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A filmmaker and artist, James T. Hong’s anchors his practice in rigorous research. While many of his recent projects focus on geopolitics and the rise of right-wing ideologies in the context of globalization, he also scrutinizes historical events to uncover their relevance to contemporary socio-political discourses.
“Three Arguments about the Opium War” (2015) presents two opposing narratives about the same historical event, the two Opium Wars that took place in the mid-19th century, during which the British and French forces invaded China over disagreements regarding the opium trade. The videos feature quotes from Chinese and British men who took part in the wars, which the artist collected through archival research, juxtaposed with sceneries of modern Hong Kong and Guangdong. While the Chinese men protested the brutality of the foreign invaders, the British men justified the colonization of China and violence against its people: “The Qing Chinese way was doomed to be swept away by the modern European order.” The wars not only kickstarted China’s industrialization and modernization processes, but also arguably began the dying process of Chinese cosmology, for the country’s defeat by more powerful Westerners was considered a sign of “backwardness.” The work projects a much grander trend that is still present today and has been taking effect across the globe: local cosmologies strangled in the name of progress, as Western technological thought became the only yardstick against which all are measured.