This paper argues that the clash of identities has always been central to how Hong Kong people discover and articulate their sense of relatedness – to their own habit, their motherland China, and to the world given the city’s international status. In a sense, the Hong Kong identity has been a creation of a unique segment of history where three strands of forces – localization, nationalization and internationalization – together impose their footprint on its formation. Without questioning the reunification with mainland China, many Hong Kong Chinese are, however, worried about losing the city's Hongkong-ness, something emanating from its past legacy - including its various cultural forms, ways of living, core values and institutional expressions - that underscores the raison d’être of the Hong Kong system within ‘one country’. Most Hong Kong citizens want to be proud of being Hong Kong permanent residents not just because they are economically more affluent (as in pre-1997 days) or materially better endowed. Their pride ultimately lies in an institutional edge as represented by political pluralism, the rule of law, respect for human rights and civil liberties, accountable governance and democratic institutions. Beijing’s imposed instrumental identity of an ‘economic city’ for Hong Kong has not worked, but has even backfired. The politics of identity, particularly subscribed to by the more vocal and defiant young middle class, has been on the ascendancy. The new middle class, in itself a product of Hong Kong’s past economic success, is concerned that the indigenous Hong Kong culture might just disappear. With the conventional middle-class dream of upward mobility largely shattered after the post-1997 years, the young middle-class professionals have been pushed towards a rediscovery of politics. In addition to demanding democratization, they are also active in the new politics of identity, culture and heritage. A new era of civil-society interventions and a new political agenda that goes beyond the economic and political but extends into the cultural and personal, has come centre stage. From the time of the transition, identity and local politics have become intermingled. After the handover, this is increasingly felt in the renewed campaign for democracy, which has gained greater momentum and community support, and in the new movement of local awareness surrounding environmental, heritage, cultural and governance issues. Civil society is certainly a strong force behind this local identity movement. What is less noticed, though, is a concurrent force on the part of the government under Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, to nurture a new era for Hong Kong and cultivate ‘new Hongkongers’, a project quite akin to nation-building in other postcolonial societies; ‘progressive development’ is the new catchword. Heritage is not just memory but also underscores reflections of the past, which help project into the present and future as aspirations and hopes. A city is not defined only by its economic wealth and physical pomp, but also its institutional vibrancy and cultural richness. As and when Hongkongers begin to engage in such a discourse seriously, and government is able to make the crossover from the economic to the cultural in its new Hong Kong project, Hong Kong would have come of age in its new journey to shape its future. The advent of globalization and the rise of China are together rewriting the script for Hong Kong in 12 the new century. China is fast moving into the world inasmuch as the world is going into China, as most recently exemplified by 2008 Beijing Olympics. If Hong Kong’s charm and glory under British rule had emanated from its East-West connection and hybrid, then its post-reunification strategic role should similarly be premised on the interface between China and the world. Hong Kong people need to balance the three selves of a new composite Hong Kong identity – the local self, the national self, and the international self. They should search for a proactive interpretation of ‘one country two systems’ which sees Hong Kong’s prospect not only in terms of respecting its past, but also of charting its future course into a more challenging world. The earlier Hong Kong people drop the economic dependency or political impotence syndromes vis-à-vis the mainland, the better. Both Hong Kong and the mainland should look beyond the narrow and defensive mentality that originally underpinned the two-system concept a quarter of century ago. Hong Kong should not be content with being cast to the periphery of China, but should strive to be at the centre of things and a pioneer of the nation in her journey towards modernity. Hong Kong’s modernization experience – in governance institutions, its mature market, free media and civil society - should form part of the broader national heritage. Hong Kong’s institutional strengths should contribute towards the modernization of the nation, and not just for the city population’s benefit. Instead of being passive at the margin, it should seek an outreaching frontier profile. Integrating with the mainland may well carry the risk of clash of institutions and cultures, or even reverse capture, but this is a standard case of trading risks with opportunities, which Hong Kong as an entrepreneurial city should not be averse to. Ultimately it is a question of awareness. If Hong Kong recognizes that it belongs to the same community of destiny along with the rest of China, then whatever it does and achieves will help shape the nation’s future and form part of its growth. Granted so, marginalization as a question would become a non-starter. Between China and the world stands Hong Kong whose role lies in its connectivity with both. When immersing more in China does not amount to so-called ‘mainlandization’, and maintaining strong links with the Western world does not mean deficit in national identity, then Hong Kong would have found its confidence.
|Published - Nov 2008