Hong Kong must remain open and inclusive for all

November 07, 2023 09:38
Photo: Reuters

What makes Hong Kong valuable to its own country?

I would posit that the answer lies not with, ‘out-performing mainland counterparts in feigning loyalty through flimsy sycophancy that convinces no one of Hong Kong’s actual fealty’; nor does it rest with ‘turning and looking inwards, at the expense of the outward and forward-thinking ethos that has long made this city great’. At a juncture as critical as the era in which we live, it is imperative that Hong Kong remains open and inclusive for all – in order to continually attract and serve as a stepping-stone for talents seeking to come to China.

In short, Hong Kong needs to further open up, as opposed to clamming up. In face of conservatism and risk-aversion – the rising risks of parochial and naïve, narrow-mindedness from policymakers – it is all the more crucial that those who care for and love this city deeply, speak up and out for what is right, as opposed to what is politically expedient and seemingly career-enhancing.

We must remain open and inclusive to all ethnicities. Hong Kong is not made up of purely ‘Chinese’ citizens – indeed, the very notion of being Chinese is itself a hotly contested and fundamentally heterogeneous category. Nor should the ‘Hong Konger’ identity be narrated and interpreted through ethnocentric terms. There are Jewish friends of mine whose family has made and called this city their home for over a century – far longer than parts of my own family, for one. There are friends of mine who migrated from Canada and France to Hong Kong as a young teenager, in search of business opportunities – and have emerged as powerful, prominent business leaders who have contributed ceaselessly to the advancement of Hong Kong’s economic and social interests.

And then there are those who are members of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, who have sought to reconnect with their personal and familial roots through moving ‘back’ to China (despite having led almost their entire lives thus far abroad) – to them, Hong Kong remains ‘special’, in being the only world-class, cosmopolitan city (save from perhaps Kuala Lumpur) where Cantonese is widely and extensively spoken. Many of these diaspora businessmen prefer conversing in Chinese dialects, e.g. Teochew or Hokkien, and Cantonese, precisely because these are the tongues they spoke whilst growing up. The familiarity of Hong Kong in vernacular and linguistic terms, also breeds a distinctive sense of affinity. It’s year 2023, and Hong Kong should have no place for Han-supremacist/Sinocentric conceptions that bind citizenship and membership of our city to a particular skin colour or race.

We must also remain open and inclusive on the front of sexual orientations, gender and sexual identities, and equal rights for men and women. The world is moving in ways that could well be discomforting and incongruous in the eyes of those who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s; the global order is evolving towards one that is increasingly polycentric, multicultural and inclusive of different religious and value systems. If Hong Kong is to stay attractive and competitive as a business hub, it must seek to upgrade not just its hardware, but also its soft infrastructure.

It falls upon the more sensible voices amongst us in ensuring that the public at large wakes up to the ‘social’ facts that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality (a thoroughly Chinese, and Asian, value, at all – just look at ancient imperial Chinese history!), nothing wrong with those who do not conform to the cis-het doctrines governing how we conceptualise sex and gender, and nothing wrong with love, provided that it is consensual and built upon grounds of respect. Some of these propositions aren’t ‘biological facts’ – of course, gender is almost by definition a concept that should be untethered and decoupled from the rigidly construed taxonomy of sex; yet they are most certainly facts rooted in social interests and cultural pluralism that behoove our acceptance.

Note, this is not akin to saying that we must embrace, love, or actively befriend those whose sexual orientations with which we disagree, or we must otherwise face sanctions – this is a strawman position that few would reasonably seek to advance in practice. Few sensible members of the LGBTQIA+ community would ever make the argument that they deserve to be loved, respected, and heralded by all others in an intimate, interpersonally significant fashion, sheerly in virtue of their sexual orientations.

Yet what the community has long asked for – and is a most reasonable ask, I might add – is that the world at large does not treat them unequally, view them discriminatorily, and portray them as outcasts on the spurious grounds that they are allegedly ‘unnatural’. There are many things we do, many activities we engage in, many materials and substances we employ that are ‘unnatural’; even if we ignore the many instances in nature demonstrating that cisheteronormativity is not the default, and that there can be other forms of sexual identities and gender orientations that do not conform to religious doctrines, we must recognise that this blind appeal to outdated conceptions of ‘what is natural’ cannot be taken seriously as a substantive and well-established argument.

The Gay Games have provided our city with the opportunity to signal and demonstrate to the world at large that Hong Kong is back, is indeed open, and is keen to welcome guests and friends from afar, regardless of their sexual orientations, gender identities, or where they are from. We must not and cannot derail efforts such as these, as we seek to put Hong Kong back on the world map again – for the right reasons.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

Assistant Professor, HKU