Localism: Hongkongers' Only SalvationTranslated by Poppie, Edited by Chen-t'ang and Karen L., Written by Keyvin Wong
[Translator's note: Keyvin Wong is the former vice editor-in-chief of Undergrad, the Editorial Board of HKUSU. CY Leung has criticised the writer for his "wrong interpretation on Hong Kong’s constitution position" in the policy address.]
Localism was stranger to many, while lately it has become a heated topic in Hong Kong. The discussion towards one’s identity and subjectivity has then been introduced to the society. This article attempts to analyse the origin of localism ideology, its evolution, and thus the importance of this emerging idea.
The Rise of Chinese Elites — Building Imagination of A Nation
[Translator's notes: the “Chinese” throughout the article is translated from "huaren (華人)". It indicates people with Chinese origin, not just those born or live in mainland China. ]
In the last century, to the minds of many, Hong Kong is a British colony happened to locate in China. Yet, according to Eric S.Y. Tsui's City-state: 12 Books to Unlock the Local History of Hong Kong (《城邦舊事──十二本書看香港本土史》), in which the author quoted Professor Robert Anthony’s words, Hong Kong was a maritime Chinese society long before the possession of British army. What is worth noting is that this society was looked down upon by the mainlanders and the authority due to Maritime Ban [Translator note: a ban on maritime activities, intended to curb piracy, was proved ineffective.] imposed during the Ming Dynasty. The status of Hong Kong remained low until the Yongzheng Dynasty.
When the British army landed in Hong Kong, there were a few thousands habitants on the island. It was not densely populated but neither isolated as stated in the colonial history. Before the Opium War, the nearby waters were the bases of smugglers. The residents in Hong Kong assisted the Hongs [Translator's note: foreign business trading companies at the time] to surreptitiously transport products such as opium into mainland China.
During the Opium War, the coastal residents supplied the British Army with food and water. The Chinese who worked with the British then received benefits from the colonial government as the first elite class after the British started their rule in Hong Kong. The local capitalist class composed by compradors and businessmen therefore emerged gradually given the improvement of the business environment.
The gender ratio in Hong Kong started to balance since 1860s. Some scholars interpreted it as an increasing number of Chinese perceived Hong Kong a place to settle. The capitalist class of Hongkongers dominated the economy since 1870s and established an elite caste identity that differentiated from the others. Although these Chinese-origin elites were gaining more wealth, they still cannot escape from the foreigners’ discrimination. For examples, English schools refused to admit Chinese children; Hongs discouraged the staff to marry Chinese and the government made a law to ban Chinese from living on the Peak, etc. Being repelled by the foreigners and unreconciled to settle as any other ordinary people, the Chinese elites reproduced various clubs in an attempt to create an upper class social circuit that only belonged to Chinese.
They followed the model of western clubs and at the same time introduced local elements in them. Take the Chinese Recreation Club as an example. One popular leisure activity in the club was playing Mahjong. This group of upper class Chinese built an identity for local elites. They belonged to the Chinese community but were different from ordinary Chinese. They did not obey the West blindly as the pseudo-foreigners did.
In 1925, Canton-Hong Kong strike broke out in support to Shanghai’s Anti-imperialist patriotic movement. The Chinese elites at the time regarded it as a conspiracy of both the communists and the Guangzhou government. Thus they started to voice their opinion and even utilised some special agency force to stop the strike.
The strike was undoubtedly a remarkable phase for the Hong Kong ethnic ideology. The Chinese elites’ actions showed that they were loyal to their home Hong Kong and the colonial system rather than China. During the 20th century, nationalism in China was extremely popular. The Chinese elites surely loved China but only to the extent of its traditional culture, but not the imperial government itself. These elites emphasised the difference in economic systems between China and Hong Kong and indicated that Hong Kong, as a pioneer would lead China to the modern era. They reckoned Hong Kong as a more competitive and better place due to its system and experience as a colony.
The Hong-Kong-elite style of patriotism has emphasised the Hong Kong-China segregation and the protection of local interests. Indeed the British brought Hongkongers discrimination, however given the fact that freedom and rule of law are introduced along the way, Hong Kong became a refuge for mainland Chinese during the time of Qing government’s high-handed policy on the Han Chinese and established a symbol of breaking the old system. This is why we should not assertively deny the colonial history in the first place when it comes to localism, as if what Ackbar Abbas said: “The history of Hong Kong, in terms that are relevant to what it has become today, effectively been a history of Colonialism.”
Benedict Anderson wrote in his book Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism that nationalism is an imagined political community. Therefore politics is an interpersonal relationship in people’s imagination. It is an imagination itself, not a fiction, in which we create the definition of the idea of “nation”, its constraints, and its regime. Thanks to the capitalism, as Anderson said, the popularisation of media and publishing can offer a sense of community to massive readers, through novels, papers, spaces as such, etc.
Anderson believed that the Independence Movement in South America around 18th and 19th century is the very first start of the nationalism wave. Most of the advocates came from the slaves’ masters, whereas the Southeast Asia’s independence movement in the 20th century was initiated by the cultural elites in colonies. Such class-biased localism from the elite class was shaped into nationalism. It was later promoted to the public through the national education and by the arms race among the countries. Since the development of Hong Kong, the different lifestyles in between Hong Kong and other Chinese cities have been witnessed. The elite class formed during the time is the initial imagined community of Hong Kong.
Rightists vs Localism — A Rivalry of Generations
The People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. At the time, the border blockade between Hong Kong and China was imposed. The economic development of the two had since been different. After 1949, China refugees who fled to Hong Kong became the majority of the population in Hong Kong. Some of them viewed Hong Kong as a temporary place to live in and still held the hope to return to the motherland someday with wealth. Similarly, some viewed Hong Kong as a stepping stone to stay away from China. While at the same time, to few exceptions, there is no choice but to settle down in Hong Kong because in their minds, their China no longer existed after it fell under communist’s control.
Since then, the fate of Hong Kong Chinese differed from those Chinese ruled by the communist party. Excluded the PRC, Hong Kong became an independent community where the ideology of localism started fermenting. 1967’s riot caused by the violent Cultural Revolution in China triggered the civilians’ shift of belief from China to the colonial Hong Kong. Until the 1970s, the baby boomers who were born and raised in Hong Kong became the main population of our society. Along with the economic take-off, the social welfare policy, urban infrastructure and administrative absorption of politics implemented by the colonial government, this new generation started to view Hong Kong as their home.
Meanwhile, the popular culture of Hong Kong also provided the locals with a critical symbol of local identity, as the local television, films and popular music industries developed rapidly. However, it is without doubt that the baby boomers are meant to be the “conflicting group”. Surely they found it hard to embrace the common destiny with China. Nevertheless, they had witnessed the corrupted side of the colonial government. Added with Marxism’s influence, which swept all over the schools in the West, students there viewed China in the Cultural Revolution as a role model and the nationalists in Hong Kong were even more loyal to the Communist China. For the baby boomers who received tertiary education, they felt more contradictory about their identity given the influence of Chinese nationalism.
When I was reading Eric S.Y. Tsui’s articles, I learnt that there was once a HKU student, who is called Kangwan, contributed to the Undergrad. “I am 'Hongkonger” is the title of the student’s article, in which he criticised the Chinese nationalism in student movements. The writer indicated that “Those who were born and raised here, being educated in HKU, and using the money of the taxpayers in Hong Kong – they only “empty-talk” about patriotism. They turned a blind eye to all the inequality and unreasonable situation that happened to the four-million Hongkongers. What kind of patriotism is that?” He then went on challenging the Chinese nationalists and mentioned that “If we don’t face the problem right here in Hong Kong, all the chanting of 'rebuilding China', reunification and cultural burden are but self-deceiving daydreaming.” In English, he expressed his own recognition to localism, “China is but an empty shadow, Hong Kong is concrete… Hong Kong is much more authentic to me than China.”
Not surprisingly, this localist article was heavily condemned by nationalists, which pressured Kangwan to write another article to clarify his patriotic mind. During that time, some students believed that the plight in Hong Kong will be solved only if China becomes stronger. Such “patriotic faction” (國粹派) focused only on the China’s situation but was indifferent to the social issues in Hong Kong. At the end, those who advocated focusing on local issues formed “social faction” against the “patriotic faction” until the latter one fell in 1976 along with the Cultural Revolution.
Together We Reject Being "Communised"
The sovereignty issue of Hong Kong came into surface in the 1980s. Hongkongers has since struggled with anti-communisation. The majority of society was keen to remain unchanged and to exchange sovereignty for the right to rule. There was also proposal of joining the Commonwealth. Apart from this, some students who studied abroad suggested Hong Kong independence (HKI) but was disregarded by most Hongkongers as they deemed such proposal unrealistic. Among them, more people opted for emigration. Generally speaking, Hongkongers shared the idea of anti-communisation and refused to be ruled under the “One Country, Two Systems”. However, driven by the Chinese nationalism ideology, the student activists and the Democratic Party supported the democratic reunification during the Sino-British negotiation.
According to Law Wing-sang [Translator’s note: Law is an Assistant Professor in Lingnan University] and others, the Chinese government exploited the patriotism of the Democratic Party and deceived them into supporting the reunification proposal. With all the persuasion, united front strategy and the Greater China ideology, the Democratic Party fell into the “commitment” made by China and turned into advocating the idea of democratic reunification. At the end, the support went to the China side, whereas the history proves that the Democratic Party’s expectations were never met. Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 confirmed the prospect of Hong Kong and led to a massive emigration due to the fear of communism. Given the comparatively stable political situation in China by 1980s, added with promises such as “One Country, Two Systems”, “High Degree of Autonomy” and “Hong Kong People Ruling Hong Kong”, Beijing managed to pacify the Hongkongers.
The Tian'anmen Square massacre in 1989 induced the sympathy and support from Hongkongers. What happened also led to another shift of localism. Some of the Hongkongers emigrated and those who stayed felt guilty as “survivors” and owed the deceased in Tian'anmen an obligation to promote democracy for the whole China. What was more noticeable was that the Pan-democrats started to view China and Hong Kong together as a community of shared destiny. They related the anti-communism in Hong Kong to the democratic movement in mainland China.
Greater China faction became the mainstream of Hong Kong even though there was bloodshed in 1989; Zhao Ziyang who promised “ruling Hong Kong with democracy is certain” was held house arrested since then. The economy achievements in both China and Hong Kong before the handover made Hongkongers forget their conflict in identity.
After 1997, generally, Hongkongers accepted their identity of being a part of Hong Kong, as well as China. Yet, Tung Chee-hwa’s government was criticised with poor administration that led to a recession in stock market. Dissatisfaction started to grow. It escalated in 2001 when Tung was re-(s)elected. The democratic camp scolded it as a coterie (s)election and pointed their finger to the Chinese government, who helped the formation of HKSARG. In 2003, as the SARS was transmitted from China to Hong Kong and caused a plague in the community, Hongkongers started to fear the problematic culture in the Chinese society.
Suffering from the fatal disease, Hong Kong’s economy collapsed. The grassroots bore the brunt of the doom, so as the middle class. The government at such timing attempted to pass the draft bill of Article 23. 500 thousands of people demonstrated and successfully forced the government to give the bill up. The protest showed the determination of Hongkongers to protect the rule of law.
Hong Kong 1 July march in 2003 also made the CCP realizing the rejected sentiment of Hongkongers, thus the CCP tried to enforce even higher-handed policy but it only caused the ideology of anti-communism to rise. Localism started to grow as a result and could be evident in the later cultural conservation movements, such as the Reserving Queen’s Pier movement in 2006 and 2007, and the Choi Yuen Village anti-eviction struggle in 2009 and 2010. Some of the Hongkongers strived hard for the conversation of the colonial heritages due to the nostalgia of the good old times during the colonial era. What is more important is that the new generation no longer view Hong Kong as a “borrowed place in borrowed times” but their very own home. They are determined to protect the history of this place and the memory created in this place.
HK-China Segregation Is of Utmost Importance
The Beijing government introduced Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) and CEPA in 2003 when the economy in Hong Kong was stagnant and there was strong dissatisfaction in the society towards the SARG. What is worth noting is that CY Leung claimed that the IVS was his idea during the 2012 Chief Executive Election debate. Now we know who the culprit traitor to Hong Kong is. The IVS later became multiple-entry permit in 2009 and led to a more suffocating situation for Hongkongers.
Localism gained more and more support with the emergence of D&G incident, Northeast New Territories development, allegedly underground-CCP member being elected as the Chief Executive, “national education” in 2012, “Reclaiming Sheung Shui” against parallel bootleggers, Chinese pregnant women occupying seats in hospital, increased number of doubly non-permanent [i.e. mainland] residents, shortage of baby formula, etc. We, Hongkongers, especially the young generation, realised that if we do not stand up to protect Hong Kong, the civilised society will no longer exist and turn into a vulgar Chinese city.
Han Han, an author from mainland China, once wrote an article about his experience in Taiwan. The article, Wind of the Pacific Ocean, praised Taiwan wholeheartedly because of the reservation of the finest Chinese culture and value. He was moved by the Taiwanese humanity.
“I am lost in the country I survive. The people in my country spent the previous decades to spread savage and lambasting and the later decades to spread greed and selfishness. Most of them were educated in this way. Our ancestors destroyed our culture, traditional values, mutual trust within people, faith and consensus but still no beautiful new world is built... Sadness is in me for I do not know if our next generation could share mutual understanding instead of hurting each other. I am lost in the time when I write this article I have to take into consideration if I have crossed some lines... We are indifferent to everything apart from our interests and the struggle between people. But luckily we have Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thanks to their conservation of Chinese culture, the beautiful side of this nation can still be seen. They saved the essence from being destroyed. They saved what we lost, which is where our pride is,” Han Han wrote.
Just as what Han Han said, the culture, legal system and freedom mean everything to a nation. That is the reason for Hongkongers to strive to protect Hong Kong from the giant Communist China even knowing that it is nearly impossible. The China we see now has stuck into a deep hole of bigwig capitalism. People are twisted under the extremist regime with no rule of law and freedom. The most urgent thing we should do is to save Hong Kong from falling into the same fate as China and reserve the beauty of this nation. Whether we can save China from its current situation is beyond Hongkongers’ consideration and capability.
Asking the Communist China to give up one-party dictatorship is simply daydreaming when it has formed a structural corrupted syndicate. We can no longer expect China to perform democratic reform. It has already been exhausting for Hongkongers to fight for its own universal suffrage, freedom and rule of law. Therefore it is rather hard to “export” democracy to China in order to change their inferior habit.
In the last few decades, those Chinese coming to Hong Kong were willing to blend in the local culture. They respected Hong Kong’s core values and cultural heritages. They studied Cantonese and English hard so as to integrate with the Hong Kong society. However in recent years, most of the problems in Hong Kong were induced by the conflict between “One country” and Hong Kong’s local interest and core value. Time has changed China. The simplicity you could find in China decades before has disappeared. What is left is the bigwig capitalism and the people who look up to power and money. It is the same as Han Han said — the savage, lambasting, greed and selfishness has been spread.
The solid voters for pro-Communist groups have been increasing over the years as evidence showed that the new immigrant groups helped absorb voters. The declining quality of Hong Kong is, if not all, due to the new immigrants. As much as Hong Kong has always been a migrant city, still, a migrant city specific for China is more than absurd. As long as China issues a single-way permit, there is no way for Hong Kong to reject. Localism does not imply isolating ourselves with self-imposed boundaries but the importance of us protecting our own core values in order not to be expelled by the inferior new immigrants. We cannot kick those who are already here out but at least we have to reclaim the approval authority on the new applicants. It is to prevent fake marriage in the excuse of family union [translator’s note: there have been numerous reports on Hong Kong-China fake marriages, where (usually) Chinese women get married to HK men and then come to HK for “family reunion”]. We should have the right to choose those who have the potential to be naturalised as our own citizens. The localism, whether in the form of Hong Kong Independence, city-state autonomy or simply reclaiming the authority of single-way permit, is about HK-China segregation.
Externally We Expel Sino-Colonialism, Internally We Get Rid of Traitors in HK
Hong Kong’s radical localism is forced by the Communist China. The two generations after baby boom have no recognition to the identity as “Chinese”. What they truly value is the excellent culture and system of Hong Kong and do not want that to be plundered or eroded by an external colonist. In order to achieve such purpose, it is important to defend the autonomy of Hong Kong. Therefore, they advocate the policy of “Hongkongers come first”. However, this has encountered the the suppression from Communist China and also the unrealistic left-wings combined with Greater China democrats.
During the incident of combating parallel traders, doubly non-permanent residents, shortage of birth-giving seats in the hospitals and shortage of baby formula, all political parties in Hong Kong were either slow in response or did not respond at all. Those with no political background were the only ones who care about the fate of Hong Kong. However, most pan-democrats are driven by the ideology of the Greater China. They cannot get out of the constraint of “one country” and still are negotiating and compromising with the Communist China. The young generation now despise them.
Democratic party is the best example of the Greater China democrats. They keep betraying Hongkongers and betraying democracy [translator’s note: helping to pass the political reform in 2010, the Democratic Party failed to achieve the promises they made to voters. In 2012 LegCo election, they only won 4 seats] with the defence from the media. They still view themselves as the leaders of the present democracy movement after the failure in 2012 LegCo election, which shows their lack of ability to learn from experience. Whenever criticism towards them arises, they label them as strayed dogs.
Indeed, no one should ever be on the same path with this despicable and deceitful party. They are not entitled to fight for democracy for Hongkongers. They claim to be firmly reliable backbone but in fact they are nothing but the extreme opposite. Combined with the Hong Kong Professional Teacher Union (HKPTU) and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASDPM) [Translator's note: the group that organises memorial vigil of Tian'anmen Massacre every year], they are the trinity of sin.
Here are some incidents of these groups have done: Before the June 4th memorial 2013, Ding Zilin, member of the group Tian'anmen Mothers, said that the slogan “Love the Country, Love the People” from HKASDPM was stupid. Tsui Hon-kwong, a committee member of HKASDPM and member of the Democrat Party, provoked public anger by saying Ding was showing sympathy to the Communist China because she was suffering the Stockholm syndrome.
19 retired and current teachers have formed the group Progressive Teacher Alliance in early 2014. They hope to run for the monitoring committee to reform the conservative style of HKPTU. Cheung Man-kwong, the current vice-president of HKPTU and member of Democratic Party called the PTA a radical separatism and the president of HKPTU, Fung Wai-wa, criticised that someone with ulterior motives wanted to infiltrate HKPTU. Power has the ability to turn people corrupted. The alliance of HKPTU, HKASDPM and the Democratic Party are as such. Elimination lies in the only road in front of them. It is irreversible thanks to the clear-mindeds in our young generation.
Left wings with foreign country passports are usually referred to “leftards”. They are dominated by left-winged ideology such as “equality, anti-discrimination and empowering the minority” without considering the actual political situation. They completely disregard the carrying capacity of our society and side with the new immigrants in the name of family reunion. They called Gary Fan, Claudia Mo and Roy Tam fascists when these three initiated a petition to urge the government to reclaim the approval right over single-way permits. They claimed that given the unjust one-child policy unjust, we should understand and tolerate when mainland pregnant women cause the shortage of pregnancy seats in hospitals. When simplified Chinese hacks Hong Kong, they claimed it to be a trend and part of the culture [Translator’s note: more stores have been using simplified Chinese instead of traditional Chinese to curry favours of Chinese tourists]. They said we should respect the cultural variety when the mainlanders urinate and defecate on the streets of Hong Kong. They asked the local mothers to switch to breastfeeding during the shortage of baby formula and said “It’s all about determination”.
The acts of those leftards and the Democratic Party are coherently identical. They are the biggest archenemies to Hong Kong apart from the CCP, HKSARG and their allies. We can solely sit on our hands unless they are eliminated. The population of Hong Kong is going through a “thorough replenishment” by the Communist [Translator’s note: 150 single-way permits are issued every day from China. It has been viewed as a way to dilute the Hong Kong local population]. If we are still not determined and robust to fight, the identity of Hongkongers will soon become history. Protect Our Land with Self-determination HKI is an inevitable topic when it comes to localism. The answer to whether Hong Kong should be independent varies. However, no matter how slim the chance is, we have to safeguard our right to advocate the HKI. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitutions told us that people in a civilised society has the right to legally overthrow the government, to advocate the secession of a country and to determine their destiny as long as these words are not brought to practice or the speech does not become part of such action (只要不付諸行動或言論不成為行動的一部份). If we believe Hong Kong differs from China and has the freedom of speech, we should therefore support and advocate the freedom of HKI.
If it is possible to advocate Scotland to be independent from Britain, and to do so in Quebec from Canada, why should it be banned in Hong Kong? Moreover, to this day, the HKI still cannot outpace the theoretical stage. If one agrees that Hong Kong should be independent, why fear? According to different polls added with the internet trend, there is more support to HKI in the younger generation. It is predictable that the more support of HKI, the higher chance the Greater China pan-democrat parties, the HKSARG or even the Communist China government will despise the new wave and take the new generation as daydreaming rebels. Still, what we can be certain is that the great new trend of embracing localism to fight for democracy will never be stopped.
It may seem desperate for everyone under the might, yet bear Lu Xun's words in mind: “Desperation is to vanity what desperation is to aspiration.”(絕望之為虛妄，正與希望相同). We might feel helpless at the moment.
The Soviet Union was once the biggest socialist country and was overthrown by the people. What stays on your mind will blossom someday. It depends on how much you are willing to strive for defending the localism. There are people who betray Hong Kong for political and economic benefits. There are also people who stand firm and are determined to follow their own principles. There were, on the contrary, several fleas when Hong Kong encountered crisis. Why? It was mostly due to the lack of localism’s ideology in mind.
Most youngsters are already capable of emigration, but they are determined to stay in their homeland. You may wonder the reason. Not everyone can get used to the life abroad, and more importantly, it is the awakening of localism that makes people stay. They see Hong Kong as their home and rather combat the authoritarian amid desperate situations than give away their own homeland. Right here and right now, there is no other exit to guard the autonomy of Hong Kong. At this critical moment, would you battle or be exterminated in the silence someday? Live or die, make your choice.
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Chan Ya-ming: The Scream of Our Generation
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Chan Ya-ming: The Final Generation of Hongkongers
[Undergrad/HKUSU] J.Y.: HK Independence from A Military Perspective
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Chan Ya-ming: The Scream of Our Generation
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Chan Ya-ming: The Final Generation of Hongkongers
[Undergrad/HKUSU] J.Y.: HK Independence from A Military Perspective