With an upcoming trip to Hong Kong, Louie’s book Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image, provides some context and a baseline of understanding that will help me to make sense of my experience. My knowledge of Hong Kong culture has come through my clouded American lens, and I’m sure is distorted by media exposure and false assumptions. My image is that of a large, cosmopolitan city. In a sense, I think of it as the Asian New York City. According to Louie, the city can be thought of as a cultural fault-line, or a place where Chinese culture is interpreted for westerners. Essentially, Hong Kong carries a hybrid cultural identity that has emerged from an exchange between Chinese and English influences.
I found it interesting that Louie mentions that tourism in Hong Kong used to be primarily westerners, but today tourists are primarily people from mainland China. I have to wonder why Westerners are no longer drawn to the city as in the past. Could it be that the city seems too familiar? The city today shows influences from the Western world through increasing democratic practice, art, and media. Yet, in 1949 a large influx of people from Shanghai contributed to the political and economic landscape. Since the 1980s, Hong Kong has become a New Asian regional identity. The culture seems to be in the flux of rapid change, while at the same time bridging traditional Chinese culture and modern ideas and a globalized mindset.
In the arts scene, the Hong Kong brand has gained space on the international market. My observation is a sense of Chinese tradition propagated in a modern, westernized format. Louie’s book provides context about culture from the perspective of art, by providing essays contributed by participants of an academic conference. Yet, the book doesn’t provide insight into the way that business, political or economic factors have contributed to the culture that exists today or how culture has impacted other factors of society. Consider that there is even a Disney Park in Hong Kong, which opened in 2005. When my daughter was younger, Mulan was introduced as a Disney princess. I remember much controversy as the Chinese people felt she wasn’t very Chinese. Certainly Western influence can be assumed to impact the culture, but I also assume that changes within Hong Kong have allowed Asian culture to also gain a greater voice the international world. In a sense, it seems that Hong Kong may be a place, or space, where Chinese culture is being communicated through an international stage. It makes me wonder how distorted the traditional culture has become in Hong Kong, compared to the rest of the world.
My overall perspective and sense about Hong Kong hasn’t changed dramatically after reading Louie’s book. I still see it somewhat as the Asian NYC. This said, I know that I must engage directly within the culture to truly capture a sense of the city and people. But, I also know that Hong Kong doesn’t represent all Chinese cultures, just as NYC doesn’t represent all cultures in America. For one to understand Hong Kong, one must experience Hong Kong. It is a destination in a sense for me, yet a city that seems to be on a journey to an unknown destination.
Kam Louie, ed., Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010).