Hong Kong is a story narrated by different epic poets. They rarely come to agreement, yet each claims to be the sole author of this story.
Despite the end of British rule in 1997, it is curious that people with the most divided prospects of the territory — Chinese officials and leftists, as well as localists — coincidentally claim that Hong Kong is not yet decolonized.
Nevertheless, we should not be misguided by the words, for the different parties base their judgements on mutually opposing ideologies. Once we look into their respective interpretations of the statement “Hong Kong is not yet decolonized,” we discover no common ground, only profound ruptures, which fuel the political unrest in the former British colony.
The narratives diverge at how different authors interpret the handover of Hong Kong to China.
Chinese officials, naming this event unanimously as Hong Kong’s “return to the motherland,” regard the reunification with the ceded territory the end of the colonial era, the “shameful history” of modern China.
However, the constant resistance to the will of Beijing and the strengthening of a local identity teach the central government a lesson — “the hearts of Hong Kongers” have not yet returned to the motherland together with the territory.
“Desinicization is at work, but there is no decolonization,” said Chen Zuoer (陳佐洱), a top Beijing official in charge of Hong Kong affairs.
Blaming the colonial legacy, especially the so-called “colony complex” of the citizens, for unpopular Chinese authority has long been a consensus in government offices. As a result, the speeding up of “decolonization,” for example through the introduction of patriotic education, is prioritized on the political agenda in Hong Kong, which ironically leads to more trenchant opposition from activists across the political spectrum.
Meanwhile, the pro-democracy activists, especially the leftists, whose motives are more equipped with post-colonial theory, have their own version of why Hong Kong is still, in a sense, under colonial rule.
In contrast to the official ideology which goes hand in hand with the centralization of power in Beijing, for the leftists, decolonization means rectifying the autonomy of the people who were once structurally oppressed. However, hindrances are large for institutional and ideological reasons.
On the one hand, Chinese leaders deliberately preserve an executive-dominance system, together with limited checks and balances of the police force, as well as certain privileged groups, which are all policies and measures inherited from British colonial days.
In addition, as the sociologist Lui Tai-lok (呂大樂) describes metaphorically, there is widespread wishful thinking — among policymakers as well as investors and residents — to “freeze” Hong Kong, namely to keep the old laissez faire economy intact to secure the stability and prosperity enjoyed before the handover.
Law Wing-sang (羅永生), a renowned post-colonial Hong Kong theorist, has said that these hindrances are the immediate results of the “passive return” in 1997, as Hong Kong residents played no role to determine their own future, hence the failure to establish the “subjectivity” of Hong Kongers and an infinite deferral of the decolonization project.
Social activists who are motivated by a leftist agenda consciously resume such a suspended task.
Hong Kong Legislator Eddie Chu (朱凱迪), founder of the Land Justice League, strives to sweep away the infamous “collusion between the government, businesses, rural forces and triads” for “redeeming the decolonization debt.”
Then-Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), in his 2015 policy address, openly accused the 2014 February issue of Undergrad, the magazine of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union, and a book published by Undergrad of “putting forward fallacies,” which ironically boosted sales of the book.
The issue of the magazine singled out by Leung featured the cover story “Hong Kong [a] nation determining its own fate.”
In the same year, the editors expanded this into a book, Hong Kong Nationalism.
These works represent the earliest attempts to theorize a local identity independent from China. Their followers, known as the localists, interpret the 1997 handover as the “fall” of Hong Kong to a new foreign aggressor, hence colonial rule continues in spite of the changed national flag.
For the localists, decolonization means first and foremost expelling Chinese intervention to achieve the de facto independence of Hong Kong. As long as their fellow democrats still recognize themselves as Chinese and therefore “beg for mercy” from Beijing, they believe real autonomy is impossible.
These three narratives of the Hong Kong story are mutually incompatible.
Whenever the epic poets meet, they criticize each other from their distinct point of views. In the eyes of Chinese officials, any noncompliance with the central government is evidence of the “colony complex” planted by British conspirators.
Meanwhile, for the leftists, nationalism of any kind will always prove harmful to the final construction of civil society.
The localists simply find it hopeless to ask for democratic reform from a shameless totalitarian regime.
Will the right to autonomy, as promised in the Hong Kong Basic Law, be realized?
Wir fur Hongkong is a group of Hong Kongers in Germany, volunteering to support the democratic movement in Hong Kong.
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