Week 3 China

Week 3 China

 

Who are we?

BYLINE: An evolving sense of identity is changing the socio-political scene, writes Clarence Tsui

SECTION: NEWS; Behind the News; Pg. 12

LENGTH: 1478 words

Having appeared at the forefront of ill-fated campaigns to save Queen’s Pier and Wan Chai’s Wedding Card Street – not to mention the fame he attained four years ago as the youngest-ever candidate in district council elections – Chan King-fai is a veteran in fielding media questions these days. However polished as he might be, he recalls one particular question that really annoyed him a month ago.

“It was this television journalist who was interviewing me for, well, one of those handover anniversary specials,” he said. “And after all the deliberate questions, he said he had one final question he had to ask me: whether I feel I’m Chinese now. So after all the discussion that went on about our work, it boils down, again, to such a simplified view of things.”

It’s easy to see the source of his ire: for someone who fronts a group called Local Action – comprising activists whose major objective is to salvage Hong Kong’s heritage from the relentless claws of urban renewal – the old chestnut of taking sides on the Sino-British divide is akin to a swipe at his efforts in cultivate an organic cultural identity for Hong Kong.

“It’s always been such a rigid framework – either you choose to be an Anglophile, or you consider yourself Chinese. But it’s so ridiculous: it’s like when somebody said to me that since I admired Queen’s Pier so much I must have feelings for the colonial era, and not for China,” Mr Chan said.

Fellow Local Action activist, Chow Sze-chung, agreed, saying: “When we talk about Queen’s Pier, it’s not just about British monarchs having landed here. What we wanted to remember is how more than 30 local social movements had begun and happened right here.”

Their view embodies a popular sentiment that bubbled among intellectuals before the handover on July 1, 1997, and has soared to the forefront in the past few years: that beneath all the focus of Hong Kong as an incidental success story that resulted from the political manoeuvres between two political powers, there’s also a Hong Kong story to be written. In this story a Hong Kong-specific cultural identity – an indigenous mix of the city’s history, from its social upheavals and heritage to its popular culture – plays a central role.

And it’s a mass social movement which basically propelled Mr Chan, his fellow activists and probably even more of the city’s residents in acknowledging that there is a society out there and not just a co-existence of cynical, get-rich-quick individuals. Hackneyed this might sound, but the demonstration on July 1, 2003, instilled into many a Hongkonger a communal spirit and local consciousness that had been more or less ambivalent, or even absent, in the past.

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Of course, it’s not as if there weren’t efforts to galvanise a “Hong Kong spirit” before that – who could forget the government’s ill-fated “Hong Kong for Sure” campaign in 1999 to secure the hosting rights to the 2006 Asian Games, or former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung’s cringe-worthy rendition of Below the Lion Rock in his budget speech in March 2002 to conjure public sympathy for his initiatives?

The swathes of people who filled Victoria Park, Hennessy Road and then Queensway en route to the Central Government Offices four years ago, generated a spirit of a different kind: that being a Hongkonger does not engender merely nostalgia and sentimentality, but also a base for social action.

“The July 1 marches were certainly a watershed for the development of a cultural identity for H

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