New book by Prof Sophia Law tells forgotten history of Vietnamese boatpeople in Hong Kong

9 Jul 2014

Prof Sophia Law, Associate Professor of Visual Studies of Lingnan University, has published a new book to tell the forgotten history of Vietnamese boatpeople in Hong Kong from 1975 to 2000.

Entitled The Invisible Citizens of Hong Kong: Art and Stories of Vietnamese Boatpeople and written in English, the new book encapsulates the outcome of two years of extensive research on some 600 drawings, as well as hundreds of articles, poems and handicrafts by Vietnamese children and adults at the Whitehead detention camp during the 1980s. By interpreting and analysing these artworks, Prof Law demonstrates the expressive and communicative power of imagery as a form of language, and illustrates how art can articulate complicated, traumatic emotions when language fails.

The book begins with a comprehensive review of the 25-year history of Vietnamese boatpeople in Hong Kong, based on an exhaustive research on news clippings, government statistics and annual reports, official documents, information from government departments and non-governmental organisations, academic theses, journal articles, books and reports published by local and international organisations. This historical review offers more than a detailed account of the unexpected influx and its economic and social impact on Hong Kong. It also draws the reader’s attention to the deplorable living conditions in the detention camps, as well as the personal, unspeakable pain of the Vietnamese boatpeople.

“Many of us barely paid any attention to the Vietnamese boatpeople when they were living in Hong Kong. Media reports often focused on the chaos and violence in the detention camps, but gave little concern to the Vietnamese people as individual human beings with a sad, unspeakable past,” said Prof Law in a public seminar on 5 July, part of the Cultural July programme at the invitation of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. “I hope readers of this book will reflect upon what our core values are, and the significance of the humanistic spirit, just as I did when conducting the research.”