“On Borrowed Place, On Borrowed Time. 的地方, 暫借的時間.”
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.
Michael Lo, Madeline Petersen
As Britain and China negotiated the Handover, two promises were woven into the constitution to “ease the hearts” of Hong Kong people. The first was the “one country, two systems” principle, an arrangement that would honour the region’s unique way of life for fifty years, thus easing the transition back to the motherland. The second was the “ultimate aim” of universal suffrage, which would grant Hong Kong people the opportunity to govern their own region in the future.
Beyond the constitutional details, these two promises held symbolic meaning for a new generation of Hongkongers. They inspired the 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 self-determination, universal suffrage, or genuine democracy. It has always been beholden to forces larger than itself.
The goal of this project is to shed light on Hong Kong’s journey and to document the courageous measures that Hongkongers have taken in their pursuit of genuine democracy.
To tell the story of Hong Kong with accuracy and care, the project is compiled into several layers. On the surface, it provides a historical account of Hong Kong’s handover since the Sino-Joint Declaration was signed in 1984. Beneath that lies an archive of digital artifacts—a collection of stories, imagery, and musings that capture how people felt as their history unfolded. At its core, this project is an anthology of reflections that attempts to forge meaning from the tragic events that have transpired. It invites questions. What does it mean to be a Hongkonger? Can freedom survive in the absence of democracy? What role does collective memory play in cultivating identity?
On a more personal note, this project has provided us, the editors and curators, an opportunity to explore our personal histories 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 period of grace slowly ends, the CCP’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 believe 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.
Project coming soon. Please reach out to me for a preview.