DMINLGP

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

“The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!”

Written by: on September 13, 2018

The announcement came over Facebook, “Are you excited for the Hong Kong Advance? We are!” That declaration came from one our administrators at the seminary encouraging our cohort to get ready for our upcoming trip. Don’t get me wrong, of course I’m excited but right now I can’t get past the thought of having to write about Hong Kong using material from Steve Tsang’s prodigious work on the history of Hong Kong aptly called A Modern History of Hong Kong.

When I say “prodigious” I mean 300+ pages of dense material, covering detail upon detail of Hong Kong’s humble beginnings as a fishing village in the 19th century to the global economic powerhouse it became a century and a half later. The in-between years is fascinating, more like inexplicable¹ how a true partnership between Great Britain, the super power at the time, and China the “sleeping giant” to achieve what no other nation has in the modern era. What could account for this? One of my deepest interests and a hopeful outcome in pursuing a DMin is giving myself space and time to figure out the factors that cause human beings to flourish. Could those be identified? And before we answer that, could we come to a common understanding of what human flourishing is about? 

These are big questions indeed. However I am convinced the history of Hong Kong has some important human flourishing lessons to teach us. According to Tsang in A Modern History of Hong Kong, “The greatest contribution of British rule in this regard was to provide the political framework and social stability that enabled Hong Kong’s economy to flourish”² Elsewhere he states that the reason the economy transformed in dramatic ways in the 1950s “lay in providing the conditions for industries to develop and grow. It maintained political and social stability at a time when neither could be taken for granted in East Asia.”³ What is even more amazing is that all of this was accomplished in Hong Kong without the British formally colonizing it unlike, for example, Africa and India. 

What made Hong Kong work in the way that even impressed unconcerned Chinese leaders? After all, they didn’t really care at all for Hong Kong, until it became their “goose that kept laying golden eggs.” Even Mao, so disinterested that he relegated governance, albeit undefined, to the British, so long as the Chinese people were respected and treated fairly. In fact for a good period of time, Hong Kongers lived relatively stable and peaceful lives without any intervention of a formal government. For several decades leading up to the 1980s Hong Kong was self-governed, enjoying democracy with officially having it. Sure, the British governors presided over the court systems and established basic laws but that was only to maintain an order that already existed. Anyone interested in matters of nation building would be very curious to know the formula that made this British pseudo colony successful. 

I’m sure there is no easy answer to this question. And the possible answers will vary wildly depending on who you ask. However if one were to ask Tsang he would say this:

The vitality and strength of the British economy, politics, armed forces, science, technology and, in their own eyes, their way of life governed by liberal democracy and the Christian faith gave the Victorians venturing to Asia or, for that matter, Africa a sense of superiority over the so-called natives.4

There is no perfect society. That is stating the obvious. Sure there were inequities and discrimination against the natives as part of the backstory of the Sino-British narrative. But even the natives did not think it was any worse than what they had experienced in the mainland. In fact, the situation was so much better in Hong Kong that many Chinese started immigrating en masse to seek better opportunities. By the 1980s, missiologists and anthropologists recognized the problems, shortcomings and challenges of colonization that came with the era of pax Britannica. The history lessons were not wasted on the Britons and when it was time to plan for the eventual return of Hong Kong to China, the British showed genuine concern for the future and welfare of the people of Hong Kong.

I am not sure if Tsang meant to include the Christian faith in a disparaging way. But how else does one explain the incredible progress realized in Hong Kong? Fascism had been defeated, communism that built the Berlin wall demonstrably failed, USSR declined, eventually collapsed and socialism has come to nothing. Confucianism, with its emphasis on moral values and correctness of social relationships could only take China so far. 

What else is left then? Perhaps the answer is Christianity. Yes, even with all the flaws, imperfections and hypocrisy of believers, nations and culture can thrive, and we see it first hand in the case of Hong Kong. It was Christianity that undergirded the careful transition and a genuine care for the wellbeing of the citizens even when Deng, the supreme Chinese leader at the time, doubted and thought it “too alien to take seriously.” It’s in Christianity that we find any sort of cultural mandate (Gen. 1:22; 2:15) to have responsible dominion over all his creation. No other worldview has this view of reality. This point is often times overlooked and glossed over in political and social theory. However, the impetus behind colonization, the thing that drives it and its attachment to the West, namely Christianity, comes from the fact that we (disciples of Jesus) are called to take responsible dominion over creation and extend the Gospel to the farthest reaches of our planet. Of course this interpretation is fraught with controversy which this paper may address at a later time. 

Nonetheless, we would be remiss in our day not to consider the lessons in Hong Kong. Naysayers can point to everything that went wrong but Britons got it right for the most part and deserve the credit. The question remains, as it has for the 7.3 million who live in Hong Kong, will the “one country, two systems” model continue to work long after SAR status of Hong Kong ends? Will China along with neighboring nations like Singapore figure out how to modernize without being Westernized? Will the strong presence of human rights and freedom of religion in Hong Kong remain a key central value in the new Hong Kong in 2047? God only knows but Christians must be guardians of everything that is good, true and beautiful. These are uncertain and yet exciting times when God’s people are called to disciple nations. Do we sit back and do nothing or do we answer the call?

I had fun coming up with the title for this blog post. It was sort of tongue in cheek. A century before Hong Kong was even on the map, Paul Revere rode to warn the settlers of the impending attack of the British forces. A century later, with no armada of warships, with little more than a desire to trade, the British landed bringing with them a new way of life, a culture that is embraced even to this day.

Am I excited to visit Hong Kong? Yes I am.


1Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), 268.

2Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong, 274.

3Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong, 165.

4Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong, 62.

About the Author

mm

Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

9 responses to ““The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!””

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    First of all, I am with you Harry! So excited to head to Hong Kong! I also appreciate your delving into the question of what conditions are required for a nation to flourish. The truth is, as I went through Tsang’s text, I found myself surprised that that the indigenous Chinese managed to flourish given the conditions they were in, and it is a definitely a credit to this people group who seem incredibly resilient. The suggestion you offer is that Christianity is the reason the nation flourished. While I do agree that faith ought to contribute to the resiliency of a people, I felt like capitalism was perhaps the system that undergirded their success. Often capitalism and Christianity seem to co-exist in cultures (though this always seems strange to me). Do you feel that the two influences were integrated more than Tsang acknowledged?

  2. I appreciate your comments Jenn, especially when you started by saying “First of all, I am with you Harry!” Hahaha! Kidding aside, I too had different expectations when I read the book. It was dense, no doubt and the specifics and the minute detail got my head spinning. There were bright spots for me and I believe I picked up on them without my biases getting the best of me. We all have them but I guess we’re now in a program that ought to train our minds to look at things more critically, and to come at it from different angles.

    Capitalism has gotten a bum rap as of late. We all trade with each other. That’s the basics of economics. So there’s nothing wrong there and no one debates that. But one feature of capitalism that might be a source of confusion for many is that for capitalism to work it must come from a liberal view of autonomy on the part of the individual. Once you take the impetus and responsibility away from the individual you end up with something else — at least in my understanding. What makes capitalism bad is greed. But capitalism itself isn’t bad.

    I think Christianity and capitalism go together easily, as you’ve observed, is because of the shared values between Christianity and capitalism: freedom and responsibility.

    The book highlighted some of this. Hong Kong was self-governing for a long time. The PRC didn’t mind them, which translated to fewer regulations on what the citizens can and cannot do. The British came and wanted to trade and since they didn’t want to colonize them in the traditional sense, they were left alone to flourish. All the British did was to make sure people didn’t hurt each other — minimum government.

    I look to our faith and I see something similar. When we were under the law, all we cared about was confining our beliefs and behavior within them. The law becomes our taskmaster according to the book of Romans. That’s not hard to see. But if we’re truly free, and under grace, the love we show each other, to God and our obedience gives it that much more meaning. I do the good things out of love, out of my own free will and not out of coercion.

    I don’t know if that helps. Good question.

  3. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi Harry. Great post and good questions/insights. The whole human flourishing thing requires a good look at Aristotle’s Eudaimonia (happiness/ flourishing). Best to read about him rather than his original works. There’s plenty online. Though it may see philosophically abstract, eudaimonia is to a large extent the very things politicians have attended to since the Roman empire – how to keep the people happy. For most Governments, civil unrest/war is their worst fear, and it was no different in Hong Kong. So, given that you mention the influence of Christianity on the development of Hong Kong society, in what ways do you think the British legal system and policy-making had Christian roots?

    • Thanks for this Digby. Good suggestion on reading Aristotle on eudaemonia. I think I need to add that to my SLP and annotated bibliography. Another source that I love is Jonathan Edwards on the same subject. I’ll need to add him to the list as well.

      I’m no expert on any legal system, but one thing I know about the UK is that one of the official titles of the monarchy is ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. So yes, there is a strong link between Christianity and the laws in the UK that later became known as common law which eventually got imported to other nations, i.e., U.S., Canada, etc.

  4. Thank you Harry Edwards, You have brought out an issue that I’m very passionate about on how human beings can flourish and aptly associated it with Christianity. I agree with you on this because there’s evidence that wherever Christianity flourishes, the people also flourish. Europe flourished after Christianity spread and its also true of the USA. The founding fathers of the US established it as a nation that glorifies God and based the legal system and governance on Christian values. Christian values under-guard good morals that form an important part of a system that allows for people to freely exercise their abilities and seize opportunities to improve their lives. It is also true that where evil prevails, people are curtailed from the free exercise of their abilities and fear and mistrust denies them opportunity. i will quote Proverbs 14:34..”Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people”.

  5. mm Sean Dean says:

    I have a hard time with the argument that the Christianity of the British was important for the flourishing of the people of Hong Kong. I say this because over the course of the history of British colonization the church was very often used as a tool (or weapon in some instances) of the state. In fact that is in large part why the founders of the United States added the separation of the church from the state in the writing of the U.S. constitution. Sure the Christianity of the British influenced their highest ideals, but as Jenn and John have pointed out their highest ideals were not commonly applied within the governing of their colonies. I tend to think that it was capitalism and the sustained growth as a result were more important in the flourishing of the people of Hong Kong than the Christian ideals of the British.

    • Hi Sean. Thanks for your post. I agree with you that the church did not behave in Christian ways at times. In fact I do blame Christians (broadly defined) for much of societal ills today in the West. However, are you not able to see anything good come about because of Christianity? Good in a sense that more good than bad was produced. Also, you mention capitalism, but what in capitalism is bad and what is good? Or is there anything good in capitalism? Curious, what would you offer in its place? Love the conversations and looking forward to learning from your perspective when I meet you in HK.

  6. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Thanks for sharing your post, Harry. I smiled at (and agreed with) your statement about the book being ‘prodigious.’ I also appreciated your reflection on the British showing genuine concern for the future of the people of Hong Kong. It was very insightful of you to recognize this concern that was shown by the British. It will be interesting to experience Hong Kong up close and personal.

  7. Adelia says:

    please tell me how to modify code, ’cause my RX-TX don’t have failsafe feature…Most impoprtant point is choosing words

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *