28 October 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (second from left), who presides over a government of 'Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong', has managed to alienate the administration from the public. Photo: CNSA
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (second from left), who presides over a government of 'Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong', has managed to alienate the administration from the public. Photo: CNSA

Why an indigenous government can become alien to its people

Just before the Occupy movement’s anniversary, Chen Zuoer (陳佐洱), former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, lashed out at the Hong Kong government for its failure to decolonize the city.

Chen’s remarks, made with perfect timing, hit the nail right on the head.

Examples abound of draconian rules and policies inherited from the colonial era, be it an executive-led governance structure, functional constituencies or ordinances impairing the freedoms of speech and assembly and academic autonomy.

They serve either as the bedrock of today’s politics or ready-to-hand tools for smothering civil rights.

Thus I can’t agree more with Chen’s “decolonization” mandate, as all these laws, rather than British virtues and paradigms, have been carefully preserved or even “refined” by the Hong Kong government, and they have much to do with the city’s current political stalemate.

To some extent, the growing mistrust and feud between Beijing and Hongkongers since the handover can be resolved if these unjust colonial rules were abolished once and for all.

In many aspects, the colonial authorities pale in comparison to the current administration, as the government is more despotic in nature.

How the chief executive is asserting his traditionally ceremonial role as chancellor in an attempt to tame the University of Hong Kong is a vivid example.

Within the past three years, we have seen a spike in nativist sentiment, and the common attitude of Hongkongers toward the Chinese Communist Party has also shifted from a kind of subliminal phobia to firm resistance in action.

Significantly fewer Hongkongers now identify themselves as Chinese and part of a Chinese nation.

Beijing and its stooges label the new mood as “separatism”, “pro-independence” or “nostalgia for the colonial times”.

Now, some basic ideas must be set straight: in our discussion, we should use a more accurate term, like “non-local ruling power” rather than colonialism — a concept that now exists only in history books.

The ruling powers in many parts of the world are non-local, or alien regimes, but it would be a mistake to conclude that an alien ruler tends to ride roughshod over the will of indigenous residents.

Examples abound of alien regimes being very bad, but they can also be very good.

One example dates back to Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, which gave birth to a constitutional monarchy and the passage of the Bill of Rights, which laid out basic civil rights and the idea of the body politic, a pillar of Britain’s constitution.

Yet the revolution was brought about by an alien regime: King James II of England was overthrown by William III, the Prince of Orange, who was the Dutch head of state.

The Bill of Rights was a compromise between William and the British nobles.

Ancient China was also taken over by several alien regimes, like the Liao (916-1125), the Western Xia (1038-1227), the Jin (1115-1234) and the Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties.

The Qing dynasty, founded by the Manchu people, ruled the Han Chinese for nearly three centuries, from 1644 to 1912.

Many scholars believe that Chinese culture was devastated by the Yuan and Qing dynasties.

Even Sun Yat-sen came up with the motto “to expel the Tatar barbarians [Manchu people] and revive China (驅除韃虜,恢復中華)” for the 1911 revolution, which laid the foundation of the first Chinese republic.

The indigenous Han regimes also engaged in numerous aggressive wars.

To the people in the territories they annexed, like Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan, Han invaders and the regimes they founded were alien.

Australia, New Zealand and countries in North and South America were founded by alien regimes, too.

The nature of alien regimes can change with time.

For instance, the Kuomintang and even the Republic of China are alien to the indigenous Taiwanese, yet the KMT has had to localize and respond to the demands of the island’s inhabitants after its democratization.

To be able to stay and flourish, alien regimes must win over the hearts of locals.

This was also the experience of Hong Kong’s colonial rulers.

Now we are seeing exactly the opposite in the city: an indigenous regime is becoming alien to its own people.

Has the Hong Kong government realized this is happening?

Even if has, is it realistic to expect any improvement when local officials have to toe Beijing’s line?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 24.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


The Hong Kong flag flies with the Chinese national flag outside the People’s Liberation Army Garrison in Central. Photo: Bloomberg

Activists wave the colonial flag in a pro-democracy protest. Almost two decades after the handover, nostalgia for British rule is gaining momentum. Photo: internet

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter