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Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:19
Constructed separatism needs to be deconstructed
By Lau Nai-keung
Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:19 By Lau Nai-keung

Many youths feel apathetic toward their country, Lau Nai-keung writes, calling for an end to artificial barriers and differentiators

The 10-year anniversary of the great Wenchuan earthquake and its rehabilitation brought back warm memories of how we battled together with our compatriots thousands of kilometers away against natural disasters. Some call this patriotism but some insist this is just humanitarianism, pointing out many incidents of anti-mainlander behavior since then, and the rising tide of separatism.

The separatists hold the narrative that they are not anti-China by nature, at least they were not like that 10 years ago, but it was the policies of the central government and the behavior of mainlanders here that infuriate and alienate them. This is of course just an excuse, as by all accounts the developments of our country as indicated in various statistics are getting better, not worse. This is an open fact acknowledged internally and by the United Nations.

The question remains: Why was there such a drastic shift of sentiment here in Hong Kong toward separatism in the past decade. Many pundits try to come up with various answers. Unfortunately they are all misleading because they all assume that there is in fact a drastic shift of sentiment in the first place. They take this as a matter of fact, as such a shift has been indicated by various opinion polls.

Identity crisis is an artificial construction and we need to find our way to deconstruct it. This is the real issue we will have to seriously and urgently address

I used to teach public survey in the University of Hong Kong and I know what it is all about. If you artificially dichotomize citizens here into Hong- kongers and Chinese and ask them whether they will identify themselves as Chinese, Chinese then Hongkongers, Hongkongers then Chinese, and Hongkongers, you are bound to come up with very funny answers. They have a saying for this: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Worse still, if we talk about this false premise long enough, we would have in fact constructed Hongkongers out of the thin air. They have a term for this nonsense too. They call it constructionism. You can create many things in people’s minds, and there are many ways of doing it.

To start with, many of our academics and commentators seem to forget that Chinese and Hongkongers belong to two different levels, just like Americans and New Yorkers. Outside the country, when I was asked where I come from, my answer is China; but within the country, I am from Hong Kong. If you pitch apple against orange, you get meaningless results. But when people seriously debate about the issue time and again, at least some young people will start to be confused. In time, the concept of Hong Kong as a separate entity gradually evolved.

This confusion is reinforced by two things. First, there is little interaction between mainland and Hong Kong. We have different judicial systems, we don’t pay taxes, and we speak different dialects, etc. In our everyday life, we can forget China altogether. It seems to many that Hong Kong and China are mutually non-existent, and there is no affiliation, not to mention affection and patriotism.

Secondly, things work differently on the mainland and in fact we are also treated differently on the mainland. Many of our youths who are not aware of the cultural diversity in our country, and are insensitive to such differences, can easily come to the conclusion that we live in different countries. This feeling of alienation is compounded every day in our schools and by our mass media.

To be fair, there are not that many separatists here in Hong Kong, not even among our youth. A lot has been exaggerated to suit the separatists’ political purpose. Many people are still as patriotic as 10 years ago. If, God forbid, another great disaster strikes somewhere on the mainland, citizens here will be as enthusiastic and generous in offering their help. But among our youths, there will be more humanitarian sentiments rather than brotherhood and patriotism. There is simply no such feeling toward their compatriots on the mainland. It is the apathy that hurts. 

Identity crisis is an artificial construction and we need to find our way to deconstruct it. This is the real issue we will have to seriously and urgently address.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

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