In September of 1988, when I was 17 years old, I travelled to Hong Kong with my parents. My father was in charge of the Asian market for a high-tech company based in Oregon, and having made several trips across the Pacific, he had fallen in love with the city and was eager to share it with me.
It was my first trip overseas, and I remember feeling overwhelmed by the smells and sights as we exited the airport, dizzy with jetlag. My dad had arrived a week ahead of us for work-purposes, so my mom, who had already been to Hong Kong a few times before, skillfully hailed a taxi and got us to the hotel.
Everything felt foreign. Driving on the left side of the road. Eating with chopsticks. Cantonese lettering on billboards. The smell of the sea mingled with pollution. The view of rising green mountains mingled with concrete high rises.
The shopping was out of this world! Eel-skin wallets, tailor-made suits, silk ties, and knock-off watches and Gucci bags abounded. I bought a Hong Kong Hard Rock Café T-shirt (a must-have souvenir in the 80s) and a leather jacket. My dad had two suits made, each with an extra set of pants. His name was embroidered on the inside pocket of each blazer to prevent getting lost at the dry-cleaner. My mom was thrilled with her new Fendi purse.
Through his many trips to Hong Kong, my dad made friends with some business associates, all of whom took Western names for their dealings with Americans. One of his closest friends was a man who had taken the name Keith Thomas, but went by K.T. for short, which was funny to me, because it sounded like his name was “Katie,” a girl’s name. K.T.’s wife took the name Judy, and over the years this couple became a part of our extended family. In fact, K.T. and Judy’s first son is named after my father. This is because my dad was not just a business colleague to K.T. and Judy, he was the man who introduced them to Jesus Christ and discipled them from afar.
As the time drew near for Hong Kong to be returned to China, K.T and Judy (and many like them) made the very hard decision to emigrate to another country. They feared that the freedoms to which they had grown accustomed under British rule might be stripped away once the PRC was calling the shots. K.T. and Judy and their three sons now live in Australia, having immigrated in 1995.
Steve Tsang’s Modern History of Hong Kong offers an amazing survey of a unique city. The socio-political profile and history of Hong Kong is unlike that of any other city in the world, having been a British colony that was peacefully “surrendered” at the pre-arranged time. In his conclusion, Tsang describes the powerful impact that Christopher Patten had as the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, explained that even though he himself was not an elected official, he legislated as if he were running a democracy. He made huge reforms, but unfortunately those reforms did not survive once the PRC took over. Tsang writes, “Although the dismantling of much of Patten’s reforms in 1997 set Hong Kong back in its democratic development, it did not destroy the local people’s faith in democracy.” Though the official policy is “one country, two systems,” the PRC still has the final call on how Hong Kong will be governed.
But back in the nineties, when Patten was making strides towards democracy within the colony of Hong Kong, K.T. and Judy were having to discern whether or not they believed those strides would be sustained once China was in control. And though it was painful for them to leave their home country and family behind, they sincerely feared that their ability to live freely as followers of Christ would be drastically challenged under the PRC, and they chose, instead, to move. Were they appropriately pessimistic?
According to information found on the US State department website, “The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, states residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.” In fact, Christians in Hong Kong seem to be using their religious freedom to advocate for their oppressed brothers and sisters on the mainland. “According to Christian Daily, in April more than 50 Christians marched to the Hong Kong-based Central Government Liaison Office to protest the Central Government’s treatment of Christian groups on the Mainland.”
At the same time, the possibility of religious restriction being imposed on Hong Kong by the PRC is an ongoing concern. Some Christians believe that “PRC religious affairs regulations could have a negative effect on Hong Kong’s religious freedom.” But from all reports I can find online, it seems that though tenuous, religious freedom is still enjoyed in Hong Kong.
Interestingly, Patten himself has written a review of Tsang’s book. Patten’s surprisingly optimistic conclusion, 20 years later, is this:
What is true, however, is that Hong Kong represents an idea in harmony with Confucian tradition and modern demands–an idea of how Chinese men and women can govern themselves, bringing together benevolent authority and representative participation. This is an idea whose time will come in China, as surely as the sun rises each morning over the Great Wall that girdles the country on whose success so much of our future depends.
What catches my attention is the tension between “benevolent authority and representative participation.” I’m again reminded of Chan’s understanding of ressourcement and aggiornamento.” Ressourcement might also be understood as the “benevolent authority” of the past—or of orthodoxy—held in tension with aggiornamento, which corresponds here with “representative participation.” Patten sees this as the future of Hong Kong. I’m not sure from whence his optimism springs, but it seems to spring from his faith in the people of Hog Kong to be patient and peaceful reformers.
I wonder how many Christians emigrated from Hong Kong and how many stayed behind in hopes of being part of a patient and peaceful reformation.
 Steve Yui-Sang Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong (London: Tauris, 2007). 268.
 “China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong,” U.S. Department of State, accessed June 7, 2018, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2016/eap/268726.htm.
 “China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong.”
 “China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong.”
 Christopher Patten, “Eastern Promise,” New Statesman, May 3, 2004.
 Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2014). 7.