July 6, 2014, by Tony Hong
Travelogue: A Critique of Hong Kong
By Flair Shi,
Graduate of the School of English University of Nottingham Ningbo,
BA in English Language and Literature.
1. The Suppression of (Post-)Colonial Politics by Postmodern Commercialism
Before this trip into the heart of the city, I had passed by the international airport of Hong Kong many times. Each time I just could not resist wandering into one of the small bookstores and secretively open the tantalizing pages of those banned books on the Party, the leaders, even the Chinese race, all the subversive stuff whose mere existence was a shock to me the first time I laid my eyes on them. In those moments I really enjoyed this kind of rebellious trysts with the dangerous exercise of freedom. So it was only natural that the first stop I made in the city was the newly established June Fourth Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui.
I was expecting a lot from this museum as it was newly opened and attracted a lot of international attention from the Western media, especially right after the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. I was disappointed. There was nothing I saw in the museum that I had not known before, yet the sentiment that hit me was the shocking contrast between the extremely emotive and politically instigating language of those materials displayed and the nonchalance attitudes of the cold, expressionless, hurried people flowing around in the capitalistic human ocean outside. On my way back to my hostel at Causeway Bay, I got a bit lost because everyone looked the same in the trains, in the subway stations, and out of them as well. Of course many people were wearing all kinds of colorful and kinky styles on themselves to try to stand out, but also, too many others were doing that too. So it all distilled into this colorful postmodern blindness and ignorance of people’s individualities. Everyone was sulking. Similarly, desperate for visibility and resemblance, political campaigners, surrounded by their colorful posters, had to resort to discomforting the people to attract attention. Both the exhausted ones, sitting and sweating in the middle of the streets with only their loudspeakers shouting mechanically, and the radical ones, occasionally dressed up as victims of “forced organ transplantation” with more than grotesque pictures beside them, failed to spike my interest in getting to know what kind of ideas they were fighting for. Also similar to the robotic postmodern human flow, the more these groups try to stand out and mark their presences, the more naturally absorbed they became in that numbness of over-stimulation.
Ten years after the Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai wrote her acute observations of a Hong Kong dominated by, as she creatively calls, the “Central values” (Central refers to the political and financial district at the heart of the Hong Kong island) in her essay “Hong Kong, where should you go?”, I still found every word she had written true. Just as she notes, decolonization and postcolonialism have been used as excuses to maximize the capitalization and commercialization of Hong Kong’s unique hybrid of traditional Chinese culture and British colonial legacies. For the Hong Kong government, economic development and political stability are prioritized over everything else; for the majority of Hong Kong people, the pursuit of money and social status still constitutes their ontological journey through life. In these regards, I don’t see how Hong Kong is so different a society from mainland China, and with the vicious ethos generated by freedoms without democracy, it’s even worse. Because at least the mainland Chinese are living in hope with increasing prosperity, whereas caged in the concrete and glass woods of tiny islands, Hong Kong people are engulfed in a sense of pessimism, one that is making them losing faith and interest in their own government, people and land, let alone having them in those of China.
2. The Suppression of Poststructuralism by a Fake International Multiculturalism
The expansion of British colonialism had marked Hong Kong one of the first contact points between East and West, and the city continues to brand and praise itself as the most international city of China and in the region. Despite being a place built and served by generations of immigrants from the mainland and overseas, the exclusionist myth of local homogeneity and class-based racialization of social hierarchies, that have deep roots in traditional Chinese culture of Sino-centrism and materialism, still perpetuate to undermine any post-structural and pluralistic interpretations of human relations and social identities.
Within the social/racial stratifications of identities, there are the locals, who speak Cantonese, eat Cantonese noodles, drink Hong Kong style afternoon tea and in all this claim their cultural ownership over the city. There are the whites, who speak the desirable “proper” English, dressed in cool business suits and go to fancy Western restaurants. There are the Filipinos and Indonesians, who are always domestic helpers, congregate in public places eating among themselves and walk carrying vegetables and fruits to cook for their masters every day. There are the browns and blacks, who overstay their visas, just snailed up in the dubious old mansions, and dream about becoming rich in their own countries. And then where is the proper place for so many mainland people? There are mainland businessmen, mainland teachers, mainland university students, mainland workers and mainland tourists. Yet the modifier “mainland” determines all; once you are a mainlander, you belong to the category of mainland outsiders, and whatever social category you belong to is of no great significance. Therefore, no matter how discrete or transfixed one’s own social identity is, for the Hong Kong locals and their society, it is still where one comes from that matters and defines the society’s primary perception and judgment about him/her. In this regard, it can be said that Hong Kong’s so-called internationalization, instead of helping the local Chinese see the possibility of a post-structural world politics, has on the contrary killed their curiosity to know others (as you still find this easily in the more closed mainland). For Hong Kong, globalization is just so easily solved by developing essentialist stereotypes, as long as everyone fits into their “proper” place and just does their own thing, it can continue to pursue money and lust.
3. Indeed, Where Should Hong Kong Go?
I write this critical article as a Hong Konger but also as an outsider. I am a Hong Konger because I love Hong Kong, I treasure the freedoms it enjoys and the wonderful cultural power it exudes and thus I have concerns for its present and future; but I also enjoy the fact that I am an outsider, exactly because I did not grow up and live in this place I am able to examine its wonders and flaws easily and closely. Yet for many Hong Kong locals, I will just be an arrogant mainlander, in no place to judge their better-off land considering how worse everything in China is; and yet, exactly because of this kind of mentality is still existent and strong in Hong Kong, criticisms like this article should continue to exist. Still, every Hong Konger should think about it, where should Hong Kong go?