Englishization or sinicization? English in the Hong Kong cultural scene

Michael Anthony INGHAM

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A linguistically and culturally diversified arts scene, which is coming to be recognized as a feature of contemporary Hong Kong, is something people rather take for granted in the city. It has emerged less from specific top-down policies by the government, as for example in Singapore, and more in accordance with Hong Kong’s time-honoured laissez faire approach to linguistic and cultural development. Since the city’s 1997 retrocession to China there has been the remarkable phenomenon of increased sinicization in education and culture (especially related to the exponentially developing status of Putonghua) going hand-in-hand with a somewhat less heralded renaissance in creative writing and performance in English, as well as an expansion in mixed-language and bilingual practices. This seeming paradox is, as my paper will elucidate, one of the most interesting aspects of Hong Kong’s often under-rated creative hybridity. In this paper, I will argue that the Hong Kong arts sector, without being entirely aware of it, is a rather good role model for linguistic and cultural diversity and pluralism. While the respective languages intersect with one another on occasions or run in parallel much of the time, the arts field by the very nature of its grass-roots pragmatism and participation, offers a useful example of linguistic and cultural co-existence that other communities may find worth emulating or at least exploring. Moreover, it is my contention that the arts community in Hong Kong, and by extension its audiences, far from being seduced by the global monoculture so pervasive in the field of commerce, is predicated on a healthy blend of localist and internationalist perspectives. In this respect there is a clear division between the globalist, consumerist and commercial profile maintained by the city’s business interests and the very different interests of its arts community. The paper explores the strengths of the Hong Kong arts environment and puts it forward as a good model of linguistic integration, diversity and pluralism, while acknowledging perceived flaws in official attitudes and arts policy in the city. I argue that bilingualism, biculturalism and, indeed, cultural pluralism are promoted in the city’s present cultural life. However, it is a sad fact that the positive aspects of this pluralism are often not fully recognized or officially proclaimed. Perhaps the reason for this reluctance to broadcast Hong Kong’s tremendous cultural developments of recent years may be attributed to the community’s traditional lack of interest in the arts. Perhaps also the very idea of linguistic and cultural pluralism tends to muddy the clear waters of governmental cultural policy vis-à-vis the linguistic-cultural expectations of the territory’s mainland masters and the global capitalist market.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnglishization in Asia
PublisherOpen University of Hong Kong Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9789627707622
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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