Ever since Hong Kong became a big tourist destination, the image of Hongkies as coarse, rude and greedy seemed to take hold of the Western imagination. I’ve never been a subscriber to this caricature; folks from Hong Kong strike me as down-to-earth, hardworking and pragmatic. If you’re not setting yourself up to be fleeced on the Golden Mile, then the people you meet will respect you if you are respectful.
Hong Kong has also been looked down on for its working class character once you get off Hong Kong Island. For me, this is part of its charm, and for many decades this deceptively well-formed identity was the backbone of one of the world’s three most prolific film industries (along with India and the US). Before it more or less collapsed a few years ago, Hong Kong’s movie industry had the most organic and rapid-response relationship between filmmaker and audience anywhere in the world.
Now all of this is in flux, and Hongkies are in the process of working out what to do with their sub-national identity as Chinese control over local politics and business increases.
But every now and then comes a sharp reminder, like a kick in the solar plexus, that Hong Kong folk still have character and are prepared to exercise it.
Jackie Chan (成龍), enter stage left.
Dear reader, no doubt you have heard about Jackie’s unfortunate comments at the Boao Forum in Hainan last weekend. For mine, I’m surprised they caused so much fuss, because we’ve known for a while that Jackie is much more convincing as a singin’, dancin’, kickin’ celebrity and charity maven than a Beijing flunky.
Still, when the big boys up north want you to talk, you talk. And talk he did: Thanks to Jackie, we now know that ordinary Chinese people need to be controlled and that Hong Kong and Taiwan are chaotic and have too much freedom. Later, with a flourish, he praised Singapore’s kleptocracy for banning chewing gum and accused ordinary Singaporeans of having no self-respect.
Disappointing words, one must admit, though I was much more disappointed when I heard that US President Barack Obama’s daughters did not call their new puppy “Hugo.”
Don’t be deceived by the international news wires. The reaction in Taiwan has actually been quite mute — except among those hunting for political capital, a few bloggers with too much time on their hands and nervous Deaflympics organizers.
And why should that come as a surprise? The Tiananmen Square Massacre hardly registered on the local meter back in 1989; more recently, when Jackie thumbed his nose at Taiwan after the 2004 presidential election, he still managed to visit without getting his teeth kicked in. When the insults fly, my compatriots are made of sterner stuff, it seems; either that or they just don’t give a shit.
The response in China was moderated by the press mostly not reporting the comments (a canny bit of censorship, that), though remarkably candid comment made its way into some outlets, not to mention China’s boundless army of Internet users getting in on the act.
The New York Times, for example, reported that People’s Daily commentator Li Hongbing gave Jackie a serve, while Beijing Institute of Technology economics professor Hu Xingdou (胡星斗) was quoted as saying: “It’s easy to sacrifice freedom when you’re treated like a V.I.P. or some high-level official every time you come to China. … I’m sure Jackie Chan has never thought about the suffering of the little people who have no power.”