26 October 2016
Regardless of race or place of birth, people who love Hong Kong and want to protect its core values can speak for the city. Photo: HKEJ
Regardless of race or place of birth, people who love Hong Kong and want to protect its core values can speak for the city. Photo: HKEJ

Who can speak for Hong Kong?

Who is qualified to speak for Hong Kong?

This question arises from the so-called revelation that Edward Leung Tin-kei was born in the mainland.

Leung, as most people know, is a leader of the Hong Kong Indigenous movement, who made a spectacular debut at the recent Legislative Council by-election, winning more than 60,000 votes.

He presumably volunteered the information about being born in the mainland in the interest of full transparency, but the mini storm on the internet this revelation provoked has produced more confusion than clarity.

Even if the obvious point about Leung being brought up in Hong Kong is ignored, this begs the bigger question of whether an accident of birth should be the determinant of identification or indeed qualification to lead a group advocating localism.

While it is both predictable and slightly pathetic to see localism’s opponents seizing on the minor issue of Leung’s birth, it is more worrying to hear localism sympathizers expressing doubts on the basis of whether a person needs to be born in Hong Kong in order to assert a loyalty to Hong Kong.

The dimwits who are hyperventilating over Leung’s place of birth find themselves in the bad company of sundry racists and other lowlifes who think that a person’s origins are far more important than their views, actions or indeed record.

There is some very bad history here.

For example, there was no more loyal German community, prior to the advent of Nazism, than German Jews.

The well-established Jewish community was prominent in spreading German culture beyond the nation’s borders and well represented in the armies that fought German wars.

They also made stellar contributions to the country’s economy.

Yet the Nazis were obsessed by their “foreignness” and insisted that their origins were far more important than anything else.

Fast forward to Hong Kong in 2016 and, depressingly, you will find a body of opinion that lurks uncomfortably close to the sewers from which Nazism emanated.

There is, for example, an unwillingness to accept that the well-established community from the Indian sub-continent, many of whose members have lived here far longer than so called “real Hongkongers”, can be considered to be genuine heung gong yan.

As for other communities who have made their homes here, they too are deemed to be irredeemably foreign.

Unlike the flag-waving patriots who go out and buy foreign passports for their families and establish scuttle holes overseas, these “foreigners” are doomed to be forever foreign.

I know something about this because I am one of those foreigners.

I also happen to be “merely” third-generation British, as my grandparents arrived in London as literally penniless immigrants.

One set of grandparents never quite mastered the English language, but my parent’s generation had no linguistic problems and never thought of themselves as anything but British.

It may be argued that it was helpful that they were white, but even conservative Britain has changed a great deal, and people of all colors have achieved a level of integration that seems to be a distant dream in Hong Kong.

Those who search the world for overseas examples that justify backward thinking in Hong Kong will have no problem heading off to the United States, another place based on immigration, where there was a tremendous furor over whether Barack Obama, the first black president, was truly an American.

Despite the considerable efforts of a grandson of German immigrants to cast doubt on his American identity, the vast majority of fine American folk voted for him to be their president.

You might have heard of the man who led this futile campaign to dislodge Obama, for he is Donald Trump and may himself become president if we are all very unlucky.

Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, part of the blame for a lack of what is supposed to be a United States-style melting pot must also be apportioned to some of the people who have settled here without bothering or even attempting to learn Cantonese while preferring to stick with their own communities.

This resolute apartness also affected some ethnic Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong, who initially stuck close to their own communities, be they Shanghainese, Fujianese or whatever.

What matters or should matter, is how they see themselves in relation to Hong Kong identity and what contribution they make to the community.

Whether Edward Leung was born on the Moon or somewhere in the mainland is really irrelevant, yet this question is being seriously discussed as though it matters.

Thankfully, many people in Hong Kong have moved on from obsessing over place of birth, but there are many holdouts.

As ever, they are well on the wrong side of history.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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