A Sculptor’s Fight for the Soul of Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a unique spirit born of fire and fueled with determination. It is this spirit that the authoritarians in Beijing’s Communist Party have been trying to crush ever since they gained control of “Special Autonomous Region” back in the 1990s.
At the present moment, the people of Hong Kong remain free, but the soul of the city hangs by a thread. Soul Forever is a new creation by Toronto-based sculptor Ben Li, who hopes to keep the spirit of freedom alive.
The statue features a woman holding up a skinless umbrella — at her foot is a child hiding her face. The woman is dressed very ordinary, with a cap and skinny jeans, but the details are exquisite. Each wrinkle in the denim on her legs shows the craft of a master.
Her face is so dramatic and noble that it inspires tears and seems to allude to the serene face of Raphael’s St. Michael. Instead of using a sword to slay a defeated dragon on the ground like the renaissance masterpiece, the heroine of Hong Kong stands instead facing the dragon of communism with only an umbrella of wires to protect her from the oppression raining down from above.
The umbrella has become a symbol of Hong Kong resistance, as it is the most common method citizens use to protect themselves from tear gas. The statue was inspired, in part, by the famous cartoon series Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of Our Times by Guo Jingxiong, which also portrays the iconic scenes of Hong Kong citizens facing violence at the hands of police in the second half of 2019. The series title is the official slogan of Hong Kong activists.
Ben Li is a world-renowned sculptor, originally from China and now living in Toronto. His studio produces large works of art as well as architecture. Raised in an artistic family, Ben Li secured a sculptor’s degree from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China. His twenty-seven-year career has earned him numerous awards.
“A year has passed since the start of anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong. As an artist, I feel obliged to record moments of justice in history,” said Ben. Soul Forever is only the first in a series sculptures to be released featuring the 2019 protests.
But the good guys aren’t the only ones who remember the events of 2019. At the same time Ben Li unveiled Soul Forever, the communists in Beijing launched their 2020 attack upon the liberties of Hong Kong.
On June 30th, 2020, Thunder, lightning and hail tormented Beijing. Like mad scientists in a horror movie, it seems the Chinese Communist Party repackaged the fury of that storm and exported it to Hong Kong in the form of the Hong Kong National Security Law, sending the whole world into an uproar.
The CCP blatantly tore up the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 for the peaceful transition of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. The declaration is a promise to honor the policy of “one country, two systems” for fifty years minimum. The CCP claimed that as of July 1, 2020, Hong Kong is under its authoritarian control.
July 1st has been a day for Hong Kong democracy gatherings and marches since 2003, the year of Hong Kong’s historic rejection of Article 23 (a previous attempt to encroach on the city’s autonomy). The CCP’s bold declaration coupled with the turmoil of COVID-19, has caused the international community to worry, most notably the United Kingdom, who has an obligation to hold China to its fifty-year promise. With the recently passed bill, as well as the notification of a ban on demonstrations, there was a tremendous amount of hand-wringing. People around the world waited to see how Hong Kongers would respond.
When the sun rose on July 1st, Hong Kong citizens poured into the streets one after another until hundreds of thousands stood together in solidarity, risking exposure to a deadly virus on top of the expected tear gas and police brutality. Most had face masks and umbrellas, and many still wore the black shirts of resistance while displaying banners.
Police carrying batons and riot shields were everywhere. Tear gas and water canon vehicles sat on the periphery, ready to attack the crowds. Although the 2019 protests resulted in thousands of arrests and dozens of unexplained disappearances, the people still came out to face tyranny with flesh and spirit.
The Hong Kong government released an official statement on July 2, 2020 that anyone who uses the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of Our Times” can be prosecuted under The National Security Law. So far, the 2020 marches have resulted in four hundred arrests and ten lawsuits citing violations to national security. However, the Hong Kong citizens are not alone. People around the world are standing up to show their support.
Mr. Li Ben, an artist living in Canada, is simply one of them.