The King is Dead

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I mourn, and all of Hong Kong mourns, the death at 86 of Tsang Tsou-choi, the King of Kowloon. You could say he was a graffiti artist; you could equally say that he was the most notable calligrapher of his generation.
Tsang, who variously worked as a laborer and a janitor, claimed that his family owned the Kowloon peninsula, and spent his life staking its claim to it through painted declarations on walls, pillars and pavements all over town. These notices were signed “Emperor of the Kingdom of New China, Canton and Kowloon,” typically comprised a list of his ancestors and the places they were said to have owned, and frequently ended with a defiant “Down with the Queen of England!” There’s a short video about his life and work here.
Of course, Tsang was crackers—marvelously so. His calligraphic style was naïf to the untrained eye, but had a latent muscularity that made him internationally famous, with his work appearing at the Venice Biennale’s 50th International Art Exhibition, and on the cover of Colors magazine.
That was not why we loved him, though. We loved him because he was an ordinary man who, in a city of the colonized, asserted himself and his stake. The Quixotic nature of his claim resonated deeply with a disenfranchised people like ourselves. We resented the Queen of England, we feared the politburo in Beijing, but we loved the King of Kowloon.
We will miss him.