DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Identity Confusion?

Written by: on June 7, 2018

It is fascinating to read Steve Tsang’s text, A Modern History of Hong Kong chronicling Hong Kong’s political and economic history when my own knowledge and understanding of HK comes from one person’s historical trauma and lived experiences (those of our exchange student, Keira). Keira lived with us for a total of three years (attended one year of high school and two years of college in Ohio). We are anticipating a fun reunion with Keira and her family (who reside in Kowloon) when we reunite with her and her family on our trip to HK in September.

Much of what Tsang writes reiterates the accuracy of political/governmental facts and stories that have been shared with me. What isn’t captured is the historical trauma of the HK people – those who have endured frequent transitions and broken promises by government entities – and the struggle for HK to maintain their independent identity.

Hong Kong’s history of ruler/governance changes – China – Great Britain – Japan – Great Britain – China – has left its more than seven million residents feeling disoriented and disjointed. In the last change of power (21 years ago) from Great Britain back to China, promises of autonomy and independence were made to Hong Kong. These promises included the 1984 creation of “one country, two systems formula, Hong Kong will become part of one communist-led country but retain its capitalist economic system and partially democratic political system for 50 years after the handover.”[1] This formula was developed thirteen years before the scheduled handover in 1997 – and power play with China began almost immediately.  In 1989 “the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square leads to calls for the introduction of further democratic safeguards in Hong Kong.”[2] Fast forward to Hong Kong today – political unrest is heightened and the future of autonomy in governance is uncertain.

How does this impact the people of Hong Kong? It creates identity confusion – “who am I based on my country of origin”? Consider the “identity” we Americans have – there is a constitution which definitively guides our government. We’ve never been at true risk of a “takeover” and can feel confident that the constitution and laws will always guarantee our rights as citizens. HK is not the only country/territory that has dealt with these challenges but what makes them unique is the fact they are an economic powerhouse with significant wealth. Even with their economic and social success, HK has been unable to achieve independence. It merits further study and discussion of culture and oppression (concepts reinforced in several of our texts in our spring and summer semesters). Military experts would tell you this same phenomenon (controlling/corrupt/communist government and political unrest) has hindered the Iraqi people from regaining independence in the wake of overturning their corrupt government and will most likely hinder the North Korean government if they are eventually overturned.

There is actually merit and strength within a Communist and Socialist government (yes I just said that…hear me out).  The biggest benefit?  Social order and control “a well-oiled machine”. Anthony Elliott’s, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction could explain the sociological factors which contribute to oppression and the inability of individuals/societies to move beyond social order. Hong Kong residents have had “tastes of democracy and freedom” which were quickly squashed by the Chinese government. There have been varied degrees of reaction to the Chinese attempts to regain control –from outrage to welcoming – and everything in between.

One way to capture the level of identity confusion in Hong Kong residents is to evaluate their struggles and challenges. Mental health diagnoses are increasing; especially anxiety and depression.  Suicide rates in Hong Kong are even higher than in the United States.  The residents of Hong Kong feel education is a child’s number one priority (and a level of status) so the pressure to perform well is immense.  Students are expected to attend school all day and then attend extra tutoring assistance on evenings and weekends.  Down time and extracurricular activities are rare. Even in this industrialized society where both men and women are expected to work, the deep family values of respect for your elder family members (as explored in Simon Chan’s book Grassroots Asian Theology) are also expected to be upheld. This often means caring for your aging parents and/or grandparents all the while working a job and caring for your own children. Talk about overwhelming expectations! Hong Kong is having a difficult time keeping up with China’s economic success – which creates a new layer of dependence on China. And the idea that the (HK) young people need to learn and understand American culture and language, and have increased opportunities for education, has increased exchange programs across the country. I don’t think it’s widely known that Hong Kong (a city of 7+ Million) only has limited institutions of higher education. Only the best and brightest students are granted access.

The future of government in Hong Kong is uncertain. Young people in HK have shown energy and passion around challenging Chinese rule. The consequences are significant, though, and the reality of continued identity confusion is likely. It makes me think of Jackie Pullinger’s long journey across the ocean to this city. Her ministry is still thriving. Perhaps HK needs to be recognized as an important mission field… I know I was honored to share my home and heart with our sweet Keira.



About the Author


Jean Ollis

13 responses to “Identity Confusion?”

  1. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    So cool you had a foreign exchange student from HK and thats amazing that you will be able to have a reunion. Appreciate your perspective and illuminating the pressures which indeed must be very real.

    Although Im frustrated of the imperial colonization that HK was part, it’s hard for me to see them re-assimilate back into the mainland. It would feel like a loss of freedom in my mind.

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Kyle, we had amazing experiences with exchange students – we sponsored two over the years. I highly recommend the experience when your kids are older.
      I agree that the transition to and from Britain to China is problematic and definitely HK risks losing freedoms.

  2. Mark Petersen says:


    A fascinating post, thank you. Here, in our Western cultures, we have such a short-term perspective.

    The Chinese culture thinks and acts over the long term. 99-year leases. 50-years of two systems in one country. But their eventual goal is unification and domination. Just look at how they are slowly, craftily building islands in the South China Sea off the Filipino coastline.

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Mark – you are so right. It always circles back to our ethnocentrism on culture! Can’t wait to hang out with you and Karen in HK

  3. mm M Webb says:

    I found several ways to translate English into Chinese (traditional, simplified, and Cantonese). It has been exciting to explore. It will be fulfilling to connect with your exchange student in HK and bridge the gap, connect the dots, fulfill your sacrifice and service. Praise God 赞美上帝
    I found a Microsoft Word translator that gives more context and translations for words, phrases, and grammar usage. Amazing what is available if you just search around some!
    I agree, HK is an important mission field. I believe is has survived in part due to the Colonial playbook of claim, conquer, develop trade routes, and establish the church. The ministry of presence from the few Christians at the beginning planted seeds for the harvest.
    M. Webb

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Mike – you always bring good perspective and many talents (ie. finding a good translator – which we found is challenging lol).

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    What a great perspective you bring to the table having hosted an exchange student from HK (btw thats a great abbreviation, I wish I had seen it sooner). The stress of the 50 years coming to a head has to be a difficult thing to manage. How did that play out in your students life while in Ohio?


    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jason!
      Our exchange student spoke often of historical trauma from Japan’s short ruling of them (stories passed down through her family) and fear and anger over China’s attempt to take more power than they originally agreed to. It was interesting that she also felt the demonstrators in the financial district “went too far” – so there’s this mentality that it’s not “safe” to stand up for rights. Interesting for sure!

  5. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    I did not know Hong Kong had limited access to higher education, nor did I know, “Suicide rates in Hong Kong are even higher than in the United States.” With suicide being so prevalent in the news this week (Bourdain, Spade), your Blog is both timely and gut wrenching. Thank you for you in-depth writing and analysis.

    I read an interesting article today, written by the BBC about American suicide rates being on the rise.

    Lisa and I can hardly wait to see you and Ron this Wednesday. Seemed like yesterday we were all riding the ferris wheel together in Hong Kong…

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Jay, the hopelessness that people feel around the world is gut wrenching! No culture/country/religion is exempt. HK has such high standards for their kids and you combine shame on top of that and it makes for a mental health crisis. I hope to connect with some mental health professionals while we are there to hear their perspective.
      I’m in Denver waiting for our flight to Bozeman! We are so excited to connect this week!

  6. What a sad first-hand account of life in Hong Kong. Thanks so much for sharing this and so glad you guys get to reunite with your exchange student (hope we get to meet her too 🙂 ) I also hope the people of Hong Kong rise up and challenge the Chinese rule. Great post as always…look forward to seeing you guys next weekend.

  7. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jake! I will make sure you get to meet her – she’s pretty special and has an amazing sense of humor you would appreciate. The idea of rising up is literally “foreign” in HK – they definitely don’t have the rebel spirit of Americans. I think this stems from the identity confusion…and who can blame them?

  8. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jean, when I first saw the title of your post I thought we would be again posting on something very similar and so I wanted to read your post. There are some similarities in the way of questioning identity but you go much deeper having had a personal experience with a HK native. I appreciate your willingness to share your and her story with us. As I posted on Greg’s blog, I am curious about the need for outside rule and the possibility for HK to self-govern. That may be more foreign still but your sentiments (especially about young people at the end) make me wonder if it’s something we will see in the distant future. I am really looking forward to being there and understanding the culture and nuances of varied leadership firsthand.

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