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An irony for Asia Society

An Asia Society piece here with three experts weighing in on the 15th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong. Winston Lord, Orville Schell, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom are all individuals we can respect. What struck me really, really hard was that they were talking about press freedom. Wait a minute! How about adding a Chinese perspective there, say, from Eric X Li? Then, that’d make it 1 out of 4 being a China voice. Still, that’d be 3 Americans versus 1 Chinese. I guess they never thought of that. Does “freedom of the press” = balanced perspectives?

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  1. Zack
    June 30th, 2012 at 01:56 | #1

    Nothing’s changed in terms of British attitudes towards Chinese, yinyang; the British overlords of Hong Kong never allowed self determination of the HKers until the very end when they knew they were going to lose HK.
    I’d go further and say that such esteemed members of the panels are quite simply not interested in the Chinese view; they’d much prefer to listen to propaganda outlets like .

    The fact that none of the panel are even remotely Chinese or HKers precludes them from having any sort of meaningful say in the 15th anniversary of the HK handover. The British ought to remember this day as a day where they regained their honour in doing what was right (though London under Thatcher fought tooth and nail to keep HK) and where proper healing from the Opium Wars could finally begin.

  2. JJ
    June 30th, 2012 at 20:56 | #2

    This is hilarious. It would be like them doing an article about the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement and only getting the opinions of prominent white folks 🙂

  3. pug_ster
    July 1st, 2012 at 05:28 | #3

    The problem is that these ‘thinktanks’ are mostly originate from the Western Countries are nothing more than an extension of Western Hegemony. Most Chinese knows that these ‘public intellectuals’ are a bunch of fakes anyways.



  4. tc
    July 1st, 2012 at 06:42 | #4

    ” Most Chinese knows that these ‘public intellectuals’ are a bunch of fakes anyways.” — I hope they do.

    China should do the exact opposite of whatever these foreign “China experts” say.
    You must be really, really stupid, if you believe whatever they prescribe is for the benefit of China.

  5. Charles Liu
    July 2nd, 2012 at 11:42 | #5

    It’s actually quite consistent. Freedom of press means they are free to be biased, free to indoctrinate the mass with official narrative.

  6. no-name
    July 2nd, 2012 at 18:04 | #6

    To those who are always highly obsessed with the Hong Kong issue(s) I suggest that you watch at least once this very great video;(it is) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odqeb8cXD-g&feature=related
    and decide which is more relevant to the question of who now stands taller against the scale of human morals.

  7. perspectivehere
    July 3rd, 2012 at 18:09 | #7

    It seems when most people talk about comparing Hong Kong before and after the handover, they do it without the benefit of any real understanding of Hong Kong. This is partly because, until recently, there have been no histories of Hong Kong, written in English by professional historians, that do not adopt a British colonialist mentality, which essentially portrays Hong Kong as a product of British benevolent and enlightened laissez faire rule.

    Two relatively recent books about Hong Kong history seek to tell the story of HK not from the imperialist British perspective, or necessarily from a mainland Chinese perspective, which has stressed the colonial theft of Hong Kong, but from the perspective of Hong Kong Chinese. Both use the concept of “collaborative colonialism” – that British rule of Hong Kong was possible only through the collaboration of Chinese who benefited from British rule. These Chinese in turn made it possible for the local Chinese community to flourish and to have a measure of influence over policies affecting the Chinese.

    Both books are well worth reading. They are:

    Wing Sang Law, Collaborative Colonial Power: The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese (HK University Press, 2009)

    Read excerpts at Google books.

    John M. Carroll, Edge of Empires: Chinese Elites and British Colonials in Hong Kong (Harvard University Press 2005, reprinted by HK University Press, 2005)

    Read excerpts at Google Books.

  8. July 3rd, 2012 at 21:57 | #8

    Thanks. I’ll add these to my reading list.

  9. perspectivehere
    July 4th, 2012 at 08:17 | #9

    From Wing Sang Law, Collaborative Colonial Power: The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese (Hong Kong University Press, 2009) pages 1-3:

    ******Begin Quote********

    Introduction: Coloniality and Hong Kong Chineseness

    British imperialist forces captured Hong Kong in 1842 and ruled the place as both a free port and a colony until recently. However, in both popular and academic discourses, people have almost forgotten Hong Kong’s status as a colonial entity. Liberal-modernist historiographies of Hong Kong usually tell a romanticized story about the growth of Hong Kong, characterizing it as a utopia of laissez-faire economics — a narrative that, highly sympathetic to colonial rule, embraces the depiction of Hong Kong as a “barren-rock-turned capitalist paradise” (Endacott 1964; Woronoff 1980; Ngo 1999: 120). It is said that Hong Kong was a desolate island before the British came but that, thanks to the benevolent governance and good policy of the colonial state, the barren rock has been transformed into a capitalist metropolis. This liberal-modernist narrative peddles the Hong Kong success story and operates under the presumption that Hong Kong is an economic entity on its own.

    Screened out from this narrative are, first and foremost, the effects of more than 150 years of colonialism in Hong Kong, and this select screening of information renders Hong Kong colonialism nothing more than a set of liberal frameworks within which capitalism was able to flourish. Moreover, this same narrative treats the colonial state as, for the most part, a non-interventionist power: the British never exploited Hong Kong economically, and Hong Kong remained not an imperialist-dominated terrain but a neutral arena where both Western and Eastern cultures could intermingle.

    Ironically, most of the Marxist historians, who, in the past two decades, have come from mainland China, and who are writing about Hong Kong’s pre-1997 history, also like to join the liberal-modernists in unreflectively attributing the growth of the colony to the free-market economy that flourished under British colonial rule. Rapidly churned out before 1997 as ideological justification of the moment of “return”, their writings are never hesitant in making the patriotic proclamation that Hong Kong had belonged to China since time immemorial. They rush to identify a few British misdeeds, criticizing some of the old racist measures and praising mainland China’s contribution to Hong Kong (Yu and Liu 1994; Liu 1997). As their political task was only to legitimize the “return” of Hong Kong to China under the “one country, two systems” policy, their anti-British and pro-China assertions cannot go any further than a highly selective and superficial treatment of colonial history. What have turned out are examples of expedient eclecticism that have transplanted the liberal-modernist narrative of Hong Kong, flaunted in its apologetic defense for British colonialism, upon a positioned Chinese nationalistic frame.

    Drawing upon the same liberal-modernist framework, all these historical writings tell time and again almost the same miraculous success story of Hong Kong. Despite the interruptions of the Japanese occupation and of Chinese revolutions and civil wars, Hong Kong stands out as a model case of capitalist development, with its own formula for initiating the momentum of free-market growth (Endacott 1964; Miners 1981; Rabushka 1973, 1979).

    Bringing Colonialism Back In

    Despite the popularity of this Hong Kong success story, there is, however, little evidence lending support to the assertion that Hong Kong exhibited self-generating capitalistic growth animated by the sheer entrepreneurial spirit of a new China-based bourgeoisie (Choi, A.H. 1999). Nor does rigorous factual substantiation underlie any assertion that Hong Kong economic growth was autonomous, independent of regional political and economic formations.

    Getting beyond these unfounded assertions, recent revisionist historiography has shifted focus onto the important role of the colonial state, of its relationship with local society, and of the emergence of a regional economic network. Ngo Tak Wing and Alex Choi, for instance, argue against the widely held notion that Hong Kong was ruled by a neutral administrative state that upheld the principle of non-intervention (Ngo 1999; Choi 1999). They also question whether it is tenable to depict Hong Kong society as atomistic, its people as apathetic, and their mentality as functionally fit for bureaucratic colonial governance (e.g. Lau 1982). Put together, the revisionist historiographies of Hong Kong challenge these somewhat hackneyed perspectives and take the view that Hong Kong society cannot be understood independently of colonialism.

    The historiographies begin with the assumption that Hong Kong was a sui generis colonial city and then propose to conduct a thorough investigation of the colonial system. By treating colonialism as primarily a form of politically imposed rule, the historiographies highlight the active interventions of the colonial state and, in this regard, identify different strategies of rule for the maintaining of governance. For example, it has been shown that, refusing repeated calls for industrial upgrades, the colonial state privileged pro-British trading and banking interests (Choi 1999; Ngo 1999); similarly, Munn regards the criminal justice system as a means by which the colonial state and the ruling Europeans could police the lower class Chinese inhabitants (Munn 1999, 2001). In short, the authors of these historiographies reflect on the colonial state, re-read Hong Kong’s past, and from it, reconstruct the changing political rationalities of British colonialism in Hong Kong. According to these revisionist historiographies, Hong Kong is less laissez-faire than it seems to be. Also, the British presence in Hong Kong was never guaranteed with harmony and success to the extent that can warrant placing it as an exceptional case within a long colonial history that featured brutal domination and fierce resistance.

    *****End Quote***********

    The introduction sets the stage for some fascinating observations about the historical development of Hong Kong Chinese society under British colonial rule, as well as the interaction of Hong Kong Chinese with Mainland visitors and arrivals over the years. (It goes without saying that Mainland arrivals eventually themselves or their offspring became Hong Kong Chinese, which raises the question of what really distinguishes Hong Kong Chinese from Mainland Chinese?)

    Law, who teaches cultural studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, seems to have an insider’s view on Hong Kong society dynamics. I liked the book where it narrated little known vignettes about different aspects of Hong Kong society. I liked less the parts where the book assesses Hong Kong’s place within post-colonial theory, which seemed to be jargon-filled academic theorizing.

  10. JJ
    July 4th, 2012 at 22:33 | #10


    Wow, that’s a very interesting book, will definitely check it out as well.

    It goes without saying that Mainland arrivals eventually themselves or their offspring became Hong Kong Chinese, which raises the question of what really distinguishes Hong Kong Chinese from Mainland Chinese?

    I find this to be a very interesting question.

    Since my family is from Taiwan (and we’ve been here for many generations) many of them identify as Taiwanese.

    Yet, that’s not to say they don’t identify as Chinese either, but it’s not very concrete. I mean, if you ask them, what “our people’s” greatest poets and authors are, then they’ll mention the Four Classics or maybe 金庸 or 李白.

    So they acknowledged that these Mainlanders are part of “our people.” But at the same time—perhaps due to politics—they still make a differentiation.

    Of course don’t those from Shanghai and Beijing also differentiate themselves a bit? Same with northerners and southerners. Heck, even New Yorkers or Texans do as well!

  11. perspectivehere
    July 9th, 2012 at 07:47 | #11

    JJ :
    Wow, that’s a very interesting book, will definitely check it out as well.

    Here’s a fascinating and revealing passage from the book (page 9):

    “A Victorian saying went like this: by acquiring Hong Kong, Great Britain had cut a notch in the body of China as a woodsman cuts a notch in a great oak he is presently going to fell. As a “notch,” Hong Kong, seized by the British navy in the First Opium War (1840–1842), has possessed a value that can never be measured in terms of territorial conquest.”


    Not being familiar with woodcutting and felling trees, it took me a little while to appreciate the evil genius of this analogy. Cutting a notch is a standard tree felling technique, as these links describe:

    Notching Theory for Felling a Tree

    How to Notch a Tree so it Falls in the Desired Direction

    The notch is the means by which a tiny woodsman – with an ax wielded by hand – can bring down a mighty oak tree many times his size. Trees are not literally cut down by the woodsman; rather, the woodsman cuts a notch into the base of the tree trunk, and lets the height and weight of the tree bring itself down.

    It seems that the Victorian British view of the strategic value of Hong Kong was not merely its usefulness as a commercial and naval base, but also as a notch by which Britain would eventually topple the “great oak” represented by China.

  12. perspectivehere
    July 22nd, 2012 at 18:06 | #12


    “It goes without saying that Mainland arrivals eventually themselves or their offspring became Hong Kong Chinese, which raises the question of what really distinguishes Hong Kong Chinese from Mainland Chinese?”

    The South China Morning Post has a column today by Alex Lo, entitled “We Must Stop Feeding Mainland Cringe”.

    In this column, Lo describes a family friend whose 11-year old daughter is ashamed of her parents because they are from the mainland. The daughter was born in Hong Kong so she calls herself a “pure” Hongkonger, and refuses to speak Putonghua. She does not want her classmates to know that her parents are from the mainland.

    Lo notes that the parents are both educated and hold good professional jobs, but yet they are “ill at ease in Hong Kong.” He notes while being ashamed of one’s parents may be a “universal phenomenon”, in Hong Kong there is specific context for that:


    “Under the guise of democratic struggle, our media, public rallies and pan-democratic politicians have gone against all things mainland. They often make inflammatory statements that they would not get away with had they been directed at any other ethnic group in Hong Kong. All these are having an effect on our young, and we think it’s an education in democracy.

    Critics of mass movements – democratic or not – have long warned against this type of mob irrationality and discriminatory behaviour. And we are proving them right.

    Our tragedy is that the girl is turning against her parents, and we are turning against China, precisely when the nation is reversing two centuries of decline and catastrophes – surely a moment of pride, not of shame.”

    ****end quote****

    Before people get too worked up, I think that one needs to separate individuals from collective, and specific phenomena from general. This is one example, and the one kid may have a unique situation at school (bullying from classmates?) so one should not make too much of it.

    Please do not engage in name-calling against Hong Kongers – this serves no purpose and degenerates the discussion.

    There is no doubt that the relationship between people in Hong Kong and mainland is complicated.

    About this example, all I can say is – children are immature and need to be taught and to learn to have faith in themselves. When your social group treats you as different, there is a tendency to want to hide those differences. You think you can hide. However, this strategy doesn’t work because you are who you are, and the more you try to suppress it, the more you do violence to yourself.

    For this kid, she is clearly the child of mainland parents, but she wants to hide it. This causes grief to her parents, and violates a fundamental confucian value, xiao. But the social group dynamics may be that she needs to do this to get on with her life. Perhaps there is a bullying situation and she doesn’t want to stand out. The problem lies with the social group.

    Hong Kong people need to reflect that, in their desire to distinguish themselves from the mainland, they don’t wind up denigrating the mainland. This is a hard balance to strike.

    When I was growing up in the US, I used to cringe at Chinese who could not speak English well. As an Asian minority, in many contexts I would try to blend in, as attention would sometimes lead to name-calling or other awkward situations. But eventually I learned to accept who I am and accept others as well, and be empathetic to their situations. I learned that whether one spoke good English or not-so-good English or none-at-all, that is not in any way a sign of the quality of that person, and so I should not judge people by that standard. In time, I even came to see this focus on good spoken English as kind of a colonial mentality. Also I learned that distinguishing between some Chinese as “good” and some Chinese as “bad” was in the end self-defeating (e.g., Taiwan vs Mainland), so I don’t like to play that game.

    I think Chinese everywhere are the same, and yet every Chinese person is different. That statement sounds incredibly nonsensical, but it makes perfect sense to me.

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