Hong Kong is a city where Eastern and Western cultures collide. Asian culture flourished for hundreds of years before the British took possession of Hong Kong in 1841. For 156 years, the city was under British colonial rule. During that time period, two different cultures interacted with each other. On some level, a new subculture was formed and is still evolving today. Kam Louie, in his book Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image, explores the culture through social expressions by many different authors, poets, film directors, linguists, and essayists.
While I liked Louie’s book, it only focuses on exploring Hong Kong culture through a narrow lens of entertainment and art. I would have liked to have seen the author explore how business and economics have also influenced the culture. Unlike Mainland China, Hong Kong operates on the western model of free market enterprise. This business model encourages initiative thinking, and many times, rebelling against the status quo to achieve a new idea or dream.
When I worked in corporate America, a colleague that I worked with told stories of what Hong Kong was like back in the 1980’s. The individual travelled to Hong Kong a couple times a year, and he explained it as a place where anything goes. His stories reminded me of the Roman Empire from the time of Christ, where anything was permissible and acceptable. Now that Hong Kong is under Chinese rule, I wonder if it is still as free in the sense that everything is permissible.
I’m excited to explore and dig into depth the culture when I visit, and to gain insight from local people to understand how much China’s culture is changing Hong Kong’s cultural landscape. Has Hong Kong maintained significant colonial traits or are they shifting more towards a traditional Asian model? Colonialism has tended towards individualism, vs. the family, community lifestyle that you expect to see with Asian cultures.
The only other Asian culture that I’ve experienced is Singapore. In Singapore, I felt that they took the best of Asian Tradition and culture and married this with Western modernism. They aren’t resistant to change, innovation, or commerce. However, they are a very strict or rule oriented society. When I was there, we weren’t allowed to chew gum, tobacco was banned, and there were cameras in the restrooms. People would be fined if they didn’t flush the toilettes. I’m sure poverty exists, but I didn’t see it. It was one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been in. I felt that Singapore was able to develop their own culture and identity, and I wonder how their independence has contributed to their cultural stability. In comparison, I wonder how Hong Kong’s lack of independence has impacted their ability to solidify their culture.
Kam Louie, ed., Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011)