world, especially in Southeast Asia. Thanks in large part to the Hong Kong activists of 2019, though they themselves drew inspiration from many previous protests in their own city and in other parts of the world, an anti-authoritarian "Milk Tea Alliance” movement has developed. A key site in this movement, which had its share of dramatic protests in the 2010s, is the Thai capital of Bangkok. Looked at on its own, Hong Kong’s 2019 seems above all an end point, a last-ditch effort to stop an inexorable tide, but placed beside Bangkok events and taking into account as well the actions of Hong Kongers in exile in the U.K. and many other parts of the world, it can also seem a starting point.

In this talk, in addition to moving between Hong Kong and Bangkok in the recent past and nodding to events in Burma, the speaker will draw on Tim Harper’s monumental new book Underground Asia, which focuses on an earlier period, the first decades of the twentieth century, when radical ideas and people as well as protest tactics and slogans flowed between different parts of East and Southeast Asia. This second ‘tale of two cities’ talk is thus also a tale of two eras.

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