Law Pui-lam: Desinification and Hong Kong's Self-determination

Desinification and Hong Kong's Self-determination
Translated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, Edited by Vivian L., Written by Law Pui-lam
Original: http://www.passiontimes.hk/article/01-28-2015/20825 

(Photo Source: Reuters/BBC)
On 8th January 2015, I wrote "Desinification Is The Right Course" for my column on Passion Times. A reader said I failed to distinguish the party and the country, and that, the reader reckoned, was a common failing among localists. Apparently, this reader thinks that the CCP should be separated from China. I believe many people, especially those who are against the localism camp, think that the culprit of ruining China, Hong Kong and Taiwan is the Chinese Communist Party, not China. And we should rid the world of CCP, not of China.

When I was penning that article, I quoted an example from CCP's internal struggle. I pondered over the title and content of my piece, wondered whether it was best to eliminate any connotation of the Chinese Communist Party. In the end, I opted for de-sinicisation entirely as I concluded that one cannot talk about the wrong of the CCP without considering the wrong of sinicisation.

The problem of CCP is the problem of sinicisation
Technically, it seems reasonable to consider the party and the country as two separate entities. In short, the present China is ruled by the authoritarian CCP. We can overturn CCP, but we cannot overturn China.

But can we really separate CCP from China?

CCP seems to be easier to define, from the perspective of organisation or regime; but the concept of China is more complicated. In general, "China" is the country we talk about, but defining "a country" is much more difficult than that. [Translator's note: Country/nation/state are all 國家 guojia in Chinese.]

"Nations are notoriously difficult to define," George Kateb has claimed in his book Patriotism and Other Mistakes. In fact, the notion of "nation" includes tangible things such as territory, geographical landscape and historical sites; while it is also defined by people's memory, the history, culture, and interpersonal relationships (such as clans). According to Kateb, these memories, history, culture and interpersonal relationships are things that are glorified by the people and the subjective imagination of people.

Territory is more specific, but it is inherently bound to the ruling regime. Over the past 2,000 years, the boundaries of the Middle Kingdom have changed as the dynasties waxed and waned. The current mainland Chinese territory is the territory owned by the Chinese Communist Party - and the two are inescapably intertwined. That leaves the only things that can be ideologically separable from CCP being, perhaps, the geographical landscapes and the historical sites.

People might argue that the concept of China refers to things more intangible, like history, culture and interpersonal relationships. But these things are intricately tied to CCP as well.

Communism is a product of the West. But the workings of CCP, from organisations to operations, is closely connected to Chinese culture and interpersonal relationships. I have argued in my article "Impossible for China to Have A Democratic Regime", that the Chinese society, especially the interpersonal relationship in rural societies, is dominated by clans and families. In the landmark study of Chinese peasant society, China's Peasants, Potter and Potter also posited that the political struggles in rural China is but clan and family struggles. CCP has not changed the traditional interpersonal relationship, but rather it has carried the deep-rooted traditions forward. In fact, we can still understand the politics of CCP by considering the clanships among the cronies of Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Bo Xilai.

Governance with CCP characteristics
Such paternalistic clan culture translates as a top-down bureaucratic culture in the political sphere. "Parent-politics", or gerontocracy, not only had been the norm of Imperial China for thousands of years, it is also how CCP operates. We saw in 1989 Tiananmen mass movement that even Zhao Ziyang, the General Secretary of CCP at the time, the supreme high command of the party, had to succumb to Deng Xiaoping to call the shots!

Besides such interpersonal relationship, other cultural values are just as well deep-rooted. Some mainlanders I knew emigrated overseas to flee CCP. But when the subject of discussion falls on the legitimacy of Xinjiang to call for its independence as it has its own language, religion and culture, their dissent often are so hysterical that it borders on a complete loss of reason. During the Umbrella Revolution, I discussed the future of Hong Kong with a Chinese friend. He said mainlanders cannot fathom the idea of Hong Kong taking its political future in its own hands, not to mention being independent from China. Why so? It all boils down to "The Great Unity" invented by the Draconian emperor, Qin Shihuang.

"The Great Unity" has stirred up countless warfare and slaughters, as well as the prohibition of all regional and ethnical autonomy and self-determination. To realise "The Great Unity", CCP was adamant in taking back Hong Kong in 1997, and has been ever so fixated on seizing Taiwan. What is more horrid is that "The Great Unity" is not only a scheme of the rulers, but it is also shared by the common people. In fact, around the time of Hong Kong's handover in 1997, some Hongkongers joined the Chinese in demanding "reunification" and disapproving the proposal of an independent Hong Kong.

On the surface, the ideas of CCP and China seem separable. But examples above have already shown how closely tied the two are. When we are talk about "desinification", or proclaim that we are Hongkongers, and not Chinese, many still find it unacceptable. Kateb argued that what's at play is actually "patriotism" where a person identifies with his fellow countrymen, a certain group or a race.

It's more than just rejecting CCP
Yet, as Hong Kong's local identity blossoms, more and more Hongkongers identify themseleves as Hongkongers rather than Chinese, and support the idea of self-determination, Hongkongers are not merely rejecting the visible hand of CCP, but also demanding desinification--the removal of "Chineseness". These are all because Hongkongers are no longer contend with having an authoritarian regime that exercises parentalism over their heads, and dismiss "The Great Unity" altogether. Only when Hong Kong is desinicised can the city develop to be a rational, modern society and leap forward to the direction of nation-state.

1. George Kateb (2006), Patriotism and Other Mistakes, New Haven: Yale University Press.
2. Sulamith Potter and Jack Potter (1990), China's Peasants: The Anthropology of a Revolution, New York: Cambridge University.

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