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HKG

Solo Exhibition by Vincent Yu


23 August - 23 September 2018

In 1842, China was defeated in the first Opium War and the Qing dynasty government signed the Treaty of Nanking, handing over Hong Kong island to the United Kingdom. Hong Kong opened up to the world.

In May 1950, seeking for a better life, my father who was then 17, took a boat from Zhongshan to Hong Kong, just before restrictions were imposed on immigration.

I was born 124 years after the opening up of Hong Kong. I lived in a boarding room in a four-storey pre-war building next to a pawn shop. I ate Christmas dinner at the Boston restaurant and watched movies at the Lido theatre. The movies "Execution in Autumn" and "Eight Hundred Heroes" moved me. I have no memories of the 1967 riots. I remember only my father delivering oil to mainland China, and listening to radio programmes on Chinese politics. These fragments of recollection gave me my first taste of “national education”.

In 1978, I started secondary school. Chinese and history were most interesting for me. I learnt how changes in dynasty were caused by friends, eunuchs, foreigners and corruption. Then, modern Chinese history was not in the curriculum. I came across "The Revenge of Heaven: Journal of a young Chinese", which was one of few books depicting the Cultural Revolution. It allowed me to reflect on the basic nature of the Chinese people through its five thousand year long history. I got interested in photography before I graduated from high school and my father gave me my first camera.

I visited mainland China for the first time in the mid 1980s and I travelled on the Yellow River from Lanzhou to Shenzhen and then to Hong Kong. I remember tucking into a bowl of Lanzhou noodles for the first time on an icy cold morning and drinking a bottle of coke with friends on a street in Zhengzhou filled with beggars, a drink that was worth a night's stay in a hotel.

In 1985, I began working as a photojournalist. I witnessed the influx of Vietnamese refugees; Queen Elizabeth's last visit to Hong Kong in 1986, the same year that Hong Kong governor Sir Edward Youde died of a heart attack while working in Beijing; the June 4 Tiananmen incident in 1989; the Sino-British talks on the handover; the brain drain that followed and the appointment of Chris Patten as the last governor of Hong Kong in 1992.

In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China. Deng Xiaoping’s promise was put to test. He had vowed that there would be 50 years of no change for Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" principle where our horse racing and parties would continue.

In 1998, I published a book of images of life before the handover of Hong Kong. The book was titled "HKG", the namesake of Hong Kong's airport code. Twenty years later, Hong Kong, which was promised 50 years of no change, has transformed beyond recognition. With 30 more years to go until 2047, it is my wish to republish "HKG". I thank my publisher and every friend who has helped for this new edition of "HKG". This new edition retains some of the images from the earlier edition and adds images shot after the handover. They document the changes that have taken place in Hong Kong. Before our collective memories vanish, I hope this book will help everyone remember and embrace a unique period of time that will never pass again.

 

—— Vincent Yu

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The last day of the old Kai Tak Airport

1998, silver gelatin print

Vincent Yu

Vincent Yu, born and raised in Hong Kong, has worked as an Associated Press photographer covering major news events across the Asia-Pacific region since the mid-1980s. As a close observer of Hong Kong’s social and political development, Yu has acquired a unique sensitivity towards the territory's ever-changing cityscape and environment which are often reflected through his imaginaries.