The Absence of De-Colonization in Hong Kong

(InMediaHK)  The Absence of De-Colonization in Hong Kong - Part 2.  By Leung Man-tao (梁文道).  June 28, 2007.

[in translation]

Since the current political system and the administrative methods are basically the same as during the British colonial era and this system was obviously unfair and undemocratic, so why do the "patriots" who fought the British colonists not persist with their fight against the system?  Why does the central government not welcome a de-colonization movement under the banner of democracy?  We have debated this topic for many years, but the answer is so simple that you must be stupid to keep asking.  However, if you think about it further, this is not such a stupid question and the answer is not so simple.

Mr. Louis Cha recently discussed openly the progress of democracy in Hong Kong.  He said: "If there is no democracy in China, then there can be no democracy in Hong Kong."  These words are bound to offend the democrats, but hasn't Mr. Szeto Wah expressed the same ideas many times before?  In my view, this idea is very accurate.  The reason is not about the propagation and intensification of democracy in China, but it is a practical consideration of the systems.

"One country, two systems" is not a permanent arrangement.  It is just a transient system with a limited lifetime.  Most people think that the limit is 50 years.  So then why are we talking daily about the "practical implementation" of "one country, two systems" but we rarely speak about our view of what happens over the next 40 years?  According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong will eventually implement universal suffrage of the Chief Executive and Legislative Council.  If these goals are achieved in 2012 or 2017, then what happens afterwards?  If "one county, two systems" reaches its expiration date like canned food, then will the Hong Kong Chief Executive become a mayor plus the party secretary who are not elected by the people, and the Hong Kong Legislative Council become the present People's Congress?  Or does it mean that provincial and municipal level administrative regions will also have some kind of double universal suffrage?

Apart from the argument that the reform of the system is too fast and therefore the central government does not want to move to universal suffrage too quickly, another reason against reforming is what Anthony Cheung Bing-leung called "Hong Kong independence."  For many Hong Kong people, the notion of Hong Kong independence is a sheer fantasy.  They don't understand how the pursuit of democracy can be linked to Hong Kong independence.  But from the viewpoint of Beijing, this worry is very real and it has always been linked with the democratization of Hong Kong.

For example, the Mark Young plan was the first political reform attempt after the Second World War and it brought hope to the development of democracy in Hong Kong.  There used to be a rumor that this plan was opposed vigorously by China and therefore it was shelved.  But would London really back off for that reason?  Or were they considering the difficulty in future administration and the complicated international situation at the start of the Cold War?  Even though this rumor is not reliable, there were other hints about the attitude of Beijing.

Ten years ago, CCTV made a documentary <One Hundred Years of Hong Kong> on the occasion of the return of Hong Kong.  Here was how the Mark Young plan was described: "Sir Mark Young's ultimate goal was to let the Chinese people participate in politics.  This Hong Kong governor had declared sincerely that the Mark Young plan was intended to give a sense of belongingness to the people of Hong Kong and to fend off the return of Hong Kong to China, such that they will accept British rule.  Even though this plan harbored evil intentions, it contained some superficial democratic flavors.  Ultimately, it could avoid being shelved."  (See Wang Hongzhi 王宏志's <The Heaviness of History 歷史的沉重>, page 115).  This is the consensus of the mainland Chinese literature about the "Mark Young plan."  Any politics with democratic flavor will emphasize the identification of Hong Kong people with Hong Kong so that they will boycott or even resist any attempt to be re-united with China.

The same ideas arose during the debate over the political reform plan of Chris Patten.  The Chinese believed that "if this were allowed to continue, the British government will return governance to the Hong Kong people" and "not to China (see page 116 of the previously cited book)."  In other words, there was always the danger "Hong Kong independence and resistance against China" in the democratization of Hong Kong.  Democratic politics will make the voters identify more with the leaders that they elected and their region, as opposed to the (non-elected) central government and the entire nation.  Therefore, the July 1st 2003 march slogan of "return governance to the people" made certain "patriot elements" nervous because they saw it as the emergence of Hong Kong independence consciousness.  So when any democrat travels overseas to lobby for international attention about democracy in Hong Kong, there will be condemnations about corroboration with foreign powers.  This is because such actions remind such people about the "conspiracies" hatched by British men such as Mark Young and Chris Patten.

The central government is concerned about Hong Kong independence and the subsequent loss of control in the future of "one country, two systems."  In addition, everybody knows that the central government has certain unique characteristics.  Therefore, de-colonization of the Hong Kong political systems is impossible to implement or even discuss.  The other route left seems to be "winning the return of hearts and minds."  So the pro-China elements are always trying to get everybody to believe that "if you want democracy, you must accept that you are Chinese."  Promoting patriot education and citizen identification are not irrelevant to democracy; instead, they are essential steps in democratization.  The pro-China believes that only when 100% of the Hong Kong people identify with their nation, the central government will no longer fear Hong Kong independence and then double universal suffrage has a chance to be realized.

Is the problem really because the Hong Kong people are not sufficient patriotic and they do not identify themselves as Chinese citizens?  Even though many surveys indicate that some citizens regard themselves more as Hong Kong persons than Chinese persons, there are other scholars such as Eric Ma (馬傑偉) who have interpreted the many reasons why Hong Kong people resist identifying with China.  But I do not believe that this is a very serious problem.  It may even be as Chen Guanzhong said: this is a "false issue."  These types of surveys do not delve deeply into the various levels of definitions of "Hong Kong person" versus "Chinese person."  If you take the same set of questions to Shanghai, you may find some people saying that they are Shanghainese instead of Chinese.  People have multiple levels of identification.  Nationhood and cityhood are not mutually exclusive, just as people do not necessarily have to choose between their identities as either mother or wife.

Without being redundant, Hong Kong society relied primarily on immigrants and it has always maintained a self-awareness of its Chinese identify.  This is completely different from what certain mainland publications have suggested.  The colonial education never made the Hong Kong people identify with and become loyal to the British Empire.  Towards the end of colonial rule, London was an almost non-existent capital and Hong Kong was a colony without colonialism.  At the time, most students have learned Chinese history, while very few (if any) schools taught British history.  You can speak to people in the street and how many of them know about the Magna Carta or Oliver Cromwell?  It is the quintessence of colonial rule that they will not touch the nationalism of the Hong Kong Chinese people and they will not actively promote citizen education.  Instead, they maintain the neutrality of the rulers in order to rule easier.  After the June 4th incident, there was a "revival of nationalism" movement in Hong Kong and the national identification of the Hong Kong people was raised up to another level.

So when Hong Kong wants to have patriotic education, it is a waste of time to want to talk only about the greatness of Chinese history and the glory of its culture.  Most Hong Kong people are not totally ignorant of Chinese history and they will not deny that they are Chinese.  The present patriotic education is like my father reminding me each morning: "You must remember that your name is Leung.  Your father's name is Leung.  Your father's father's name is Leung ..."  If my father were to lecture me every day in this manner, I will definitely have to take him to visit a doctor.  Why do we want to keep teaching a bunch of Chinese people that they must recognize that they are Chinese? 

The next question is whether this type of identification is missing a certain level of citizen identification?  Could the patriotism of the Hong Kong people be just a cultural sentiment (the so-called blood relationship is actually the result of the structure of the culture) and does not include any identification as a political group (including the system)?  I think that most people feel that way.  The reason includes the usual historical reasons, but there is actually a more practical system aspect -- the alienation induced by "one country, two systems."  

The simplest example is that during the period of the Two Congresses in China, all the news media placed those news at the most prominent spots.  Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the mainland Chinese news section showed up after the local news section.  Not only that, because most Hong Kong people are clueless as to what those two Congresses are about.  It would seem that the Hong Kong people don't care about the motherland, and they put their local trivia ahead of the issues that are important to the entire nation.

But do the happenings at the Two Congresses have any material impact on Hong Kong?  Almost nothing.  The important decisions of the central government have nothing to do with the daily lives of the people of Hong Kong.  Does the elimination of the agricultural tax affect Hong Kong?  The passing of the property rights law?  The amendment of how the taxpayers pay their personal taxes?  These policies which intimately affect mainland citizens do not affect Hong Kong.  Since we live under different systems, how can there be any sense of group belongingness and mutual bonding?  Even if the students are taught to learn the national laws and systems, they only "know" about it without there be any meaning for them.

The people of Hong Kong are obviously still living in a society in which a colonial system dominates.  But the central government is wary of de-colonization.  It is afraid of Hong Kong independence and it is afraid that the people of Hong Kong have poor national identification.  Therefore, the Hong Kong SAR government and the pro-China elements are trying their best to educate the people.  But cultural and history education are repetitious and boring to many Hong Kong people.  The truly needed education for national identification is unreal on account of "one country, two systems."  This is a supremely ironic historical dilemma.  Ten years ago, we were talking about "the return of sovereignty."  Now we are talking about "the return of hearts and minds."  But "de-colonization" has always been stuck with nowhere to proceed.