Reminiscent of last week’s conversation about liminal space, Hong Kong appears to be a threshold for the whole world to see as it seeks a new-old identity. The crossroad of Chinese-ness and Western-ness meets on this little island mixed with a bit of China mainland. From 1997 when the British handed her over to Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong emerges ten years later with a glimpse of what her future may be. Kam Louie in his compilation of essays in Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image about the culture of Hong Kong uses images – history, art, urban culture, language, poetry, and film – to explain perspectives that don’t necessarily line up to say the exact same thing, but certainly give tastes of the ethos of Hong Kong. Not exactly Chinese, but no longer Western, yet certainly not separate from those identities.
As Hong Kong tries to negotiate the “one country, two systems” framework set up by China, Louie uses art as a way to explain the chaos and order. Art…is an attempt to bring order out of chaos. (Stephen Sondheim) Through the use of the essays, Louie offers an ethnographic viewpoint, a reflection of life within the culture, by letting the art speak. From the various perspectives in the essays, the authors bring one clear message: Hong Kong is “a multifaceted, polyphonic culture that resists easy homogenization.” (p. 2). While she wants autonomy in its cosmopolitan offerings, she also remains securely connected to China. (For example, Hong Kong did not decline economically as many suspected in the hand over) The return to China’s rule allowed for the birth of a new identity – acknowledging its diversity in globalization while also honoring the historical roots of both British rule and Chinese heritage.
The question emerges from the tension of being in a crossroad – will Hong Kong be able to survive, distinct yet connected? Can she continue to cultivate the creativity as seen in film and poetry, something that goes both ways from Western influence to Asian and Asian influence to Western culture? All the while, China has her own influence with allowing some documentaries, but essentially spurning others. Will one language eliminate another in competition for its use – does it have to be an either/or situation with English, Mandarin, and Cantonese holding their own respective authority? What will remain of Hong Kong as she stands at the crossroads of globalization?
These questions stand not only for Hong Kong but also before the world: can we survive with a distinct yet connected identity in the midst of the reality of globalization? Can creativity continue to emerge as we layer one type of style upon another? Will we have to choose, making either/or decisions, in order to preserve what has been? Are we moving to one world order?
Because I’m always operating as a theologian (according to Grenz and Olson), I begin to ask the question, what is God doing in the midst of these crossroads? Globalization is inevitable, occurring now and will do so even more in the future. Such possibilities and creative notions unfold through the blending of various cultures. But are they at the cost of losing an identity that will never return? And then I have to ask, where is my identity? As a follower of Christ, my identity means I’m not of this world yet I’m in this world. How do I reconcile that?
For the Hong Kong citizen, the uneasiness and disconnected sense of not being Chinese, but not Western either cultivates an openness to a future identity. However, on the other side of the spectrum, the inbetweenness creates an ambiguity to what’s important. Everything becomes a blur. In my faith walk, could my willingness to stay within this liminal state create an openness to God’s work in my identity? But where does the line get crossed where I no longer feel connected because of the lack of clarity?
A couple months back, I stumbled upon a type of music – MASHUP – that was new to me (probably not to any of you). Sam Tsui and Casey Breves sing alongside of each other, synchronizing two entirely different songs, in a beautiful rendition of two love songs. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGgakt3niys) As I listened, the music magically sent me to a place of heartfelt gratitude for how two entirely different and distinct songs can overlap and create something even more beautiful. Something that I cannot explain in words, but experience in music, registered that bringing together differences can actually be a beautiful art piece. I don’t have an answer to my questions above about identity, globalization, Hong Kong’s cultural significance. But I do intuitively believe that there is something about having the same rhythm, a building block if you will, that then allows for something even greater to emerge. Could God provide that rhythm through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then He builds his art pieces, distinct and different, upon that foundation? Perhaps Hong Kong, Sam Tsui/Casey Breves, and Kam Louie are reflecting the possibilities in the image and word that it’s possible.