Behind the Hong Kong localist movements: complexities in counter-persecution
Since the beginning of 2012, movements against “Mainlanders” – people from Mainland China – have been continuing and receiving supports. Incidents including Mainland pregnant women occupying hospital’s vacancies to give birth in Hong Kong, Dolce & Gabbana prohibiting Hong Kong people from photo-taking, the publication of “anti-locust” advertisement, and Agnes B Café using simplified Chinese, have triggered a significant rise of the notion to struggle for preservation of Hong Kong’s locality. On the other hand, quite expectedly, strong criticisms follow, though of which contents vary, interestingly, from Chinese nationalism to anti-racism. Why there are some local citizens standing so strongly on preserving our locality, while some find it worrying for totally different reasons? Being my first blog article written in English, this piece attempts to provide a cultural analysis for those who cannot understand Chinese language but hope to find out what these different groups of “Chinese” are actually doing.
To understand the complexities behind the debate, one has first to know that the localism (I use this word in a neutral sense) – which is hostile to Mainlanders – and the nationalism which criticizes it share the same type of discourse: the one of counter-persecution. How Chinese nationalism is related to persecution is simple: In the eyes of those Chinese nationalists, China, in its whole modern history, has been invaded and bullied by imperialism and its accomplices, and this situation has not yet been genuinely altered. All those criticisms and envies of the rise of China is just another form of persecution of all the Chinese. Therefore, all Chinese should be joining together to resist every “external influence”, which is only a new form of imperialist invasion. This exact logic (or imagination) of persecution occurs in Hong Kong’s localism: under the strong threat to our autonomy posed by communist China, Hong Kong citizens should unify themselves to defend our city. Since communist China’s strategies of cultural-political invasion and assimilation are intense and comprehensive, we have to counteract in any ways possible, including being unwelcoming to our enemy’s citizens.
Moreover, the battle of these two ideologies happens under an interesting context – the ambiguity of China and Chinese-ness. What does “China” mean? The long history of culture, the communist regime, or the territories where the Hon* (漢) racial group(s) living for centuries? Does “Chinese” – Chung-Kwok-Yan* (中國人) – means nationality or race? All these different interpretations of the two words have been deliberately kept ambiguous by the communist regime, for making use of the notion of patriotism to maintain its own stability and power. The interesting point is that, it is because of the success of the communist regime in doing so that those Hong Kong localists tend not to distinguish the threats posed by the Mainlanders and their regime – the two are basically treated as a unity which aims at eliminating the autonomy and prosperity of Hong Kong. As a result, in the eyes of Hong Kong localists, everything coming from the territories of the state which holds, if not illegitimately, the sovereignty of Hong Kong is an accomplice of the communist regime who will ultimately kills our locality (of which autonomy is an essential part). On the other hand, some Chinese nationalists, who are at the same time critical to the communist regime, attempt to distinguish the regime from the citizens and (traditional) culture. However, the ambiguity is so entrenched a discourse that the calling for tolerance toward Mainlanders itself also becomes perceived as helping the communist regime to kill Hong Kong.
At this point, it seems that a group is missing – those who criticize the localists not on the ground of nationalism but anti-racism. There are leftist organizations in universities which call for equality, be it among classes or races. Some of these notions are usually labelled as idealism, which is common among intellectual youths on every part of the earth. Yet, it is interesting, if not worrying, to note that the some of these youth in Hong Kong are actually Chinese nationalists. As Kay Lam (林忌) – a famous local internet blogger – pointed out, they actively call for tolerance, non-discrimination and even assistance in favour of Mainlanders in the name of equality and anti-racism, but seldom (if not never) do so for other ethnic minorities (such as those from Southeast Asia and Middle East). If this is true, the criticisms of localism on the ground of anti-racism is only a dress-up; what is at the core is still Chinese nationalism, which is itself racist. Perhaps it is exactly this self-contradictory ideology concerning anti-racism which hinders the progress of Hong Kong toward genuine racial equality.
Criticisms aside, Hong Kong localists are in fact facing a dilemma in terms of the choice of cultural ground, between traditional Chinese culture and the “western” (mainly Anglo-American) one. The former is relied on in the movements against the wide use of simplified Chinese and Mandarin in Hong Kong, while the latter is referred to in occasions where our political autonomy and conventions are under threats. Those who hold traditional Chinese culture as the cultural ground of Hong Kong localism are of the view that communist China has distorted and uprooted the traditional Chinese culture by using simplified Chinese and Mandarin as the official language, so Hong Kong’s role of being one of the genuine successors of the Chinese tradition (another one is Taiwan) is important and should be hostile to the communist cultural distorter. The weakness of this choice of cultural ground is that, under the entrenched ambiguity of the concept “China”, any reliance on Chinese-ness may ironically become an accomplice of the communist enemy.
On the other hand, those who hold western culture as the cultural ground emphasize the success throughout our colonial history, and make appraisals to the British-colonial government for its various contributions in consolidating the status of Hong Kong as a global city. It is our high level of internationalization and globalization which distinguishes us from every other parts of China, and should be kept away from the influences of the communist regime. The weakness of this choice is mainly in terms of its counter-intuitiveness under the widely-accepted ideology of nationalism and patriotism. To rely on this cultural ground, one needs also to challenge the negative label of colonialism, which is quite deep-rooted not only in Hong Kong but throughout the world. Each choice of cultural ground has its own problem and it is in fact not an obvious divergence in the eyes of most localists – they simply emphasize the preservation of locality, which involves traces of both cultures. Among the outspoken localists, Wan Chin (陳雲), the author of On Hong Kong as a City-State (《香港城邦論》) is arguably more on the Chinese side (though he also acknowledged the contribution of the British-colonial government in his book) while Chip Tsao (陶傑), a famous cultural and political commentator, is on the western side.
This article attempts to explain some confusing parts of the movements against Mainlanders – it is actually an essential part of Hong Kong localists’ struggle for preserving Hong Kong’s locality against communist China. Although the struggle is sometimes in the label of economy and culture, it is ultimately political: under the ambiguity of the meaning of China, every threat posed by, or related to people coming from the state’s territories are perceived as part of the communist regime’s political project which aims at eliminating the locality of Hong Kong and transforming it to an ordinary Chinese city, so that every part of the territories will be under the direct control of the communist regime. This sense of persecution may turn out be only an untrue imagination. Still, in consideration of the great contrast, in terms of cultural, economic and political powers, as well as population and level of freedom, between such a big authoritarian state and the tiny autonomous city, such a level of imagination of persecution is not only reasonable, but also legitimate.
*I deliberately use Cantonese pronunciation and the Hong Kong style of phonetic transcription instead of the ordinary Mandarin one.