Through annotated illustrations, Michael Leung reflects on the potential for emancipatory learning in Hong Kong
After eight years of part-time teaching, I would like to explore the potential for finding and building new sites for emancipatory learning in Hong Kong. This reflective text gathers my pedagogical experiences and explores a few questions: Does part-time teaching catalyse alternative pedagogical potential or stagnate it? Does full-time teaching limit contact with the everyday and the ability to connect with other terrans (people, animals, biodiversity, bacteria, etc.)?1 Can pedagogy as solidarity be effective, and what visibility and longevity does it have? These reflections are part of a process, relying on mutual exchanges between students, community, and faculty members; and serves as an invitation to others to reflect on their own pedagogical experiences and share them in the public domain–contributing notes and ideas that may influence future education.
Pang Jai Fabric Market, Hong Kong
In 2014 I started teaching part-time at the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University. During the 2014/15 academic year, I taught with Leung Mee-ping (Momo) in the MVA Interdisciplinary Practice for the Visual Arts course, which we decided to hold in Sham Shui Po. The course included a tour of the Pang Jai fabric market for postgraduate students—five of which selected it as the site for their project.
Through February to April 2015, students Aaron d’Aquino, Kristen Kam, Hong Liu, Gloria Poon, and Arabii So spent time surrounded by rolls of fabric and speaking with the fifty-three fabric sellers inside Pang Jai. The key part of their project came a few months later, when Mr. Ho (one of the fabric sellers) contacted Kristen and informed her that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (a government statutory body) told the fabric sellers they will be relocated in December 2015, and even asked Mr. Ho to vacate one of his market stall units.
I hadn’t spoken to those students for a few months, but when I received news that Mr. Ho called them for support, I was delighted to know that the relationship had evolved beyond their university project, into one of mutual aid. The former students were quick to organise an initial meeting with fabric sellers and Leung Chi Yuen from the Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. At the next meeting, a Pang Jai Concern Group was formed to oversee an equitable and just future for the fabric sellers.
Half a year later, the Pang Jai Concern Group grew in size and conceived the idea of a Pang Jai Summer School, a series of five free sharings and a concluding group discussion that invited existing members of the concern group and the public (even new volunteers) to join.2 The speakers included the aforementioned Leung Chi Yuen; Ricky Yeung Sau Cheuk (artist and educator kindly invited by Arabii); Ng Mee Kam (Department of Geography and Resource Management, The Chinese University of Hong Kong); and myself (sharing social design and creative practices used within the Pang Jai movement).
The Pang Jai Summer School was a catalyst for bottom-up community planning and exemplifies a pedagogy of solidarity, one where students return to support those who once supported their university work. Such an alternative pedagogy can constantly be built upon, and I have since introduced another dimension of Pang Jai (it’s fauna and flora) as part of The Hong Kong Botanical Commons in 2017, a Hong Kong workshop with Zurich University of the Arts.3
Last November 2017 in Tokyo, at a three-day public art exhibition titled Teratotera, Pang Jai handkerchieves were embroidered in a street school conceived by researcher Kenichiro Egami.4 More recently in May 2018, another Pangkerchief embroidery circle was organised in an event called Stitching Commons in Osaka.5 Both solidarity workshops became platforms to share Pang Jai’s struggle and construct a collective knowledge through dialogue6—one that is intuitive, yet open to unpredictable encounters, revealing other struggles around the world.7
Kai Fong Pai Dong, Hong Kong
Kai Fong Pai Dong is a self-organised neighbourhood market stall founded in November 2015 and located on a Yau Ma Tei intersection that’s home to a fruit and vegetable market, hardware shops, and several nursing homes.
Since December 2015 I have been teaching “Relaxing English Lessons” at the stall.8 It was initially priced at give-what-you-think, but evolved to be something free and more accessible. Students have included neighbours such as Yeung, Lucille, Victor, Brian, and Bosco. The “relaxing” element of the lessons attempts to teach English (my primary language) in a “non-school-like” manner, which is often rote learning with textbooks, audio files, and exams. My lessons are tailored to the requirements of the students and involves the streetscape, as we are situated in a public space.
I recall a lesson with eleven-year-old Bosco, which included providing him with a 35mm film camera to take photos of people in the neighbourhood, then visiting a photo developing shop and kindly requesting processing, printing, and scanning onto a CD—all in English. This example of an embodied learning experience invites people to co-learn in the comfort of their own environment, becoming a mobile and expansive learning space. The urban pedagogy of Kai Fong Pai Dong’s events are accessible to anyone who walks past, and collectively build alternatives to spaces organised around more neoliberal behaviours.
Zone à Défendre, Notre-Dame-des-Landes, Nantes, France
Zone à Défendre (“Zone to Defend” in English, commonly known as the ZAD) is an autonomous territory located in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, west of France. Since 1968 the 2,000-acre rural land was threatened by the government’s plan to build another Nantes airport. In 2008, farmers welcomed anarchists to occupy the territory, collectively known as the ZADistes. Following one failed eviction in 2012, the cancellation of the new airport in January 2018, and a second partial eviction in April 2018, the ZADistes continue to live and farm on the land to create a new commune for the twenty-first century that opposes late capitalism, advocates the commons, and values small-scale farming that doesn’t exploit farmers and the land.9
At the ZAD, the commons exist in everyone's shared and collective way of life. For example, it is visible where collectives farm (the numerous collective gardens whose produce is shared with outside struggles and at the free Non-Market on Fridays) and produce knowledge (at the boat-shaped library and through the collective work and sharing of skills, such as foraging and cheese making).
This July I spent eight days at the ZAD.10 Working on the collective farms, we weeded carrots and applied mulch around courgettes, discussing recent evictions and brainstorming ideas on how to confront the militarised police in non-violent and creative ways. The conversations continued from plot to plot, and at an event called Confrontation Créative, where participants shared front-line protest experiences from Paris, Glasgow, and Istanbul.
This experience has led me to think about pedagogical possibilities that can happen within the land struggles in Hong Kong (including the North East New Territories and the Wang Chau Village), and how to expand upon last year’s Wang Chau banner-making workshop, which itself was inspired by INLAND and Casco Art Institute’s banners for the Monsanto Trial and People's Assembly in 2016 in The Hague.11
These different sites and communities create social epistemologies—some tangible, and some invisible in the moment. The learning process between student, community, and educator is mutual, especially in situations when no monetary transactions bind the encounter, as with the Pang Jai Summer School and “Relaxing English Lessons,” in contrast to the neoliberalised university.12 But alas, one has to survive and pay rent—and student loans—the precarity and complicity of part-time teaching in relation to pursuing autonomy and alternative pedagogies.
What is clear from the aforementioned three places is the importance of learning outside the conventional institutional environments, which may seem obvious, but then raises the question of which alternative spaces can encourage such alternative pedagogical potential? Which Hong Kong institutions have the (emotional) skills, resources, and imagination to offer inclusive and radical pedagogical platforms? I think of places like BAK (Utrecht), Autonome Schule Zürich (Zurich), and v-artivist (Hong Kong); and based on recommendations from friends, I have assembled other pedagogical platforms on a Graph Commons entitled “Pedagogy Now.”13
I hope this encourages others, especially faculty members of all levels, to reflect and share their experiences and gestures in the public domain—contributing to an alternative pedagogy at once intuitive and contagious across cultures, borders, and worlds.
Michael Leung is an artist/designer, urban farmer, and visiting lecturer in Hong Kong. His projects range from collective urban agriculture projects, such as The HK FARMers' Almanac, to Pangkerchief, a collection of objects produced by Pang Jai Fabric Market in Sham Shui Po.
1. “Maybe, but only maybe, and only with intense commitment and collaborative work and play with other terrans, flourishing for rich multispecies assemblages that include people will be possible. I am calling all this the Chthulucene–past, present, and to come.” (Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene)
3. The students also visited Wang Chau Village and were kindly invited by villager Ms Tong into her house to try her homemade fruit enzyme drink, which she later taught us how to make. www.tinyurl.com/HKBotanicalCommons
6. Nathalia E. Jaramillo and Michelle E. Carreon, “Pedagogies of Resistance and Solidarity: Towards Revolutionary and Decolonial Praxis,” Interface: A Journal of Social Movements 1, vol. 6: 392–411. http://www.interfacejournal.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Interface-6-1-Jaramillo-and-Carreon.pdf
12. Robert H. Haworth and John M. Elmore, eds., Out of the Ruins, The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces (PM Press, 2017), 225. See also: https://roarmag.org/essays/academic-alienation-cognitive-labor-capitalism
13. With special thanks to Marysia Lewandowska, Stevphen Shukaitis, Jennifer Teo, and Pelin Tan.