Northbound colonialism : a politics of post-PC Hong Kong

Wing Sang LAW

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


A year before the 1997 handover, I read with amusement an article in an entertainment magazine describing the political attitudes of the people of Hong Kong -- not so much concerning the humdrum row between China and Great Britain over the pace of democratization, or the turnout in every year's June Fourth night vigil, but the rather extraordinary Hong Kong reaction to the issues of political correctness that have recently had a high degree of sensitivity in the West. According to the writer, people in Hong Kong drink too much, stay out too late, are mean to helpless animals, use racial slurs in polite conversation, and worst of all, have no sense of shame. The columnist's amazed evaluation of Hong Kong is captured in the headline: "Not PC . . . and Proud." Yes, social attitudes in Hong Kong have always been characterized by their impertinent conceit, saucy flippancy, and irresponsible frivolity -- the very political incorrectness the author tries to portray. However, things are going to change. With the hustle and bustle of the handover becoming an event of the past, I, like many people traveling from Hong Kong, have often been asked the same questions: What is Hong Kong like now? Is there any change? Do you still have freedom of speech? Is there any state control in the universities or censorship in the mass media? The answer I always give to these well-intended questions is, There is nothing noticeable on the surface -- except that the TV and radio news (wo)men no longer call Jiang Zemin the Chinese president but, directly and with an odd effect, President Jiang. Small but significant, this apparently Hong Kong/Chinese style of political correctness in newspeak can be discerned in any updated reportage of post-1997 Hong Kong. If it does not exactly answer the usual questions coming from ingenuous presumptions about political control, or satisfy curiosity about the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) alleged rabbit in the hat, it can at least provide clues about local politics operating on a more mundane, discursive, and everyday level. Blessed is the fact that, unlike their colleagues in the mainland's CCTV, our journalists still do not have to substitute China, whenever the word appears, with my country (woguo). It is also true that the more cozy ways of addressing our national leaders are presumably not the result of Beijing's dictates. Yet they are just as politically correct as titling every woman Ms. One is less likely to understand a distant place through communicative dialogue or interaction with local people than through media images, which are usually derived from a fixed set of stereotypes, or gatekeeper concepts. In the case of Hong Kong, it is quite certain that the city, were it not for the 1997 handover, would not command the same level of interest from international journalists or cultural critics. For some, who really are worried about the threat of communist sinicization of this international city, attention from international media is taken somewhat as a lifeline. Their politics, then, is almost solely concentrated on how to generate portrayals of the city that will continue to gain sympathy from the international community for the course of politically correct freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Internationally renowned and well-intentioned cultural critics, who also see the importance of struggles on the discursive level, mean well, too, in their efforts to claim for Hong Kong a voice in the Western academies, an arena in which they work. To uphold the ideal of political progressiveness of cultural criticism, they have spared no effort in drawing international attention to Hong Kong's future, advocating once again the importance of freedom and democracy for the local residents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-233
Number of pages33
JournalPositions: asia critique
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000


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