Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Hong Kong Is No Longer Hong Kong

Years have passed since the plan to develop a world-class cultural district on the reclaimed land in Western Kowloon was initiated. With the interwoven complications of political, economic and social factors, Sir Donald Tsang, the current chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, has reportedly called for an overhaul of the 30 billion-dollar development plan, which is widely believed to be his own baby, in an effort to seek a second and full term in office next year.

As a locally born and bred citizen for more than 30 years, I have never been apathetic to Hong Kong's political development as thousands, if millions, of my fellow citizens proudly proclaim. I do care about how Hong Kong should be run, and how it should manage its relationship with the Chinese leaders in Beijing. During the notorious financial crisis of 1997-1998, I had a naive expectation that the local government and business leaders were smart enough to realise the root problems of Hong Kong and were ready to roll up their sleeves to make Hong Kong a better home for its people. Unfortunately, almost a decade has passed, and improvements are still doomed.

While I am concerned with the economic and social development of Hong Kong, which has shown worrying signs that those in power are not only incapable of reversing the situation but being part of the problems themselves, I am even more concerned with the cultural development of Asia's world city. It is time for Hong Kong to sort out its way forward, as its unique cultural positioning as a dynamic showcase of hybrid and mixture of the East and West was already lost in 1997.

Call me pessimistic, sceptical, cynical or even politically incorrect, whatever you like to keep yourself happy and complacent. I must say that Hong Kong is no longer the meeting point of the East and West as it used to be. Hong Kong's success was built primarily on its unique status as a British colony at a time when China was painfully struggling for dignity and self-confidence. Hong Kong was the pioneer of Chinese reforms and revolution because it was a haven for dissidents, revolutionaries and refugees. Hong Kong became a showcase of free trade because exiled millionaires from Shanghai, seeking shelter here from warfare and the communists, built the first factories of the colony. Hong Kong's creative industries of the cinema and popular music thrived because the political rivals in China competing for a foothold in Hong Kong could only succeed by taking a soft approach to propaganda and making it relevant to millions living here. Now that Hong Kong is no longer a colony that represents some sort of exoticism in the eyes of the West and otherness to our fellow countrymen and women, it is no surprise at all that the Pearl of Orient has been losing its shine and glamour, long before the people here came to realise or being warned.

Should Hong Kong be free from the illness of amnesia and short-sightedness, fuelled by booming property and securities markets in the 1980s, among the majority of its people, it should have been able to better preserve its unique colours of exoticism and otherness that would help sustain Hong Kong's charm and glory as a meeting place of the East and West. Now that Hong Kong has already missed the boat, as dynamic, lively local communities are rapidly losing grounds to cold, characterless glass-walled skyscrapers; creativity and innovation to repetition to maximise economic gains; common sense to superstition; integrity to sensationalism and populism, I have never felt so bitterly disappointed and hopeless about the future of myself and the city, in which I used to take so much pride.

Perhaps "marginalisation" does not provide a sufficient depiction of the urgency and seriousness of the problem. Hong Kong is no longer Hong Kong with a unique character. At a time when globalisation reinforces the importance of uniqueness as a competitive advantage, among other things, Hong Kong is sinking into the abyss of being nameless and faceless in the rising tides of competition from not only China, but other cities of the world like Macao, which Hong Kong had taken the liberty to ignore for hundreds of years.


  1. stacie3:55 pm

    really interesting perspective, most of which i wholeheartedly agree with...hong kong must redefine what it will be and it's place in the region and world rather than timidly living in the shadow of china. but isn't it great to know that you live in a place where you can post this point of view without fear of retribution?

  2. Thanks Stacie. Glad to read your comments on my blog. =)

    Well, I agree with you that Hong Kong should not live timidly in the shadow of China, but on many occasions the leaders in Beijing don't even bother to make any noise on the internal affairs of Hong Kong, especially in the business and cultural sectors. In most cases it is Hong Kong people who think they may offend the Chinese leaders on something that they don't really care.

    In terms of positioning, many Chinese cities have been working to establish their reputation and profile through location branding in recent years. This is not something really sensitive but an issue that has been openly discussed and debated over the last couple of years. What worries me is that many decision-makers in Hong Kong don't seem to realise where the problems are and thus have done nothing meaningful to address those problems.

  3. Anonymous1:20 pm

    I once took a course called 'Hong Kong and the World' in uni and it talked about the positioning of Hong Kong - as Asia's World City, comparing HK with New York, London and Tokyo. To my discomfort about the comparison and the general egocentric perception of many Hong Konger, it isn't hard to get some hint on how the terms of marginalization emerges in our everyday language these days.
    However, being born in HK and lived abroad for some time in my younger years, I can't help but say I still would choose to remain hopeful and strive for a better future for this place.


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