Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

East or West?

Written by: on June 18, 2015

While reading Kam Louie’s book Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image, three inter-related thoughts kept coming to mind. The first was liminality, but since others from our cohort “called dibs”, I’ll just focus on the other two.


Global City

As I learn more about Hong Kong, I am reminded that large cities share certain characteristics. Sometimes they seem to have more in common with each other than they do with their surrounding home culture. For this reason, people coming from other large cities may find it easier to adapt to a large city in another part of the world than for a rural person moving to a large city within their own country. Aaren Renn lists several characteristics of World Cities:[1]

  • Home to major stock exchanges and indexes
  • Influential in international political affairs
  • Home to world-renowned cultural institutions
  • Service a major media hub
  • Large mass transit networks
  • Home to a large international airport
  • Having a prominent skyline

These characteristics create a sense of belonging to a community that is larger than one’s local geographic region or national culture. World cities represent a culture that is truly global. While Hong Kong is a part of China both geographically and politically, its place in the international community means that it is more than Chinese. This “more than” or “other than” quality leads me to my second observation.



Many of us are familiar with the concept of Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). I have three children that view life from both an American as well as a Mexican perspective. While they can easily function in either culture, they can never fully let go of either culture. The result is that they have developed a third culture that is distinct. They best relate with other third culture kids, even if the cultural background is different from their own.

Hong Kong strikes me as a “Third Culture City”. It is Chinese, yet it is global. It is both Eastern and Western but not fully Eastern or Western. It is part of China, yet “mainland Chinese still need permission to visit Hong Kong, while tourist from many other countries enter visa-free.”[2] Some other characteristics of TCK’s that could apply to Hong Kong are:[3]

  • A life filled with high mobility
  • Traveling is a way of life
  • Politically astute – TCK’s tend to read the newspaper and watch the news more often than other children. They are often aware of the background of political decisions and implications for the people concerned.
  • Speak more than one language – often 3 or 4.
  • Prefer to socialise with other TCK’s as they enter adulthood – often become expatriates themselves.
  • Privileged lifestyle
  • Adapt quickly
  • More welcoming of newcomers into a community.
  • Educational achievers – a high percentage will attend university and obtain advanced degrees.
  • Make great culture bridges – they have multiple frames of reference.

It doesn’t take much effort to see how many of these TCK characteristics can apply to a city like Hong Kong. In the same way that TCK’s are raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years.[4] Hong Kong spent 155 years under British rule, while marinating its connection to China. Now it is under Chinese rule (but with more freedom than Mainland Cities) while maintaining its connection to UK and the world.

So, is Hong Kong Eastern or Western? The answer seems to be yes.


[1] Aaron Renn, “What Is a Global City?,” New Geography, December 7, 2012, accessed June 18, 2015, http://www.newgeography.com/content/003292-what-is-a-global-city.

[2] Kam Louie, ed., Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), 10.

[3] Lesley Lewis, “Third Culture Kids,” Third Culture Kids, accessed June 18, 2015, http://wanjennifer.tripod.com.

[4] Pollock, D.C., & Van Reken, R.E. (2009). Third culture kids: The experience of growing up among worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealy.

About the Author

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

8 responses to “East or West?”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, your points about city-dwellers of a particular nation often having more in common with other city-dwellers than they do their surrounding nationals was really good. I had not thought of that before.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Good point. I am the type of person who prefers small, not quite rural, college towns. When I go to similar towns, I more easily connect. As I’ve travelled for business, I find that there are some cities within the US where I am comfortable, and then others where I struggle and feel out of place.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Brain, Fun comparison to TCK’s. The difference from reading your TCK’s comparison compared to reading others posts about HK being in a liminal space is that if you are right then HK might never get through their liminal space. They might always just live as this “other.” Interesting thought.

  3. Mary Pandiani says:

    Powerful point about the TCK – I was thinking the same, but had already put “dibs” on the liminality. 🙂 I’ll be curious as we continue to operate more globally, will some of the characteristics fall on more and more people? I’m thinking of my daughter in Peru right now for a study abroad. While she isn’t necessarily a TCK, she definitely falls into the descriptions you offer. I feel like kids have to know more about the world than we ever had to.
    As for your first point – also profound about what major cities mean. I keep thinking about how Jesus kept referencing the “cities” with regard to the Kingdom of God. Even Augustine with “City of God” – seems there is something we could learn from cities.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary, it is a keen observation you make about kids’ need to be more globally savvy today than when we were growing up. Take the simple issue of social media as a discussion point. The world is ever-present, literally, in the palms of their hands. Without a framework to interpret these sights and sounds through, confusion and consternation abounds!

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, I relate to this…”These characteristics create a sense of belonging to a community that is larger than one’s local geographic region or national culture.” It often seems silly to me, but I love cities, even though I grew up in a rural community, so much because of a desire of “belonging” to something larger. Some could say it is a matter of geographic recognition, that I say I am from Kalamazoo (bigger city) rather than from Delton when I was growing up. Or now that I say I am from Grand Rapids (bigger city) rather than from Lowell. But it is really the sense of belonging to something bigger, an internal not external desire, that motivates me or that I identify with when I think of “the city” vs. the rural cultural context. Good post and way to sacrifice on the liminal topic. :).

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Yes in the sense that it has to adapt to both or them the UK and China. I am glad that this city is open to Western ideaology and not just Chinas. At the same their culture and their roots are important to learn from!

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