Hong Kong: language, art, and resistance

« previous post | next post »

Sign from Hong Kong:

It says:

bak1 ging1 nou5/lou5
‘literally, Peking brain’

When the PRC took over Hong Kong from Great Britain in 1997, they signed a treaty agreement that allowed a considerable degree of autonomy for the former colony in terms of law, government, economy, education, language, and so forth for fifty years, until 2047.  Unfortunately, the CCP began encroaching on the treaty accorded rights of Hong Kong citizens from the moment they assumed sovereignty 23 years ago.  Now, during the plenary two sessions that are currently going on, the CCP has decided to impose what it calls the "National Security Law" (Guójiā ānquán fǎ 國家安全法) on Hong Kong 27 years ahead of schedule.  Most specialists on PRC affairs interpret this to mean the end of autonomy for Hong Kong, because the Beijing government has declared that they will enforce the draconian decrees of the National Security Law with the police and military apparatus emanating from the central government.  Naturally, the people of Hong Kong are greatly disturbed by these events, but there is little hope for the kinds of protests and demonstrations they've been engaged in for the last few years to have any meaningful effect under the new conditions that are being imposed.  Still, they are using incredibly resourceful artistic and linguistic creativity to express their indignation over what is happening to them.  The following are several examples.

The lettering in white at the top says:

Zung1 gwok3 maan6 seoi3 / Zhōngguó wànsuì
("Long live China")

"NMSL" is a widely used Pinyin acronym that has even been taken up in English.  It means "nǐ mā sǐle 你妈死了" (“Your mom is dead”).

The enormous Tiananmen Massacre tank style yellow block letters say:

Gwok3 ngon1 faat3 / Guó'ān fǎ
("National Security Law")

At the bottom left, it says:

yǔzhòu zuì zhòng wùzhí páiháng
"ranking of the heaviest matter in the universe"

From left to right, they are:

1. the sun
2. neutron star
3. black hole
4. my heart after learning that Beijing wants to directly establish a national security law for Hong Kong

ping4 jat6
kei4 sat6 zou6 gong2 zyu1 dou1 hou2 syu1 fuk6

‘In fact being a Hong Kong pig is quite comfortable.’ Hong Kong pig = selfish, narrow-minded Hongkonger (person whose place of residence is Hong Kong) who is apolitical by being indifferent or even hostile toward Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and does not care about anything except making money and getting ahead in his or her career.

2. 鬥黃
dau3 wong4
nei5 hai6 jit6 gau2 nei5 ngai6 wong4 nei5 fan1 faa3
‘You are a hotdog you are fake yellow you split apart.’

Hotdog = Civic Passion, a political party in Hong Kong, which claims to be radical but has never done anything radical.

鬥黃 dau3 wong4 ‘literally, fight yellow’ refers to rival factions within Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp (symbolized by the color yellow) which fight among themselves and cause division. Hong Kong's pro-China, anti- democracy movement is symbolized by the color blue.

3. 國歌法
gwok3 go1 faat3
National Anthem Law

點解越嚟越熱 . . .
dim2 gaai2 jyut6 lai4 jyut6 jit6
‘Why is it getting hotter and hotter . . .’

4. 國安法
gwok3 on1 faat3
National Security Law

dim2 syun3 aa3, sei2 dak1 laa1
‘What can I do! I’m sure to die!’

The following lexical entry occurs in the ABC Cantonese-English Comprehensive Dictionary:

.hw gong2 zyu1

char 港豬
ps N.
clf 個 go3, 隻 zek3
en literally, harbor pig; 港 gong2 refers to 香港 hoeng1 gong2 'HK.'; figurative
see also 老公豬 lou5 gung1 zyu1, 人頭豬腦 jan4 tau4 zyu1 nou5, 傻豬 so4 zyu1, 豬嘜 zyu1 mak1
df selfish, narrow-minded HK. per. who is apolitical by being indifferent or even hostile toward HK.'s pro-democracy movement and does not care about anything except making money and getting ahead in his or her career

[Transcription, translation, and explication courtesy of Robert S. Bauer]

Selected readings


  1. Victor Mair said,

    May 25, 2020 @ 6:25 am

    From an astute colleague:

    As for the Peking Brain post, I think many of the readers may not fully appreciate it. That sign and font should be Bak1ging1 lau4 北京楼 ("Peking Garden"), a well-known restaurant part of the Maxim's group. It is the daughter of the founder (I think), Alice Wu, who has been very pro-Beijing and against the protesters. I am guessing the n and the l of the Cantonese / Mandarin are a bit of a phonic play as well as just an insult of following BJ.

  2. Dan Tse said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 4:29 pm

    Hey Victor,

    As you probably know, /n/ and /l/ are in free variation initially in Cantonese.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 4:40 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post