The publication A Journal of the Plague Year (Sternberg Press, 2015), is based on the highly acclaimed exhibition A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, Ghosts, Rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong history, curated by Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero, and presented at Para Site in 2013, and subsequently in Taipei, Seoul and San Francisco.
A Journal of the Plague Year critically analyzes historical and contemporary imaginations and politics of fear in the face of disease and the specter of contamination in society and culture.
(…) “In 2003, the ambivalence in the identity of the Hong Kong people was (…) reflected in the figure of Leslie Cheung, the iconic actor and singer who committed suicide at the height of the Sars crisis by jumping off the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central Hong Kong. His shocking death at the darkest hour of the most trying times in recent memory played its part in the mobilization of the Hongkongers, who turned out in huge numbers for Leslie’s funeral, ignoring the health warnings in effect at that time.
(…) His life and carreer have contributed to forging a strong sense of identity for Hong Kong culture, in spite of his queer and often contrarian persona. In her essay, cultural theorist Natalia S.H. Chan discusses the way in which the versatility of the roles that Leslie played reflected (…) the versatility of the city’s identity over the past decades, before and after the Handover. One such highly symbolic moment is Leslie’s performance in Farewell my Concubine (1993). (…) This grand narrative of 20th-century China (…) saw the quintessential Hong Kong pop star (…) cross-dressing as a traditional Peking opera performer and symbolically returning to the cultural canon of the motherland. It was perhaps an unintended, but no less effective, cultural handover avant-la-lettre.
Perhaps in the near future it will be the Hong Kong SAR which will become the new dangerous virus of the 21st century, making disobedience and democracy pandemic within China.”