DMINLGP

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

When the Sun Set on the British Empire

Written by: on June 14, 2018

When we moved to Kenya, we spent our first twelve months learning the language and culture of the people we were living among. There were no language schools, and very few books about Turkana, but we read what we could find. We hired a language helper to guide us in learner-directed language acquisition. During that year, we tried to do very little except begin to grasp an understanding of our new neighbors. In local terms, we were learning extispicy—the practice of reading goat entrails for the purpose of understanding the local context. In scriptural terms, we were exegeting the place. It was with that posture, one of being humble learners, that we gained the respect of our neighbors, the elders, and the church leaders. To this day, most Turkana still speak very highly of us because of that posture and our respect for them.

It comes as no surprise, however, that those in power in Hong Kong—especially the colonial authorities— did not approach their role in that way. To be honest, I grow weary of hearing tales of past and present where outsiders come in to a place, assert their authority, and don’t take time to learn about the people they now oversee. When the final British governor of Hong Kong was appointed, Chris Patten, the Chinese government “wondered whether the new man—who had no understanding of Chinese thinking and was probably primarily concerned with British interests” would help or hinder a smooth transition of Hong Kong back to Chinese oversight.[1] Patten and the British did not approach the transition process with a posture of respect for Chinese ways. Unlike his predecessor, Patten did not visit Beijing before publicly announcing his political proposals. This led the Chinese to assume that the Brits understood that the proposals were resolved. The Chinese “considered it at best a deliberate affront and at worst a sly move to undermine Chinese sovereignty.”[2] There were many assumptions and “inaccurate assessments” on the part of the Chinese, because the British did not approach the process in a way that recognized Chinese relationship styles.

These misunderstandings then, by the Chinese, led the British to “close ranks” and double down on their proposals in order to not lose “credibility and authority.” [3] Thus, the back and forth of misinterpretations and hardline tactics preceded the turnover of Hong Kong. The final institutional structure prepared for Hong Kong, what the Chinese called the “new kitchen” was shaped largely without any British input.[4] And throughout this entire process, the people of Hong Kong themselves were left out of the conversation.

And yet. As the balance of power shifted from the global colonial dominance of Britain to the reprising stature of China, both entities celebrated the smooth transfer. The people of Hong Kong were—and are—a vibrant blend of East and West, materially successful, and a jewel of achievement and pride in the Chinese crown. But I wonder if the people’s participation in shaping their place might have made a difference in what the region looks like.

I wonder what Hong Kong would look like today if the British had appointed a governor who knew the culture and language of the Chinese (or was willing to learn), who understood the context of Hong Kong. I wonder if a posture of respect and listening by the colonial rulers might have diminished the mistrust of the Chinese. I wonder if a willingness to be shaped and influenced by those he was leading might have given Patten a legacy of honor in the remembrance of this transition process. Patten (and the colonial government) would have benefitted from Robert Quinn’s challenge that deep change requires that we “surrender control as it is normally understood…. We join with others in relationships of trust.” Visionary leaders “are not acting upon people—they are acting with them.”[5] It is both this collaborative learning and the willingness to lead by learning and humility that mark a leader that people want to follow.

[1] Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong, (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 257.

[2] Ibid., 258.

[3] Ibid., 260.

[4] Ibid., 267.

[5] Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change Field Guide, (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2012), 9.

About the Author

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Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

9 responses to “When the Sun Set on the British Empire”

  1. Mary says:

    From the very start diplomacy was a big problem in Hong Kong. Tsang talked about how the Chinese leaders would not receive the British envoys and how frustrating it was. I guess then as now communication can sometimes be lacking.
    I wonder, Katy, if with all of our modern devices communication should be better now? Do we have fewer excuses for not trying to “surrender control as it is normally understood…. We join with others in relationships of trust.”?

  2. ' says:

    “But I wonder if the people’s participation in shaping their place might have made a difference in what the region looks like.”

    When Britain took possession of Hong Kong, there were no cities. Just a few fishing and farming villages. Hong Kong Island was mostly barren (as many of the other Islands in the area are today). The reason that this remote, sparsely populated land became a mega city is because of Great Britain. Millions fled China to seek the protection and security of British rule. This is not to justify Britain’s overly paternalistic policies that wreaked of racial superiority. But we need to realize that most of those who live in Hong Kong today of descendants of refugees who escaped China to seek out a new life under the British rule.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Colonialism is complicated, as you and I both recognize, Stu. In my experience of leftover British colonialism in Kenya, one could not simply label their occupation of Kenya as primarily “good” OR “bad.” The context and history of both occupations is obviously quite different, but I still maintain that the transition process in Hong Kong largely did not allow the actual residents of HK to weigh in on their future.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Katy,

    I love your comment on the Visionary leader. Many leaders have a vision for what they believe the world should be. We can only be a visionary leader of inclusiveness with we are operating in the Spirit of Christ.
    The comments surfacing from some of the evangelical leaders quoting a snip of the scripture out of context but to support their vision – I am concerned but praying that God provides favor on the people of America and this world to correct their wrongness.

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes, Katy- “To be honest, I grow weary of hearing tales of past and present where outsiders come into a place, assert their authority, and don’t take time to learn about the people they now oversee.” Me too. Just had this thought: maybe we are being triggered a bit as women, as we identify with the people being overtaken by another country, as “the country of men”, have rarely taken time to view the world from the women’s perspective. But rather, throughout history, women have been “conquered and influenced” to embody the dominating perspective of themselves as a “country” marginalized and dismissed as insane or unintelligent when different perspectives are provided to the contrary. History is recounted mainly through the eyes of men, and success is most often defined by male characteristics. Like the Hong Kong people, I think “the country of women” is a bit weary of men coming into their country, dismissing them, dominating them and telling us to say “thank you” for the improvements they made for us. It makes me want to so honor whatever “country” I enter as it has been unpleasant to be on the receiving end of a people group who seems to know who I am and what’s best for me.

    “I wonder what Hong Kong would look like today if the British had appointed a governor who knew the culture and language of the Chinese (or was willing to learn), who understood the context of Hong Kong.” I wonder this too and have often wondered this with the origin of Hong Kong. I also wonder what our country would have been today if we had the influence and respect of more women leaders. And if our male counterparts had learned to understand the context of women throughout history instead of excluding and labeling them. Where would our church be if women had been advocated for and protected? Who could we have been as a country?
    Thanks for your thoughtful and inspiring post. You got me wondering about a lot. 🙂

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “There were many assumptions and “inaccurate assessments” on the part of the Chinese, because the British did not approach the process in a way that recognized Chinese relationship styles.”
    This will preach, Katy. In my dissertation research I am finding the myriad of ways white people trip over their own privilege trying to be “woke” without ever listening to people of color. I wonder what would happen if we started focusing on cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence in schools rather than placing so much emphasis on IQ and test scores.

  6. Great post, as always, Katy.

    You said, ‘Visionary leaders “are not acting upon people—they are acting with them.”[5] It is both this collaborative learning and the willingness to lead by learning and humility that mark a leader that people want to follow.’

    It was an interesting thought, trying to consider what might have been different if Patten had head in a different way. How might things have changed?

    As I was thinking about why he didn’t lead differently. And then it occurred to me – did he really consider ‘leading’ the people of Hong Kong as an essential part of his task?
    Or was his primary mandate more about managing and maximizing Britain’s interests? Very different focus between those things.
    And, of course, I am not excusing his actions and/or decisions but just asking the question

  7. Jim Sabella says:

    Katy, you are right: Hong Kong is the jewel in China’s crown. I too wonder what Hong Kong would be like today with the “people’s participation in shaping their place.” It’s hard to imagine the speed at which 90 years or so went by. Like you and many others, I too wonder what the future holds for Hong Kong. I enjoyed your post.

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