Identity – Rethinking Colonialism, Nationalism, & Localism

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SOSC313/2005F/A. Ku

L5 & L 6. Identity – Rethinking Colonialism, Nationalism, & Localism

VI. A Snapshot of Discourses on Nationalism in HK – Popular Culture & Politics
1. Popular Culture:

    • Symbols of Chineseness in songs (e.g. skin color, hair color, dragon) [張美君 in陳#15]

Q: What meanings do these symbols carry and what do they suggest?

Q: Are the meanings coherent or contradictory, abstract or concrete, remote or immediate, historical or ahistorical (devoid of history), homogeneous or heterogeneous?

    • Representations of National Hero vs. Foreign Enemy in Movies [史文鴻 (1995) in Sinn ed.]

2. Politics:

    • History of nationalistic movements (read #20 for seminar question #1)

    • Before 1997, any strong anti-colonial sentiments against the British? Why or why not?

    • Towards 1997: “one country, two systems”

    • After 1997, tensions between dual identity as Chinese city & global city [see Ku (2002)#26]

Q: What are the tensions lying in this dual identity?

Q: How does the discourse on local identity develop around this “global city” imagination?

VII. Concepts & Theories: Nation, State & Nationalism
1. Chineseness

Chinese people do not form a homogeneous race1. Rather, they consist of different ethnic2 groups including the Han, Miao, Yao, Bai, Dan etc. In this light, “Chineseness” is a larger ethnic/ cultural – national -- identity which subsumes different ethnicities under it. How is it constructed through symbols, representations, and discourses?

Symbols of Chineseness? (e.g. in politics, education, & popular culture etc.)
2. Nation (nationhood) – a cultural association: a community of people sharing the same culture, ethnicity, language, territory or religion. [Such a community often has a fuzzy boundary.]
3. State (the modern state) – a political organization

-Territoriality – with exact borders

-Impersonal structure of power (executive branch, legislature, judiciary, civil service, army)

-Monopoly on the use of force (sustained by a standing army & police)

-Legitimacy – subject to dispute by the people rather than taken as unquestionable divine power
4. Nationalism (as the basis for the formation of nation-state)

Nationalists make different claims for the nation, e.g. the nation has a right to political autonomy. As an ideology, it stipulates that “state” & “nation” should coincide (“one nation one state”).

Nationalists presuppose or demand that the members of the nation share a common identity (nationhood). Nationalism may entail a belief, or beliefs, in a specific programme of political action required to constitute, sustain, or reconstitute one’s nation as an independent, unified entity.

5. Issues to Think about:

- Is nationalist feeling a natural & universal sentiment, or is it a historical product?
- Could there be different understandings (versions) of nationhood & nationalism in a society?
- Ideologically, is there any fundamental tension between nationalism & individualism? Should

nationalism justify imperialism? Does nationalism repress differences?

6. Theories of Nationalism (Ref: #21, pp.40-43)

  • Gellner (1960s): Nationalism (a unity under the state) was a historical product of modernity.

  • Anderson (1991): The nation is an “imagined community.” (homogenization) – e.g. through the print media --- imagined/ constructed rather than natural

  • Chatterjee (1993): “Whose imagined community?” – political struggle over the construction – nationalism being a product of struggle

  • Duara (1996): Nationalism itself being a site of never-ending political struggle over the meaning of the “nation”. [Post-structuralism: Nationalism does not show a unity; it is a site of heterogeneity, struggle & repression of alternatives.]3

VIII. Hong Kong before 1997: Nationalism, Colonialism and Localism
1. Discourses on Nationalism and Ironic Convergence with Colonialism (1950s-70s)

[Reference: 葉蔭聰 & 盧思聘 in 羅永生 ed. (1997) #21]

In principle, colonialism & nationalism are opposed to each other. After WWII, in many colonies, the rise of nationalism had triggered waves of anti-colonial movement. Yet in HK nationalism had not developed into an anti-colonial force that sought to overthrow colonial rule. Why?
Nationalism was framed within the Cold War ideology of “liberalism versus communism,” which gave rise to dissociation/ rupture between national identification (with China) and political identification (with the communist regime in mainland China).
In the 1950s and the 60s, two competing discourses of nationalism:

(a) Leftist Groups: “New China = Anti-Imperialism = Communism” (statism)

“HK = British Imperialism = Capitalism”

(b) Cultural Nationalists/Liberals: “Nation = Chinese Culture, May 4th Movement” (culture)

(e.g. 中國學生周報) “Communism = Enemy to the Nation”


Given the two competing discourses, how did one become dominant (hegemonic) and the other marginalized over time?


Given the (cultural-)nationalist discourse, how come it did not develop into a strong ideology of anti-colonialism, but, to the contrary, even converged with colonialism?


How did a native identity of “heunggongyan” come into being THROUGH the (cultural-)nationalist & colonial frameworks rather than independent of them?


Were HK (local) identity & Chinese (national) identity opposed to each other? Yes? No? Both?

[“Hegemony” – see lecture 4]

1.1 Turning Point: The Riots in the 1960s
In 1966 and 1967, the outbreak of riots showed signs of popular discontent against the colonial government in two ways: (a) serious livelihood issues had been overlooked; (b) leftist groups took the chance to ignite anti-colonial sentiments by resorting to violent means. The riots were finally pacified by the government. How?
Government + Cultural Nationalists

The government came out of the riots as the guardian of peace, law and order. After the riots, it sought both to marginalize the leftist forces and to legitimize itself:

  1. “leftist groups = instigator of political instability”, &

  2. it drew on the ideas of stability & liberalism to justify its continued (colonial) rule.

The cultural nationalists had expressed a yearning for stability in society (quotations). They began to speak in the name and interests of Hong Kong, as a group of rootless Chinese in Hong Kong, from the same anti-communist position. In this way:

  1. they put into place a discourse of a “HK community” from their ideological position;

  2. they, whether consciously or not, stood on the side of the government in support of stability.

1.2 Nationalist and Social Movements after the Sixties
- The leftist groups, tuning down its public profile, became more and more prone to a pro-Beijing stance while engaging little in anti-colonial criticism.

  • Outside the leftist camp, some activists turned to an alternative way of nationalism/ anti-colonialism yet without seeking to overthrow the colonial government. They pushed for local reforms in the government (within the framework of liberalism/ capitalism?), e.g. over the status of the Chinese language, and other social justice issues. (There were some other nationalist movements.)

  • Examples of nationalist movements:

  • Chinese language movement (cultural)

  • Defend Diaoyutai Movement (political – state sovereignty)

---cultural nationalism vs. statist nationalism (leftists) --- their legacies on post-1997 HK!

1.3 Hong Kong Community/ Identity
Since then, the ideology of “liberalism/ capitalism versus communism” was further developed into a kind of local consciousness that laid the basis for the emergence of “HK identity.”
The reality of colonialism was submerged under the ideology of liberalism/ capitalism

Ideas of socialism & communism near the left end of the ideological spectrum were marginalized

On the part of the local activists, the non-leftist groups tended to identify with liberalism and capitalism. Thus instead of resisting the British colonial government, they demanded reforms from the government – they wanted a reformed government rather than overthrow the colonial government.

2. Local Consciousness: The Discourse of Anti-Communism

- Ideological Representation: “Communism = Violence = Political Instability”

- Ideological Effect (politics): concealing internal injustice caused by capitalism and colonialism

3. Local Consciousness: The “Cosmopolitan” Imagination

- The narrative of “barren rock (or fishing village) turned into a modern city”

1 “Race” is a mode of social classification of human beings based on certain hereditary physical traits. While such physical traits are “natural,” the classification itself is social, cultural & political (i.e. non-natural).

2 “Ethnic” – of or pertaining to a group of people recognized as a class on the basis of certain distinctive characteristics, such as religion, language, ancestry, culture, or national origin.

3 For further reference, read P. Duara, “Historicizing National Identity, or Who Imagines What and When” (#42).

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