Hong Kong's Self-Knowledge

(Luqui Luwei)  Hong Kong Self's Knowledge.  By Chen Guanzhong (陈冠中).

[in translation]

I want to talk about three types of mistakes in the self-knowledge of Hong Kong: misconception (错觉), false issues (假命题) and lagging consciousness (滞后意识).


This mistake was brought to my attention by a mainland friend.  He is in the business sector and he has been watching Hong Kong for more than a decade.  He wanted to convince me: Hong Kong is even more China than China!  You see, the Hong Kong police are called "errand folks (差人)" and the police stations are called "errand post (差馆、衙门)."  Those terms make it seem that we are still living in the Qing dynasty.  When you look at the many traditional Chinese festivals, some of them are even legal holidays in Hong Kong (note: Ching Ming festival; Dragon Boat festival; Buddha's birthday; Mid-Autumn festival; Chung Yeung festival; etc).  They are more Chinese than on the mainland.  In the New Territories, the rural regulations and civil contracts are still accepted.

My mainland friend is not totally wrong.  When we were in elementary and middle schools, we studied <Analects>, <Mencius> and <Zhuangzi>.  A friend at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told me that she was born in 1947 and entered elementary school in 1953.  She did not study <Analects>, <Mencius> or <Zhuangzi> at all during elementary and secondary school.  We know that there was a purging of traditional Chinese culture during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the 1960's.  In the 1970's, they had a campaign to criticize Confucius.  Traditional literary studies only became respectable again in the 1990's.  We can say that there were three or four decades during which several generations of mainland people did not learn any of the traditional classics during the course of their formal education.  That was why the recent CCTV program <Analects> was received so popularly.  In the 1990's, the Taiwan cartoonist Cai Zhizhong's drawings of <Zhuangzi> were also well received on the mainland, because several generations of mainlanders missed it.

So it may be a somewhat mistaken conception to think that mainlanders must have more Chinese culture than Hong Kong people.  The Hong Kong people should not debase themselves, because our Chinese knowledge is not weak.

But I am unwilling to say categorically that Hong Kong is more Chinese than China.  That is because the understanding of the Hong Kong people about contemporary China is far less than that of the mainlanders.  Apart from the contemporary human geography, there is there is a special kind of contemporary culture that Hong Kong are unfamiliar with.  I call this state culture.  This state culture was initiated by the Chinese Communists and it was formed slowly before 1949 from their bases in places such as Yenan.  After 1949, it became the state culture through the exercise of state power.  In its earlier stage, it imitated the "Big Brother" Soviet Russia.  Later on, it developed its own special characteristics and it became an important component of contemporary mainland culture.  State culture is not identical to national culture, and it is different from the various cultures for national salvation during the latter part of the Qing dynasty.  Mainlanders refer to the body of state culture as "the system (体制)" and its manifestations are called "the conditions of the state (国情)" with its myriads of hidden rules.  Many Hong Kong people are unfamiliar with this state culture.

Therefore, when the prominent people of society call for the Hong Kong people to understand China better, they are actually asking everybody to learn this state culture.  The first Hong Kong people who learned about this state culture were probably the business people and professionals who went north.  Nowadays, it seems that even the Hong Kong SAR high officials have some idea of this state culture.

In terms of the contemporary human geography in China, it is natural that Hong Kong people should be more interested and know a bit more.

In terms of contemporary Chinese history, there is only one official version on the mainland.  I recommend that Hong Kong people consult different viewpoints because this befits a Hong Kong in which information is free to flow.

In terms of traditional Chinese culture, the Hong Kong people can obviously learn more but the mainlanders really ought to take remedial lessons with every generation having to learn again.

False Issues

In recent years, I have been living in Beijing.  I often hear people ask others: "What is your place of origin?"  People reply with answers such as: I'm from Henan, Guangdong, Shanghai, Tianjin and so on.  But I have never heard anyone say: "I'm Chinese."  Could it be that they don't think that they are Chinese?  Of course not.  It is just that the identity as a Chinese person co-exists with those regional identities, and they are not mutually exclusive.

But in Hong Kong, there are some social scientists who run statistical surveys which ask in the same question: "Please select one of the following -- Are you a Hong Kong person, or Chinese person, or Chinese Hong Kong person or Hong Kong Chinese person?"

For this particular question, each option had someone picking it.

If you take the same question to Beijing and ask the people of Beijing: "Are you a Beijing person or a Chinese person?" with one and only choice allowed, each option will probably have someone picking it.  Isn't this result shocking?

These identities can be inclusive and they do not have to mutually exclusive.  To put them into one question and force people to make a choice is actually manufacturing divisions among the people.

The social scientists use the seemingly objective methods and language of social science to create a false issue in Hong Kong.  This has the result of manufacturing, deepening and extending social divisions and oppositions.

However, two groups of political people love to use this type of research study:

One group says, "You see -- Hong Kong has been returned to China for so many years already and there are still so many people who won't admit that they are Chinese.  This shows that China cannot trust the Hong Kong people."

The other group says, "You see -- Hong Kong has been returned to China for so many years already and there are still so many people who won't admit that they are Chinese.  This shows that the Hong Kong people are not willing to identify with China."

The two groups use the division of Hong Kong as their political capital, and their theory is based upon a false issue created by the social scientists.

I have given many Chinese-language speeches in Hong Kong during which I ask the attendees a question: "Please raise your hand if you don't admit that you are Chinese?"  Nobody has ever raised their hands (with the one exception being a young man who raised his hand and said that he was Malaysian).

From my non-scientific investigation, I would say that the people of Chinese descent in Hong Kong acknowledge that they are Chinese people.  Therefore, my conclusion is that there does not exist any issues with national identification after the return of Hong Kong to China.

But why are my non-scientific investigation results so different from those of the social scientists?  I believe that the social scientists must reflect about what they are doing.

Actually, the social scientists only needs to divide the question into two parts and the results would be completely different:

Question 1: Do you think that you are a Chinese person?

Question 2: Do you think that you are a Hong Kong person?

I believe that the percentages of "yes" to both questions will be very high.

Let me repeat: the identities of Chinese person and Hong Kong person can co-exist instead of being mutually exclusive.  It is only the social scientists' ridiculous methodology which is forcing an apparent division.

Lagging Consciousness

During the past two decades, the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy factors have both increased among the mainstream values in Hong Kong.  The interaction and growth of these two demands have subtly created the situation of "Hong Kong people rule Hong Kong" and "a high degree of autonomy" after the return of Hong Kong to China.  Suppose that one of these factors is absent, or suppose that the situation is totally lopsided towards one of these factor.  There would not be the mutual restraints and then the situation would probably be much worse than now.  On one hand, if everybody is overly obedient, then it is hard to dissuade outside people not "to butt in."  Besides, there will be people quite willing to send invitations and open the door.  On the other hand, if you are overly disobedient, there would be some extremely sensitive situations that will invite strong responses.  Both of these situations would topple the high degree of autonomy.  Therefore, the people of Hong Kong should be grateful to the stubbornly insistent and passionate people on both sides.  Their simultaneous presence has created a balance that meets the best interests of Hong Kong.

But we imagine that when the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy become mainstream values of Hong Kong just like the rule of law and freedom, then the controversial debate over the opposition between pro-Beijing versus pro-democracy will fade away.

During the past few years, more Hong Kong people have become pro-China.  This is natural.  If you are not for China, then who can you be for?  I believe that most of the political figures from now on will be pro-China.  There is no need to choose between pro-China or not.  Therefore, there is no reason for this to become a divisive political issue.

At the same time, when universal suffrage is realized according to the Basic Law, anyone who opposes universal suffrage is opposing the Basic Law.  It will no longer be a focus of political debate about supporting or opposing universal suffrage, or even about accelerating or delaying universal suffrage.  By that time, all political figures are democrats, and democracy will not be a good or bad label.

Ten years after the return of Hong Kong to China, the political argument over pro-Beijing versus pro-democracy should be withdrawn from the political stage in Hong Kong.  This is a good thing for Hong Kong because much of the political fighting and social opposition often arose from these two debates.

When certain political figures continue to use these two issues as their political capital, they should note that reality runs faster while their consciousness is lagging behind.  More importantly, the consciousness of many Hong Kong people has already surpassed these two issues a long time ago.

Thanks to the Basic Law, Hong Kong has gradually gone past the transitional era and enter the period of normalcy.  This is the time for negotiation.  When the unnecessary oppositional issues are terminated, there are only results based upon common understanding.  That is definitely good for social harmony and will permit Hong Kong to concentrate on the new challenges of our times.

Related LinkHong Kong People's Opinions Towards Ethnic Identity.  Hong Kong University Public Opinion Programme.  June 26, 2007.