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Posts Tagged ‘Hongkongness’

i_hongkongness_on-black-PRC-emblem
the IMAGINED COMMUNITY of HONGKONGNESS

– this is my second attempt to summarise HongKongNess in one icon like picture –


香港人 = HONGKONGNESS (also spelled Hon Kong-ness) the idea of a special, separate identity many citizens of the “Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” do conceive as their ‘imagined community’ (the last term comes from the well-known study on the meaning of nationalism by Benedict Anderson, 1983) [1]. A side effect of the tactical doctrine proposed by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the early eighties for the ‘take back’ (after 156 years) of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong, from the British Empire by the People’s Republic of China: “ONE COUNTRY TWO SYSTEMS”… HONGKONGNES expresses first of all what is NOT wanted (the legal Chinese state system where the separation of powers between the juridical and the reigning party system does ‘de facto’ not exist)…

HONGKONGNESS is also the idea of ‘freedom (of expression)’ and at the same time the ‘freedom of entrepreneurship and trade’ (hence including exploitation of humans and property).

There is hardly any surviving ancient Hong Kong native culture that can be used as a cultural carrier for this city-state new form of nationalism. Hong Kong was just a sparsely populated rock and some islands with a few fisherman settlements at the moment of occupation by the British. Hong Kong has seen a fluctuating past since it became a British colony with periods of rise and decline of its population and economic importance. In the mid sixties – at the moment of a great influx of refugees from Mainland China because of extravagant and often chaotic political and economic reforms during the reign of Mao Zedong, the city’s population started to grow fast. It was also the time of the Cold War and economic boycott of Mainland China, that created the often infamous industry city-state associated with products branded ‘Made in Hong Kong’.

The policy change in Mainland China, with the implementation of Free Economic Zones (read free to exploit the local labour in these areas) like the adjacent region around Shenzhen, brought about by Deng Xiaoping, cum suis, repositioned the role of Hong Kong, whereby the element of factory production diminished and the already growing sector of international banking and associated trade activities greatly expanded.

This last development may explain the paradoxical status of the idea of HONGKONGNESS whereby those who want more civil rights, local democracy and some even class equality, find themselves in the same basket as members of the big business community when it comes to protest against changing the actual ‘rule of law’ system, which is seen as yet another step in the ‘salami-tactics’ of Mainland China powers to gain greater control over the city-state, its inhabitants and its business. There is even a double bottom to this ‘unholy alliance’ because the international banking and trading sector of Hong Kong is eager to keep as long as possible the ‘status aparte’ of the ‘special administrative region’ to facilitate it’s growing investments and influence in Mainland China and the funneling role of Hong Kong to reap the profits of it.

Big profits can be made by being close to China, work in China, but not being ruled by China (too much).
This process is not a one-way undertaking, because financial conglomerates from Mainland China are using Hong Kong for a similar type of exploitation. In other words these are economic dragons with more than one head.

Do these observations make the mass movement of Hong Kong people we have witnessed in the past weeks suspect? I do not think so. There is a genuine need to keep a way of life that allows for more personal freedom than available in the People’s Republic of China proper. Still that what can be called ‘the City State of Hong Kong’ is far from an ideal social system… when it comes to social differences Hong Kong is among the top ranking nations for its ‘social inequality’. [2]

As always ‘social movements’ are phenomena that are ‘on the move’, within days one can see how discontent expressed in demonstrations reach a momentum whereby the quantity (the amount of people participating) invokes new quality. Single demands become lists of demands, a political program may evolve… claiming things far beyond the impetus. We need to keep in mind as well that ‘unity’ is always momentary and that ‘a social movement’ is mostly something that carries differing opinions on means and ends. Potential leaders are “born” during the struggle, will rise and will have a hard time not to get caught in the ideological stratification processes whereby single opinions on tactics and strategies are imposed onto a pluriform crowd. Fractions may form, internal struggles may develop, up to fratricide.

What stems hopeful in regard to the mass street rallies of Hong Kong, is that these displays of popular dissent and power are ephemeral, warning signs to those who rule the city state. The demonstrators show the authorities that they have to reckon with a population that is formally hardly represented in the straightjacket representational system that has been tailored by the party communist system of the People’s Republic of China. These highly visible mass street rallies are set against the wheeling and dealing of an opaque local governmental system. The mobilization structure for the mass rallies is manifold. Methods of action are most often peaceful. Non-violent tactics are acquired with each new rally. A learning process of many years in the case of Hong Kong. Most important there is NOT a formal structure of leadership, there are NO formal representatives that may be lured into compromise and estranged from ‘their followers’.

The existing government and its functionaries are forced to – somehow – absorb the popular demands in their policy, if only, to fence off the calling in question of their rule. [3]

It may be a failure of Machiavellian insight by the leadership of People’s Republic of China to have limited the population of Hong Kong so much in their demands for independent democratic representation in the last decades. Without such mediating political devices only the ‘social media’ of the internet and demonstrations in the streets have remained as means for expression of popular opinion.


Afterword

The text above was written between Sunday June 16 and Tuesday June 17. In The Guardian of today (June 18) there is an interview with one of the young activists who was active in the earlier demonstrations in the year 2014 known ast he ‘Umbrella movement’ Joshua Wong Chi-fung (1996-). The 2014 movement was about the limitations set to the  elections for a new Hong Kong ‘chief execute’ which was a closed shop election affair whereby only those screened and accepted by the government of the People’s Republic of China, could participate. The person chosen in that (non democratic) election was Carrie Lam. Joshua Wong had just served a prison sentence of two months for contempt of court during court proceedings against him because of his activism. He was released last Monday. In the interview the point I have raised in my analysis about a broad social movement without apparent leaders, came up as well:

Asked whether he would like to be leader of the next set of protests, Wong sidestepped. “As an ‘organic’ movement, the anti-extradition protest is very decentralised. The key is not who is leading it.”

Many learned about the protests through groups on WhatsApp and Telegram and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

“When a movement has no leaders, it constitutes even greater pressure on the authorities to give concessions because they have no one to negotiate with and they can’t just go and arrest one of the leaders,” he said.

The sweeping opposition to the extradition bill had come from not only the pro-democracy camp and young people, but also the business sector. The huge turnout in the protests – an estimated one million on 9 June and nearly two million on 16 June, were beyond anyone’s imagination, Wong said.



Notes
[1] Benedict Anderson, 1983:

“… a nation “is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”. () Members of the community probably will never know each of the other members face to face; however, they may have similar interests or identify as part of the same nation. Members hold in their minds a mental image of their affinity: for example, the nationhood felt with other members of your nation when your “imagined community” participates in a larger event such as the Olympic Games.”

In the case of Hong Kong being a city-state with a land surface of just over 1 km2 and a population of approximate 7,4 inhabitants, the huge demonstrations of last week (with 1 million on June the 9th. and almost 2 million demonstrators on Sunday June 16th. (these are maximalist numbers by the organizers, of course the Hong Kong police comes up with much lower numbers). Still it si realistic to say that the last demonstration of Sunday was a turn out of a quarter of the population onto the streets. That is rare and in a way the theory of Benedict Anderson (members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members) has been overturned in the case of Hong Kong as all those out in the streets were not only seeing huge numbers of their fellow citizens face tot face, but also through the ubiquitous personal communication tool of smartphones. So also their families and acquaintances staying at home for all kind of reasons could follow their personal relations on the street, both of these groups could instantly zoom in on the personal level and zoom-out to the manifold news and social media outlets that showed the enormous crowd from a higher position, up to aerial photography and drones.
The ‘nation as a crowd’ does get a new meaning here.

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Along the route taken by the march. (A) Causeway Road, outside Victoria Park, (B) Hennessy Road, in Causeway Bay, (C) Hennessy Road, in Wan Chai. Sources: Bloomberg reporting, Google Earth, Transport Department. Source Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-hong-kong-protests-extradition-to-china/

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Hundreds of mothers holding placards, some of which read “If we lose the young generation, what’s left of Hong Kong”, and lit smartphones protest against the amendments to the extradition law in Hong Kong on Friday. Photo: AAP. Source: https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2019/06/15/hong-kong-protests-extradition-2/

 

[2] South China Morning Post, 27/9/2018, Michelle Wong:

Aid agency Oxfam has issued a 60-page report recommending the Hong Kong government set aside an extra HK$36.7 billion (US$4.7 billion) next year to prevent more people falling into poverty. The charity said the funds were needed to address the city’s widening wealth gap – the largest in 45 years. So how did Hong Kong come to be such an unequal society, and what else could be done to level the playing field?
How bad is the wealth gap in Hong Kong?
The difference between a society’s rich and poor is often measured using the Gini coefficient – statistician Corrado Gini’s index of how evenly income is distributed on a scale from zero to one. In June last year the figure for Hong Kong was 0.539, with zero indicating equality. The result was the highest in 45 years. The United States was at 0.411 and Singapore 0.4579. Hong Kong’s number has climbed 0.006 points since 2006, according to the city’s Census and Statistics Department.
One in three elderly Hongkongers lives below the poverty line.
In 2016 the median monthly household income of the top 10 per cent of Hongkongers was 43.9 times the bottom 10 per cent. The poorest would have to work three years and eight months on average to earn what the richest make in a month.

Read on at
https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/society/article/2165872/why-wealth-gap-hong-kongs-disparity-between-rich-and-poor

[3] The Guardian 18/6/2019: “Hong Kong protesters unimpressed by Lam’s ‘sincere’ apology // Chief suggests extradition law effectively shelved but protesters say key demands ignored”

Hong Kong chief leader Carrie Lam is cited:

“I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties could not be adequately addressed,” Lam said. “If the bill does not make legislative council by July next year, it will expire and the government will accept that reality.”

Read on at:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/hong-kong-carrie-lam-to-apologise-to-protesters-extradition-bill

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