Hong Kong Exceptionalism

Some of the critics have said that “Hong Kong exceptionalism” won’t get them in with the mainland China crowd. True, but it’s worth a look to understand the Hong Kong people and how they have viewed themselves over the years, and how that’s changed. The rise of the 本土派 (“Native Group”), and the clash between the “Native” Hong Kong folk with mainland Chinese and the 大中華派 (Greater China Camp):
From Left to Right: Bruce Lam, Henry, Mark So

  • 陳雲 says he’s all for Native Hong Kong people empowering themselves, but then goes off and says things like he wants to restore 中華文化 (Chinese Chinese culture). This lends criticism against him being part of the 大中華派 (Greater China Camp).

  • 大中華派 (Greater China Camp)本土香港人 (Native Hong Kong)
    林匡正 (Bruce Lam)Have an affiliation for greater Chinese (華夏 or 中華) culture.Much harder to define...

    • "You can define it by the different districts".

    • "By-and-large, you can define "Natives" as those belonging to the Hong Kong territories. A sense of affiliation towards Hong Kong culture, which is different from that of Mainland China's, in other words, a unique culture which distinguishes it from other forms of Chinese culture."

    亨利 (Henry)Interests of local Hong Kong people come first. It starts with the distribution of resources. All resources when distributed, should be shuffled out with a preference based on your locality.

  • Being a “Native Hong Kong” person is all about your feelings, very theoretical, starts with the thought that you’ve already planted your roots (落地生根). Now, people have been planting their roots in Hong Kong althroughout its history, But the “Native” group didn’t spring about until after 1997.
  • Henry: During elementary, middle school, his experience of learning about local Hong Kong history, was that “despite the fact that there’s so many people and so little land, the British were the guys in power, but through the hard work of local Hong Kong people, everybody could have a brighter future”, but didn’t have any real significance for the average Hong Kong person. What it did help with, was setup a separate identity for them.
  • Bruce: shared experiences, and the rise of TV shows reflected Hong Kong’s values of 拼搏,勤奮,自力更身 (Hard work, diligence, and an independent spirit). If you have any problems, you shouldn’t rely on the government, or ask them for handouts.
  • Mark: Some post-1990s kids like to envy prior generations of their British colonial education system had a lot of “royal elements” they think. But in Hong Kong, most of it was de-politicized, and everything Henry had mentioned, was mainly a geographical thing. (i.e. “Ah, the mountains are beautiful, and the water is clear!”), you might as will watch a Enivornmental Protection Agency public announcement.
  • Bruce: Hong Kong people gained their sense of identity when their economy started rising. 1950-1960s: Light industry; 1970s: Electronics and Finance, Murray MacLehose’s reforms; 1980s: 4 Asian Dragons. Now despite being a colonial second-class citizen for so long, now with economic success, you have a bit of status, you’re becoming a somebody.
  • Bruce: When did the sense of being a 過客(transient) turn into planting your roots in Hong Kong? In Hong Kong’s early days, many people simply went to Hong Kong for work, and when they earned enough, they would go home. They wouldn’t stay for long.
  • Henry: Look at the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese in WWII. To be honest, it meant very little for the local Hong Kong people. Everyone that was fighting was a small garrison of British soldiers, and all the draftees were amongst the British men. The only Chinese fighting, were the few fighting on behalf of the garrison. Hong Kong people were more like observers. “Oh crap! War’s coming? Time to go hide up in the hills! [couple months later] Not too bad? OK, I’ll come down now.” Also, once the British were defeated, what the Japanese would do, is appoint a local Chinese person of wealth and status to help them run things. This incident however, wasn’t the start of a separate Hong Kong identity. The British were fighting not for the interests of Hong Kong people, but for the British Empire.
  • Henry: One of the things that Hong Kong people makes them different, is the way they care about the people around them. The newer generation thinks this is unique to the people of Hong Kong, and draw from this as a source of identity. However, this is more out of a sense of civic duty, race or region doesn’t matter. No Hong Kong person would say proudly “I’m from Hong Kong, and I’m proud!” but would rather say they were “proud to be Chinese!”
  • This last bit is subjective on Henry’s part, because many Hong Kong people who’ve made in overseas have actually tried to distinguish themselves from other Chinese from this author’s experience. But that’s why he’s still in Hong Kong, and didn’t immigrate elsewhere because of 1997.

  • Henry: What sets Hong Kong apart is subjective, for some, it’s because they have more wealth than others (mainlanders), and for others, it’s because they lack wealth compared to others (including mainlanders). But the main thing that has helped set things in stone, is that after years of British colonial rule, you never felt the dangers of the Chinese Communist government, until after 1997.
  • Henry: Going back to the point Bruce was trying to make, was the Fire of Shek Kip Mei, which started the Public Housing policies.*. Once the poor people started getting assets (like a house), they started to work hard to defend these assets and resources. This is how their identity started.
  • Bruce: So why didn’t these transients go back? Why did they stay and plant their roots here in Hong Kong? It’s because they COULDN’T go back! There were so many refugees escaping they had to close the open border for the first time after 60-70 years of colonial rule. Then, when China had the “Let a Hundred flowers” campaign, they opened up the borders again, thinking these people would go back. Who knew that there were more people trying to escape China than all the previous years combine? So they closed the borders again! And this enclosure, forced them to start planting their roots.
  • Henry: Even then, planting your roots is a far way from developing your native identity. It’s a beginning, but we’re not there yet. The next thing that added to this was the 1967 riots, where communist agents tried to violently overthrow the British government. This was when the British government realized that the “transient mindset” had to end, because if they kept that up, they wouldn’t feel any love or affiliation for Hong Kong. For the colonial managers, the Brits, not just the communist uprisings, but the Nationalist agents from Taiwan trying to etch their way back into China, this was a troublesome issue. By trying (although failing badly) at tieing British interests with a Hong Kong identity, it makes things better. Because even if Hong Kong people don’t like British, they should at least like where they live. So for a time, Hong Kong peoples interests weren’t necessarily out of democracy, it was out of a shared economic interest.
  • Bruce: No one in Hong Kong had ever wanted to set up a separate government distinct from China.
  • Henry: The sense of “needing to do something” first came in June 4, 1989.
  • Bruce: With TianAnMen, you had so many people come out and protest, because you could see with your own eyes, your compatriots getting shot at and killed. They are YOUR OWN PEOPLE. This is the start of the opposing identity between Native Hong Kong people, and mainland Chinese
  • Henry: [Before 1997] Many in Hong Kong had a deep affiliation for Chinese culture, but when the British and Chinese came up with a deal, and you were forced to accept this fate unwillingly, when you look at the government systems, people start to wonder, are we really all that much similar? Thus, some small minorities actually started thinking about independence. However, in comparison to the majority who either wanted “democracy for China” or to “maintain the status quo”, it was largely out of economic concerns. If Hong Kong really were to become independent, they would lose out on a lot, economically speaking.
  • Bruce: Funny enough, for the first 30 years of Communist rule, where mainland China’s economy was stifled, and Hong Kong’s economy was at its peak, no one ever thought about cessation from China. Today, now that China’s economy is so good, it feels as if they’re pushing Hong Kong down, which is why more and more people want are hankering for more freedom and less micromanagement.
  • Mark: Most other places in the world, once an area is independent from another government, they never really “go back”. This is something that is really unique to Hong Kong (and Macau). Which goes to say how deep that sense of Chinese identity really is for us.
  • Henry: It’s also due to the recently de-classified materials where China kept threatening to use force to take us over. Now, there is no economic consideration like there was before, to tie them to the communist government. Before 1997, Hong Kong people were pretty happy about the handover. Once again, the concerns were mainly economic. The economy was at an all-time high, and even shortly after the handover, everybody’s pay stayed the same, if they didn’t get a raise. They thought the scare of 1989 was long behind them. And thus, their sense of affiliation with Chinese culture, was strengthened. That sense of opposing government systems as a point of conflict could be overlooked. Because both Hong Kong and China’s economies were rising at the time, everybody actually felt proud that they were Chinese, which is so hard for kids today to understand.
  • Bruce: The Hong Kong peoples’ hatred of mainland China’s government is waht starts the sense of a separate ethnicity. But before that, as Henry said, everybody was proud to be Chinese. EXCEPT, they felt that they were exceptional to the rest of China. Because Hong Kong people had invested in China, bringing up their standard of living and their economy. Hong Kong’s education system is better than their’s, we are Chinese, and we are the best amongst them. And thus we have a responsibility to bring democracy to China. To make it better.
  • Henry: It goes back to my earlier point, the conflicts between Hong Kong and China was very thin. They were never really much of a threat. But the knot-in-the-rope, is that has, and always will be a dictatorship. The more you feel for your Chinese identity, the more you’ll feel disgusted towards their personal misuse of authority and undemocratic ways of handling things. For instance, the Public Order Ordinance (restrictions against protesting and public gatherings), combining all 3 levels of legislative Councils into a single entity (less representation). These were things that some people said they didn’t notice a difference, because there was no democracy under the Brits, but were willing to ignore these issues against democracy, because of economic interests.
  • Bruce: The idea was that after 1989, Hong Kong people would give the mainland government some time to reform. They knew that the handover was inescapable. Afterall, the majority of Hong Kong people won’t ever start a revolution and secede.
  • Henry: That’s why we should thank CH Tung for being such a crappy leader, and helping us realized how bad BeiJing-appointed governors are. Then, there’s the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, 9/11, the SARS incident. All of this, made people realize how bad their lives had turned in an instant, but all that hatred was towards the Hong Kong government itself.
  • Bruce: At that time, polls showed that Hong Kong people had a favorable view of the central government, and hated the Hong Kong government. So you have to wonder why the generation born between 1989-1997 has such a change in identity from being Chinese to Hong Kong. This new generation started to think, “Am I Chinese, or am I a citizen of the world?” And it started with their reflection upon the pursuit towards democracy. Which is why movements and identity are heavily intertwined.
  • Bruce: Back to the sense of exceptionalism. Back when we had Bruce Lee, the whole Kung-fu wave made us really proud. He was Chinese, but moreso, he was from Hong Kong. Same goes for all the Hong Kong pop star artists that were also popular in mainland China.
  • Mark: This goes back to the cultural development we talked about earlier.
  • Henry: Yeah, but when we were proud to be Hong Kong, we weren’t ashamed of being Chinese, and from there, it started to develop and diverge. Back to that point about CH Tung, we all wondered how the hell could he have been given another term? But even then, we never pointed our hatred towards BeiJing. Then, he stepped down in shame, and when 2003 came around with CEPA, we thought the central government was pretty awesome, because even in an economic downturn they’d be there to back us up. But then, things started to get really wierd, like calling 李柱銘 (Martin Lee) a 漢奸 (Chinese traitor), and the government push for 愛國論 (Patriot Doctrines) and 愛國愛港 (Loving your country, Loving Hong Kong), which is really a euphamism for 愛國愛黨 (Loving your country, loving the party).** Then, the climax of the patriotism towards China was during the lead-up to the Olympics. The 四川(Sichuan) earthquake was supposed to be a huge embarrassment, but they spun it successfully into a 考驗民族最關鍵的時刻 “the moment that will test our people”. There were even people who said that “as long as they endured through this, and the olympics, then we the Chinese would win”.
  • Bruce: Hong Kong people donated a lot of manpower and money towards the earthquake, just as they did with the 華東水災 (Eastern China Floods) of 1991.
  • Henry: Even when a person protested at the olympics holding up a flag of Tibet, she was man-handled, and people said things like, “Yeah, she deserves to be raped!” Even after that, in Hong Kong, you could get a bunch of DVDs of that year’s military reviews, and people were happy to buy it up!
  • Henry: The thing that bursted the bubble of nationalism was the “tofu buildings” (improperly constructed buildings) that had completely collapsed on the children during the earthquake. Now, Hong Kong people have always known that there were unscrupulous merchants and government officials, but after having Hong Kong use a bunch of its resources to help the country, and help Sichuan, the realization that their money just went to a couple corrupt folks shattered any good connection with China. But at the time, if you didn’t give money and help out, you were a traitor. If you didn’t take part in this national fervor, you weren’t even a Hong Kong person –sort of like being a liberal in America right after 9/11.
  • Bruce: That’s why some people started saying things like, 愛國愛黨 “I love my country, but I hate the party”. You can love China for it’s culture, for its hills, it’s rivers, you just didn’t have to like their government. There were two opposing camps: 1. You could love your country, but not the party; 2. You can love your country, which means, loving the party.
  • Henry: And so those who are concerned about democracy, what this inflation of Chinese identity means it at odds with democracy, and even stifles democracy, then you’re really tied up. Which is why, when the “tofu buildings” came around, people started to wake up.
  • Bruce: Then you had the 雙非嬰(anchor babies), where mainland Chinese mothers were fighting with Native mothers to get beds in hospitals. If they’re fighting with us for resources, are they really one of us? Then there was the 自由行 (Right of Abode) issues, where the surge of mainland Chinese parents were fighting with local Hong Kong parents to put their kids into Hong Kong schools.

I tried my best to put this stuff in bullet points, but that didn’t work. Some of the information was rearranged, and not necessarily in the order it was introduced in the video. But I hope if anyone has read all the way down here, “Congratulations!” You now have a complete grasp of how complex this issue of Hong Kong identity is!

**Before, Shek Kip Mei was filled with transients who were hoping the Nationalists would make their comeback to China, so they could go back home up north. The result was a collection of rough-shod wooden structures, which resulted in a giant fire, killings a bunch of people. The poorly constructed wooden houses were allowed, because the British government never thought these people would stay permanently. After the fire, they realized that wasn’t the case. Public Housing was meant to prevent this from happening ever again, and to provide affordable homes for the poor.

***So what is this whole loving country thing about?

OK really, it can only be explained here: http://hkcolumn.blogspot.com/2014/03/wing-is-love-china-love-hong-kong.html
Or as Henry had put it, “a euphamism for “Love your country, love the party”. (a.k.a. suppress all personal thoughts, your minds and personal assets are belong to us!)


13=阝12=口 J=丁 (阿)
L=氵 Z=工 (江)
–1312JLZ (阿江)
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