The great transition: our battles over history
This paper was written in Hong Kong in the midst of a protest movement that shows no signs of ending anytime soon. This period coincided, as it happened, with a military lockdown of Kashmir following the abrogation of key Articles of the Indian Constitution that had guaranteed political and administrative autonomy to the region as conditions of its being part of independent India. There is little to suggest any similarity between Hong Kong and Kashmir. Nevertheless their historical coincidence opens new questions around Empire, Nation, Colonialism and indeed Modernity, as the continuing agitations in both regions are making any resolution along available theories of political science increasingly impossible. Here we follow the protests to explore the resurgence of a very modern empire stretching from Central to North East Asia. Although effectively a Sino-British co-production (as the One Belt One Road project shows in its tacit reiteration of older British demarcations of regional boundaries), empire splits into two genealogies. One is more precisely colonial, the other more amorphously despotic. This divide determines the modernist pedigree of today’s nationalisms, and continues to provide the ethical justifications for extreme state action. Even as an old imperial divide reinvents itself as a bipolar global order, Kashmir and Hong Kong require conceptual relocating within larger geographies if we have to take seriously the demands of militant protest to force the question beyond the totalitarian nation-state. The actual protests are thus viewed within a growing crisis of the nation-form. Political agitations worldwide invoke, but also exceed, the languages of conventional politics, moving into a domain variously named apocalypse, endgame and catastrophe, as the distinctions grow between rational politics and the experimental “frontline,” and history itself hangs in the balance.
KEYWORDS: Hong Kong; Kashmir; Xinjiang; Tibet; China; India; Empire; nationalism; colonialism; protest; Emergency Law; terrorism; Jihad; Ngo yiu naam-chaau; endgame; apocalypse; anthropocene
Notes on contributor
Ashish Rajadhyaksha is an independent scholar with several books on the Indian cinema (eg. Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency, 2009). He has curated a number of art exhibitions including (with Geeta Kapur) the “Bombay-Mumbai 1992-2001” section of Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis (Tate Modern, 2001) and You Don’t Belong, a festival of independent documentary, video and fiction, in Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou and Kunming (2011), and “Make-Belong: Films in Kochi from China and Hong Kong,” Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2015).