Taiwan's 'time machine' house recreates, preserves memories of Hong Kong

Black boxes depict the loss of family and friends to emigration, now-defunct newspapers and memories of childhood.
By Jojo Man for RFA Cantonese
2022.07.22
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Taiwan's 'time machine' house recreates, preserves memories of Hong Kong This black box tells about lost family and friends. Relatives in various places can be seen in the imitation video.
Chun Yin

A small exhibit down an alleyway off Hsin-Yi Street in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan is offering Hongkongers in exile and others with keen memories of the city to leave them in a "time machine" house for others to see.

The Hong Kong Time House project hopes to recreate the city people remember, to show others their lived experience of being there before they fled a crackdown on dissent under a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing.

Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, has nevertheless lived through several decades of authoritarian rule under the Kuomintang, now a political opposition party to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The tiny "time machine" hopes to reveal "Hong Kong's past and present through the memories of its people, and hope for Hong Kong's future," according to the curator.

The black boxes are like high-rise buildings, simulating the urban landscape of Hong Kong, with "Lion Rock" posted on the back. Credit: Chun Yin
The black boxes are like high-rise buildings, simulating the urban landscape of Hong Kong, with "Lion Rock" posted on the back. Credit: Chun Yin
                                                                                                  

Pushing open the wooden door, the first thing that catches the eye is a black box, simulating Hong Kong's high-rise buildings with the iconic Lion Rock pasted on the back. Hsiao Lin, a spokesperson for the Tainan Hong Kong Concern Group, said the boxes are there to store "historical events that Hong Kong people remember deeply," their lost rights and freedoms under Chinese rule, including freedom of the press, freedom of protest and assembly and the right to vote for democratic representatives.

One box contain people's childhood memories from growing up in the city, while another is dedicated to "lost family and friends" trying to connect across different time zones from halfway around the world, amid a mass exodus of people from the city, seeking a life of less political risk elsewhere.

Sticky notes on one side denote different countries and time zones; on the other is a photo of people hugging goodbye at Hong Kong airport.

Xiaolin, a spokeswoman for the Tainan Hong Kong Concern Group, hopes that Hong Kong people can keep hope for the future. Credit: Chun Yin
Xiaolin, a spokeswoman for the Tainan Hong Kong Concern Group, hopes that Hong Kong people can keep hope for the future. Credit: Chun Yin
                                                                                                          

"It's a scene that provokes a good deal of reaction among Hong Kong visitors to the "time house," Hsiao Lin said.

"A lot of Hong Kong people have had to separate from those close to them, whether because of immigration or exile, so one of our boxes is about the difficulty of seeing family and friends again," Lin said.

"Sometimes I wonder if we will ever all get together in one place ever again. So this is actually the box that many Hong Kong people here feel the most intensely when they come to visit."

Another black box presents a prison cell, and is plastered with news headlines about the sentences handed down to people who took part in the 2019 protest movement in recent years, including the case of a highschooler jailed for possession of a laser pointer and someone who shouted a banned political slogan while Christmas shopping.

Even for those curating the exhibit, some of the charges seem unbelievable, Hsiao Lin said.

This black box presents a prison cell and is covered with news headlines about the sentencing in the anti-extradition case. Credit: Chun Yin
This black box presents a prison cell and is covered with news headlines about the sentencing in the anti-extradition case. Credit: Chun Yin
                                                                                                            

In the section marked "now," there are books about Hong Kong culture and social movements, all of which were specially shipped out to Taiwan, as they weren't usually on sale there. There is also an exhibit dedicated to all of Hong Kong's once freewheeling news media including publications like the Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News that folded under investigation by national security police.

In the "future" box, there are words displayed like "hope" and "Hongkongers," or "may the darkness end," and "no restrictions."

Some of them were written and posted by visitors, who contributed to the exhibit on the spot.

"A lot of people think that there is no hope for Hong Kong because things are so dark there now," Hsiao Lin said. "But when we think about it, many places have gone through very long dark periods."

"For example, if we look at Taiwan, they all went through a long period of martial law and white terror [under the KMT]," Lin said.

"If we think about the Taiwanese in the 1980s or 1970s, maybe they never thought that one day they would be able to protest freely in the streets, or enjoy freedom of speech."

In the "future" section, there are messages on the wall about the "hope for Hong Kong and our own future." Credit: Chun Yin
In the "future" section, there are messages on the wall about the "hope for Hong Kong and our own future." Credit: Chun Yin
 

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.                                                                                              

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