Prof. Anthony B. L. CHEUNG, GBS, JP
Research Chair Professor of Public Administration, APS, EdUHK
Adjunct Professor, PPOL, HKUST
Former Secretary for Transport and Housing, HKSARG
Prof. Christine LOH, SBS, JP, OBE,
Chevalier de l’Order National du Mérite
Chief Development Strategist, IENV, HKUST
Former Undersecretary for the Environment, HKSARG
Mr. Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, GBM, GBS, JP
Former President of Legislative Council, HKSAR
As emerging separatism became a significant concern of the central government, a 'return of hearts' and establishing a Chinese national identity became top priorities in addition to national security. Nevertheless, is 'identity' the root of political polarization and confrontation in recent years, or is it instead a framed articulation of various socioeconomic grievances and anxieties? On 30 April 2022, Prof. CHEUNG, Prof. LOH, and Mr. TSANG, who are experienced participants in Hong Kong's pre-1998 transition and post-1997 governance, sought to unravel the critical issues and myths.
Prof. CHEUNG first illustrated that Hong Kong citizens lacked a clear and stable national identity, reflecting the city's unique history before 1997. Although the locally born/raised generation originally embraced a strong Chinese identity, many became alienated from Mainland China after the Cultural Revolution. Moreover, local culture and pride gradually formed because of Hong Kong's relatively more advanced social development compared with mainland China, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese society in the 1980s and 1990s.
After 1997, however, a Chinese national identity was still not firmly established in Hong Kong because of a series of political controversies, e.g., the debate over the language of instruction, Article 23 legislation, electoral democracy, and anti-extradition protests. Concurrent socioeconomic grievances, e.g., the lack of upward mobility and housing unaffordability, further exacerbated the issue. Prof. CHEUNG further explained that identity politics in Hong Kong might also be caused by fear, e.g., fear of the unknown, fear of the other, and fear of the future.
Second, Prof. CHEUNG pointed out that overcoming several challenges may help Hong Kong citizens disentangle the identity issue. The city must relaunch a purposeful community, establish a Chinese national identity while maintaining Hong Kong's international status, calibrate the proper level of self-administration and democracy, build a performance-based government, and define the city's core values.
Prof. LOH commented that the identity of Hong Kong citizens had always been contested. Hong Kong has been a blend of many things. People of different generations with different family histories may look at themselves differently. The 1960s and 1970s were periods of economic rise in the West and Hong Kong's economic take-off. Many companies in Hong Kong had deep business connections with Western society. As a result, there was a perception that the West was the best. This was when an entire generation of people in Hong Kong attached to the West.
From 1980 to 1997 Britain and China were negotiating the future of Hong Kong. It was a period of deep confusion because people in Hong Kong, to a vast extent, could not decide their own future. Only a small proportion of Hong Kong residents at that time were offered full British citizenship. Some Hong Kong families migrated to the U.K., Canada, Australia, and the U.S. During the 1990s, because employment opportunities were rare in the West and the Hong Kong economy was still growing, some migrants returned to Hong Kong.
During the decades after 1997, although Hong Kong citizens witnessed the second surge of China, there was no period of decolonization in the city. Hong Kong citizens were told that everything before 1997 could be carried on as long as Hong Kong citizens were patriotic and recognized that Hong Kong is a part of China. In recent years, the deteriorating relationship between China and the U.S. and the revived contest between capitalism and socialism pose a new challenge to the city. Hong Kong citizens need to figure out how to see themselves as a part of China while promoting the value of democracy.
Mr. TSANG first analyzed the nature of the question - "Am I a Chinese or Hongkonger?". It could be a question when Hong Kong citizens respond to customs officials in other countries. It could be a question, i.e., "Do I feel that I am Chinese?", to which an emotional answer is expected. If this is the case, Hong Kong citizens have to consider the common qualities they share with other Chinese in other parts of the country, e.g., Shanghainese and Pekingese. It could also be a question, i.e., "Would I prefer to be a Chinese or Hongkonger?", to which a utilitarian answer is expected. In this case, people have to compare the privileges and rights that a Chinese or Hongkonger has against the corresponding duties.
Mr. TSANG then commented that, for "One Country, Two Systems" to work well, Hong Kong needs a strong sense of national identity. Moreover, national identity and patriotism are equivalent from the perspective of the leaders in Beijing. He explained that, according to a speech that Xia Baolong delivered in 2021, patriotism means loving the People's Republic of China (PRC) and upholding the country's socialist system. Citing the Education Bureau Circular, he further illustrated that a sense of national identity includes understanding the nation's historical, economic, and technological development.
Third, Mr. TSANG commented that whether Hong Kong will be governed by a highly autonomous administration depends very much on whether the central government is convinced that there is a strong sense of nationality among Hong Kong citizens.
(From left): Prof. Anthony CHEUNG, Prof. Christian LOH, Mr. Jasper TSANG Yok-sing
As emerging separatism became a significant concern of the central government, a 'return of hearts' and establishing a Chinese national identity became top priorities in addition to national security. Nevertheless, is 'identity' the root of political polarization and confrontation in recent years, or is it instead a framed articulation of various socioeconomic grievances and anxieties? On 30 April 2022, Prof. CHEUNG, Prof. LOH, and Mr. TSANG, who are experienced participants in Hong Kong's pre-1998 transition and post-1997 governance, sought to unravel the critical issues and myths