Hong Kong has not acted enough to detach from colonial past, experts argue

By Fan Lingzhi, Wang Wenwen and Chen Qingqing in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/4 17:59:52

Hong Kong people with British National (Overseas) passports were treated like second-class citizens during colonial era

Some people in Hong Kong do not appreciate the prosperity and opportunities brought by the "one country, two systems" principle, instead, they blame the Chinese mainland for Hong Kong's internal problems and contradictions

An English training school seen in Central, Hong Kong Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

What kind of rights did Hong Kong people have during British colonial rule? Rioters who wave the UK or US flag cannot give a clear answer to this question. The answer is that Hong Kong people used to have no nationality. 

Actually, many people in Hong Kong who hold the British National (Overseas) passport knew the situation better - the passport is more like a tourist visa, and people who had them were treated like second-class citizens.

After its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong has turned from a colony ruled by a UK-appointed governor to a special administrative region that enjoys a high degree of autonomy.

However, many people say that Hong Kong never went through a process of decolonization. In recent years, under the influence of foreign forces, some pro-independence groups in Hong Kong have become forces that linger over the former era of colonial rule.

Street names 

Tayu Lo's song "Queen's Road East," which was produced in the 1990s when British rule over Hong Kong was coming to an end, was believed to reflect the region's history and reality as well as people's thoughts on exploring the Chinese people's destiny.

Many streets in Hong Kong have kept their names from British rule, and many buildings remind people of that period.

On January 26, 1841, the commander of a detachment of the British East Asian Squadron took the HMS Calliope to Hong Kong. They held a flag-raising ceremony and fired cannons into the sea to show the "official" takeover of Hong Kong. British named the landing place "Possession Street."

Due to the antipathy of the local Chinese, the name was later changed to Shuikengkou Street. 

There are many roads in Hong Kong which retain the marks of the period of British rule, such as Queen's Road. Many streets and roads are named after British governors, such as Pottinger Street, after the first British governor in Hong Kong, Henry Pottinger. Des Voeux Road was named after the 10th British governor Sir George William Des Voeux. 

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post published a story in October 2015 saying that many things, from the status of schools and names of streets to private clubs with "royal" in their names, costumes of the judges and even the cash in people's pockets, continue to remind people that Hong Kong was once a colony.

A batch of buildings and landmarks from British rule were popular among people who look back at this period with nostalgia. 

The Queen's Pier demolition project was an important part of the land reclamation works of the Hong Kong government, which was opposed by some Hong Kong young people when it was announced to the public. They questioned the reasoning behind the removal of a pier which was part of collective memory of infrastructure construction.

The Vice Chairman of the Institute of Securities Dealers, Chen Po Sum asked these young people what collective memory they were referring to. For a long time, in the last century, many places in Hong Kong had boards that said "No Chinese or dogs inside." "How did these memories feel?" she asked.

In Chen's eyes, Queen's Pier is the place where the British royal family and governor landed in Hong Kong. They held ceremonies here to display their rule of Hong Kong to the world.  

Hennessy Road Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

Blind worship

Even today, English-language level is still seen as a measure of a person's success in Hong Kong. Elites in the city write in English and speak English, but they know little about their own history and culture.

Global Times reporters saw Hong Kong rioters waving UK and US flags and being obsequious to Western reporters. Some young people blindly worship the West. They were eager to respond to English questions during demonstrations, because they believed reporters asking questions in English must be from the West.

In metro stations, English language training advertisements are everywhere. Institutes with names like "Royal English" are also spotted frequently in streets.

Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times that learning English and keeping old street names are only minor parts of the "colonization" that remains in Hong Kong. Tang believes it's actually very practical for Hong Kong people to learn English, but the UK is now the least favorite destination for many Hong Kong children looking to study abroad, as it is deemed "too boring."

Tang said that during the colonial rule of Hong Kong, especially since 1949, the UK has intentionally belittled China. 

Both Hong Kong residents who moved from the Chinese mainland in the 1960s and 1970s and those born and raised in Hong Kong hold a doubtful attitude toward the political system and social situation in the mainland, Tang said. 

Meanwhile, Hong Kong people are highly tolerant of Western countries, particularly the UK and US, interfering in affairs related to Hong Kong. This tolerance is greater than their trust of the Chinese mainland.

In recent years, some young people in Hong Kong have supported "Hong Kong independence" or hope the region will "return to the UK." However, for the old generation who experienced colonial governance, the idea is not that appealing.

According to Larry Chow Chuen-ho, a professor at the Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University, in the colonial era, there were serious collisions between officials and businessmen. Significant decisions had to be approved by the governor and the Executive Council. 

Before the 1990s, there were only two bus companies in Hong Kong, and according to the rules, companies could only import new buses and equipment from the UK. It was obvious that colonizers were using political power to seize economic benefits. Also during colonial rule, the voice of the public could not be heard, so it seemed that "the colonial government ruled Hong Kong well."

Chow said that even after Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, Hong Kong media rarely talked about the dark side of the British Hong Kong government, because "pro-Western media were not interested in the topic, while other media thought it was an old story."

An employee in the education sector wrote in 2017 that before 1997, Hong Kong people did not even have a citizenship. Hong Kong residents could only hold British National (Overseas) passports (BNO), which was nothing more than a travel document. They did not have the right of residence in the UK. Those Hong Kong residents who were born in the mainland could only hold identification papers. Hong Kong people were stateless and without rights.

He also mentioned that the Victoria Road Detention Centre, which was known as the "White House," was a dark prison where the colonial government detained political suspects.

On Sunday, hundreds of activists gathered at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, demanding that the UK give them citizenship and right of residence, instead of treating them as "second-class citizens."

The BNO was the identification document the UK gave to Hong Kong residents before 1997. People with BNOs can enter the UK without a visa, but do not have the right to live or work there. About 170,000 Hong Kong residents hold valid BNOs.

Singapore example

Foreign Policy published an article on August 13 titled "The World Is Reaping the Chaos the British Empire Sowed," saying "Locals are still paying for the mess the British left behind in Hong Kong and Kashmir." 

"There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. That's long gone, but the grubby legacy of imperialism remains in Asia, where two seemingly distinct crises - in Hong Kong and Kashmir - share the same legacy," the report said. 

Historical issues left by the old colonialists like Britain have called for deep thought in international public opinion. Jordan Times in October 2018 published an editorial titled "From decolonization to recolonization."

It said that in human history, "There was a period of colonization, when the advanced powers took control of those who were lagging behind. This was followed by decolonization, when most world nations gained independence. Apparently, we are at the doorstep of a new era of recolonization, whereby the few big powers are again taking hold of most of the others."

In recent years, some Hong Kong media have compared Hong Kong with another former British colony - Singapore. In 1965, when Singapore was established, the founding father and first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew strictly scrutinized and retrained the civil servants left by the British, asking them to take an oath to pledge their loyalty to Singapore. 

Hong Kong-based Asia Times said in an article discussing decolonization that the model adopted by Lee would "avoid glorifying colonialism, offering instead a nuanced perspective on history that encompasses the pre-colonial period as well."

Start with education 

Chan Man Hung, director of the One Belt One Road Research Institute at Chu Hai College of Higher Education, Hong Kong, wrote last year that the colonial system had largely remained in Hong Kong and the necessary decolonization work had not been done, adding that this work should start with education and young students. 

Because of the lack of education and selective amnesia, the so-called "democracy and human rights" under British colonial rule have been greatly "glorified" in Hong Kong. 

Some youths in Hong Kong have a smattering of historical knowledge. Under the influence of the Western world's double standards on democracy and human rights issues, decolonization work in Hong Kong was never put in place. 

Chan Yung, vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), told the Global Times that one sign of Hong Kong not decolonizing successfully is that many Hongkongers stress "two systems" over "one country."

Chan noted that the history class has been replaced by liberal studies, but as the liberal studies textbooks have no unified standards and teachers have different political stances, many students are taught about hatred rather than common prosperity of the mainland and Hong Kong. 

Some Hongkongers do not appreciate the prosperity and opportunities brought by the "one country, two systems" principle, instead, they blame the Chinese mainland for Hong Kong's internal problems and contradictions, Chan noted. 

He added that because of intentional arrangements made by the opposition camp together with interference from external forces, Hong Kong has not succeeded in decolonization, which should have been done after it got rid of British colonial rule.

Chan said it will be difficult to rely on the education system in Hong Kong to decolonize the city.

"Some teachers even taught students to commit unlawful acts and cursed the children of police officers, wishing that they would not live beyond 7 years old, which was shockingly immoral," Chan said.

Commenting on some "poisonous" media in Hong Kong, Chan said that when protecting press freedom, objectivity and fairness should be guaranteed, and this also requires legislation. 

"Legislation in a short time will be hard, but we can take steps to do this. At least the government itself has the responsibility to do so. For example, media can report on objective content of the government for a particular legal period."

From the judicial perspective, Hong Kong can draw a lesson from Singapore, Chan noted. "Singapore has done complete de-colonization in terms of the country's judicial, education and defense systems as well as its patriotic education," Chan told the Global Times.


Newspaper headline: Breaking nostalgia

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