Volume 10 Number 3
There's More to Hong Kong Than Golden Eggs
01 June 1997

As Hong Kong returns to China, she has more than business acumen to offer, maintains Leung Siu-Wai.

Once upon a time, a wealthy lord lost a fight against an intruder who was conspiring to take his land. As a peace-offering, he gave the intruder one of his children, who lived in a far-flung corner of his large property. He wasn't happy, of course, but you can't really say the gift gave him much pain. After all, the abandoned child was as barren as a rock and had hardly ever drawn his attention.

Little did he realize that this was merely the beginning of a century of humiliation. Today, the time has come to wipe out this humiliating memory. This is the symbolic significance of the reversion of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China at midnight on 30 June 1997.

As a Chinese, I should rejoice just as much as my fellow-countrymen on the mainland or the last-minute patriots here in Hong Kong. But the reality is sadly not as heartening as one wants it to be. Like most Hongkongers, I greet the day when each of us can proudly claim to be a 'genuine Chinese' with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Why? The barren child, separated from its natural parent for one and a half centuries and raised in a distinctive environment, is now a handsome, confident, sophisticated grown-up. He (or she) has been enjoying making his own choices, living the way he likes and saying what he wants (as long as he abides by the law). All of a sudden, he is told he must leave his foster parent and go back to live under the same roof as his natural parent and siblings. 'What will this mean for my future?' he asks.

He looks at the track record of his separated family. It isn't encouraging: the poverty, the blind faithfulness, the distorted human spirit, the breakdown of moral values, the man-eat-man brutal history. Just as things were beginning to improve, there came the events of 4 June 1989 in Tiananmen Square-an entangled knot in the heart of every conscientious Chinese, especially in Hong Kong. 'Is there something mentally wrong with my natural parent?' the horrified child asks.

Hong Kong itself is a paradox. Born out of the evil and shame of the Opium War, Hong Kong today commands pride. I can never forget the amazement I felt once as I flew home into Hong Kong. First I saw some outlying islands, remote and isolated; then gradually buildings and roads came into sight; finally, the heartbeat of this vibrant city lay wide open before me-the highrises, the highways, the people. I was-and am-proud to be part of this miracle.

When the British came, I have been told, Hong Kong was a barren rock with only patches of fishing villages and paddy fields. I have seen pictures of the massive influx of refugees waiting at the border. I am old enough to remember the days when phone, telly and fridge were luxuries and education was the privilege of the well-off brilliant few.

The new turn in our destiny has made many of us evaluate our past. What do the 150 years of British rule mean? What made us what we are today? What are the things we really treasure? What factors were critical to our success?

It could have been the colonial government's benevolent efficient rule, or the spirit of industry and enterprise of the local Chinese, or the free yet orderly society built on the rule of law (thanks to the British judicial tradition) that helped shape our success story-or many other factors. But what matters most, I believe, is that, as result of what happened 150 years ago, Hong Kong has something unique in the way that it approaches the world. Is this uniqueness just a beautiful accident? Or is it significant now that it comes to reunite with the motherland?

A renowned China-watcher once called Hong Kong 'a borrowed time and a borrowed place'. No single phrase has been more telling in describing the mentality in Hong Kong. This is especially evident in the administration and the business sector, where long-term investment-including human investment-is low on the agenda. To many people, Hong Kong is a transit port, a temporary shelter, a springboard for a better life. It is not home, a place to deepen one's roots.

Just as the post-Civil War generation, born and raised entirely in Hong Kong, has come of age and begun to feel a sense of belonging, they are havingto face the choice that their parents and grandparents once faced. This is the intrinsic tragedy of Hong Kong. Some have already chosen, by uprooting again; a great many don't know what to do and bury themselves in daily busyness or mediocre concerns. Is there another way?

If the mentality of temporariness is our stumbling block, our all-round exposure to Western culture may be the strength we can contribute to China. Hasn't China been wrestling for the last 200 years with the challenge posed by Western civilization, often with fear, contempt and bewilderment? Hong Kong has worked her way through onto an equal footing with her Western counterparts. She has not found an answer to every problem transmitted from the 'decadent West' but she has learned that problems can be confronted without defensiveness or paranoia.

Hong Kong people, especially the younger generation, have been criticized for their lack of cultural roots and sense of identity. Of course, no colonial government would formulate its policy to instil a sense of national identity in its citizens. But patriotism doesn't need to be imparted from above. A sense of identity can be worked out from personal experience.

Gone are the days when I did not know what nationality to claim when I was abroad, or felt frustrated that I didn't speak English better. I found my identity the hard way and treasure it more. I am sure my personal experience can be multiplied; I have seen my friends go through a similar process. Having had to work out our patriotism ourselves, we can perhaps be more genuine in our attitude to helping the country. Can this be a positive contribution in its own right? Hong Kong's worthiness isn't just as the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Now that the era of British rule is ending, it is time to give up the transit mentality, to think big and act brave. In saying this, I am not painting a rosy future. When the Five-Star Flag replaces the Union Jack, it is just the beginning of another long and winding road-on which I hope Hong Kong will muster the same courage she has shown during the past 150 years.
Leung Siu-Wai