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.” 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.” 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.