SCMP Monday, October 1, 2001


A city apart

Hong Kong Chinese have long had an identity problem. Colonial rule once made them British citizens, but the class of citizenship they were given did not even confer them right to enter, let alone reside, in the United Kingdom.
Throughout 150 years of British rule, most remained emotionally Chinese, even though many received an English education.
Culturally, they were neither typically British nor Chinese. When attempts were made to lump them with mainlanders, Hong Kong Chinese would protest strongly by saying "we're different, we're from Hong Kong".
Four years after Hong Kong's return to China, the sense of identity of most Hong Kong Chinese, particularly the young, does not seem to have changed greatly. They still feel uneasy at being addressed as "compatriots" by mainland Chinese.
Notwithstanding exhortations from our Chief Executive to love the motherland, a survey by the youth organisation Breakthrough has found that nine out of 10 of the SAR's young people regard National Day as just another public holiday.
More than half still regard themselves as Hong Kong people, with less than two in 10 calling themselves Chinese. Almost nine per cent identify themselves as Chinese - but only with the qualification that they are from Hong Kong. The rest do not mind whether they are called Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese or Hong Kongers.
This survey's findings are in line with other studies which have revealed that most Hong Kong Chinese still put their Hong Kong identity before their Chineseness.
As colonial education failed to nurture any national feelings, there have been calls since the handover for a fostering of Chinese nationalism among our young people. Quite how that should be done, nobody has cared to articulate.
The SAR education authorities, aware of the sensitivity of any such attempts, have not made any high-profile moves to heed those calls. And quite rightly so.
What needs to be borne in mind is that colonial rule turned Hong Kong Chinese into a special breed with a love-hate relationship with the mainland. It will take time for them to re-orient their bearings, build a new relationship with their mainland brethren and develop a new identity.
It is important that the development of such a new identity be a gradual and spontaneous process, and should not mean a conscious attempt to abandon the past.
Culturally, socially and politically, Hong Kong and the mainland have developed along very different paths, with little interaction between them for most of the past 50 years.
It was in recognition of the sharp differences between the two places that the policy of "one country, two systems" was conceived by the late Deng Xiaoping to accommodate Hong Kong's return to the motherland.
As the mainland makes bigger and bigger strides to integrate with the outside world, it is also becoming more like Hong Kong, which has long been a global player. Hong Kong people are playing a helpful role in facilitating the mainland's transformation. During the process, Hong Kong Chinese are bound to become more like mainland Chinese as interaction between them grows.
The Chinese national soccer team is set to win a place in the 2002 World Cup finals and Beijing is to host the 2008 Olympics. The two events are likely to bring out the latent national feelings among many local Chinese much more than any lessons on the supposed superiority of Chinese culture.