"Hong Kong is (not) China"

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From the Los Angeles Loyolan, the student newspaper of Loyola Marymount University:

This is the lead illustration of the following article by Raven Yamamoto:

"Student art piece taken down after controversy among international students" (12/8/18)

The art piece, entitled "Traditionally Simplified", was posted on the second floor of Hannon Library as part of a student exhibit.  Created by a native Hong Konger, it had to be taken down when mainlanders vehemently objected to it.

The first line, in traditional characters, says:

Xiānggǎng bùshì Zhōngguó 香港不是中國 ("Hong Kong is not China")

The second and following lines, in simplified characters, say the same thing, except for the last line, which says "Hong Kong is China", omitting the negative particle bù 不.

With each successive line, more of the characters are written in red ink instead of the all black of the first line, until the final line, which is entirely in red ink.

In the last three lines, the gǎng 港 ("harbor") of Xiānggǎng 香港 ("Fragrant Harbor") is degraded to become fàn 氾 ("flood; inundate; float; overflow; extensive; pan-"), losing the six strokes of the top portion of the right side component (the phonophore).

In the last two lines, the Xiāng 香 ("fragrant") of Xiānggǎng 香港 ("Fragrant Harbor") is further degraded by the loss of four strokes of its upper component, leaving only a single stroke at the very top.

The artwork is thus simultaneously a commentary on the political situation of Hong Kong and the writing system, with traditional characters treasured by native Hong Kongers and simplified characters being pushed by the CCP government of the PRC.


  1. Lars said,

    December 13, 2018 @ 9:12 pm

    The linked site is unavailable in the EU due to the GDPR (they say). I find it ironic that they feel they can't protect users' data to the degree mandated by the GDPR at this time, while they can protect the artist by not naming him. I know this only because I visited the site using a US proxy.

  2. Max said,

    December 13, 2018 @ 9:21 pm

    Did 香 turn into 白?

    Surprisingly inexpert handwriting. I wouldn't have guessed that it was written by a native writer. Maybe that's part of the message?

  3. Avery said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 12:08 am

    Yes, it's part of the message:

    “I clearly stated in the beginning that these weren’t my personal opinions. The whole reason I kinda did it was more to show the difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese scripts, not so much the discourse about the government system in Hong Kong,” the student said. “I guess I was just really surprised that people started creating their own narratives of what it was about.”

    Presumably the artist is taking Chinese lessons and had a shower thought about how political shifts change Chinese scripts as well.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 5:07 am

    Lars (and others, like myself, in the EU) — it's available in the Wayback Machine (a.k.a. "Internet Archive", a service sans pareil for which I give daily thanks).

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 7:28 am

    Lately when I go to Europe, the limitations on the internet there give a small, but aggravating, taste of what it's like to be in China.

  6. Gabriel Holbrow said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 10:05 am

    I am confused.

    Is 白 ever used as a simplified form of 香, or 氾 ever used as a simplified form of 港?

    Or is the student artist just making stuff up?

  7. DWAlker07 said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    At least two of the commenters here apparently didn't read the entire post before commenting. :-)

  8. Lars said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 10:23 am

    @Victor, except this decision was made by the editors of the newspaper in question (or their managers). Americans, that is. I've seen a number of other American news sites that have done the same. They value their ability to cash in on their readership over the protection of same, And the GDPR is a good thing.

  9. Gabriel Holbrow said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 10:59 am

    DWAlker07, I guess you mean that Max and I did not read the entire post.

    Let me try to clarify my question. Professor Mair in his original post refers to the red characters, generally, as "simplified" and later refers to the red forms of 香 and 港 as "degraded". Have these characters been "simplified" and "degraded" by the student artist on their own? Or are those forms part of any known system of character simplification, such as used in handwriting or in the official simplified characters promulgated by the PRC?

    I ask because I can find no evidence of 白氾 being used as a way to write Hong Kong, either in my own experience or on the internet (other than the artwork in the original post).

  10. Dan said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 11:45 am

    Besides the right side of 氾 is not the same element as the bottom part of the right side of 港, which is actually written as 巳, although etymologically it derives from 邑, according to Rick Harbaugh (zhongwen.com).

  11. Victor Mair said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 2:03 pm

    Rick Harbaugh's zhongwen.com is not a dictionary of etymology, but rather of character analysis or construction. Among many other Language Log posts that touch on the problem of what Sinitic etymology really is and is not, see:

    "Chinese 'Etymology'" (1/17/11)


  12. Victor Mair said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 2:03 pm

    I was careful to make a distinction between "simplified" and "degraded".

  13. Max said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 3:27 pm

    Sigh. The internet can be a frustrating place. Let me clarify my earlier message for a couple commenters who read the original post but perhaps didn't fully understand it.

    The artwork is a progression from "Hong Kong is not China" to "Hong Kong is China" while converting some of the characters from Traditional to Simplified PRC-style. There's also the addition of the color red in the progression, which might signify the PRC or … bloodshed? The final rendering of Hong Kong also uses a nonstandard character that resembles 白 (white); is there meaning in that as a color or does it just represent a future-simplified/diminished Hong Kong? Is there a political movement in HK that uses the color white?

    Dr Mair calls the artist a "native Hong Konger," though the article suggests that this could be a foreign international student. My question was if the amateurish calligraphy was part of the message. Probably not (it was a calligraphy class project after all), but we seem unlikely to find out since the artist is saying there's no message here at all, which seems like the sort of thing you'd say to stay out of a Chinese prison.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 4:02 pm

    In a statement titled "Traditionally Simplified" that appeared next to the artwork, the student said that he / she "grew up in Hong Kong" and that he / she is "a proud Hong Konger who uses the Traditional script". Furthermore, he/she says that he / she "created new Simplified characters for the Traditional characters that are not simplified." It is clear that the artist identifies with the Traditional characters.

    He / she also refers to his / her work as an "art piece".

    The characters may appear crude, but such rough styles are often adopted by artists who are not attempting to be calligraphers in a particular work but have something else in mind. My first impression when I saw this art piece, which is how I thought of it even before I read the artist's statement, is that is a sort of fauvist expression.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    December 14, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

    VHM — Many many thanks for including a link to your earlier "Chinese 'Etymology'" (1/17/11), itself containing a link to Richard Sears' "http://hanziyuan.net/" of which I had never previously heard. I am a long-time user of "zhongwen.com" and delighted to discover that there is (at least) one other web site that offers similar analyses. My feelings are best summed up by citing John Hill's earlier comment verbatim :

    John Hill said, on January 18, 2011 at 06:16 :
    "Thank you, Victor, for pointing me once again to really useful sources which I quite possibly would have missed for ever. Also, many thanks for the brief but valuable assessment of this resource. Sears' achievement is truly astonishing and should prove helpful to my ongoing research. So, three cheers and a hurray for Richard Sears and Victor Mair!"

  16. mg said,

    December 15, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

    @Lars –

    @Victor, except this decision was made by the editors of the newspaper in question (or their managers). Americans, that is. I've seen a number of other American news sites that have done the same. They value their ability to cash in on their readership over the protection of same, And the GDPR is a good thing.

    This is a student newspaper that isn't making any profits on readership (and therefore doesn't not have any IT budget). My guess is that the lack of GDPR is more ignorance or ineptitude than anything else, as is true of many student-run endeavors.

  17. Crystal said,

    December 16, 2018 @ 8:13 am

    @Max Keep in mind there is no such thing as a “native writer”. Learning spoken language is natural, and we’re all native listeners (see Anne Cutler’s wonderful book), but writing is technology which people learn to use later in life, if at all.

    This is not to detract from your point, but I think your choice of wording implies something incorrect. I’m not sure, but perhaps something along the lines of “literate native speaker” would do the job?

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