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Boy with toy soldier at Tiananmen Square. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

Shanghai Noir



Tammy Ho Lai-Ming was one of the first to publish my short fiction. She's the founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and the story she published in June 2016 was Moon Cakes. Since then, I've been following Tammy and Cha on various social media platforms. It's the only way I knew that a reading she was planning might get derailed.

Like a lot of Tammy's followers, I assumed that this was censorship and that the Chinese government was behind it all. I started writing a blog post about censorship and there were plenty of sources to back up my supposition. The newspapers this week have been full of eyewitness accounts of the Tiananmen Massacre, the government-imposed silence, and the ongoing persecution of those who wish to remember. Tammy is one of those people and her reading, Matches Polished into Lights, was to commemorate the events of 4 June 2019.

It's normal for me to read up on a topic before I'll write a blog. In this case, I kept running into familiar names. They're not exactly friends (Facebook status notwithstanding). Tammy published my short story but I've also quoted her in my blog, first when the Hong Kong chapter of PEN International was reinstated and later in a post about the Chinese penal system.

There were other names I recognized. Jeff Wasserstrom once hosted me for a brown bag lunch to speak about my novel to his graduate students. Louisa Lim is a journalist currently based in Australia whose work I've also quoted when blogging about propaganda in word and image. All of these people were scheduled to appear at Matches Polished into Light. PEN Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Free Press (another source of mine) were backing the event. So it felt very personal to me, whether or not Tammy was going to be able to pull this off.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. You can read about it here: A Boot in the Face.

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