Recently, I’ve been seeing a slew of commentaries following the whole “red postbox/green postbox” issue about decolonisation, so I thought I’d throw my two cents in.
Decolonisation is a tricky process; there are no perfect timings, no absolutely correct policies, no clarity for the future. Compared to the rest of the British colonies, Hong Kong got off easy - it retained a whole load of institutions and practices that kept the city up and running. Unlike a whole host of ex-colonies, there has been sustained prosperity and peace post-handover; we’re pretty special in that regard. Granted, Hong Kong only passed hands from one sovereign state to another and didn’t have to build a new government and administration from scratch, but still, that’s not bad.
I agree, though, that one thing that Hong Kong never got out of the whole process was social awakening. In the vast majority of decolonisation cases, the colonies displaced the myth of the rulers’ superiority, reasserting their own indigenous strengths and identity. Hong Kong, in the absence of outright antagonism against Britain, didn’t go through that same process of turning away from the myth of the “white man’s burden”. As such, many of these colonial values remain deeply embedded in society - a white name has the weight of an empire behind it.
We can agree that Hong Kong never fully ‘decolonized’, for better or worse, if we take decolonization to mean the abolishment of colonial institutions and ideas. But enough about that. My issue is with certain groups of people who either a) agree with full ‘decolonization’, or b) look to the colonial years as the ‘golden age’.
To those hardcore advocates of ‘decolonization’ in Hong Kong: What would Hong Kong be like, if it did away with all remnants of its colonial history? Hong Kong bears much of its colonial heritage in its everyday function; it’s not something that’s as easily gotten rid of as the red on our postboxes. To completely decolonise would be turn our backs on what made the city what it is today - say goodbye to your extended civil liberties, market economy, independent judiciary and electoral franchise (however limited it might be).
To those who wave the colonial flag at pro-independence rallies: Have you forgotten the discrimination under British rule? Don’t let the economic growth and current prosperity fool you into thinking the colonial years were fantastic. As imperial subjects, Hong Kong people were nothing more than second-rate; we were treated as nothing but cheap labour and a convenient trading port to finance the Empire until after the economic boom in the 1960s. The 1970s reforms could arguably have been to act as a buffer against the agitation on the mainland rather than for the colony’s own benefit, even though Hong Kong had its trademark glamour years of the 1980s.
What I’m saying is, don’t blinker yourself with politics when looking at the past. Instead of looking at the past with the rose-tinted spectacles of the present, look at the present with the past in mind. The past may not be pretty, it may contradict your argument, but because it does precisely that it acts as a moderating factor in politics. Politics today is, in my opinion, too out of context. We ask about how things should happen without asking questions about why they haven’t happened yet. And if we have asked and answered these questions, the answers are often too simplistic. (Democracy movement, I’m looking at you.)
I don’t have a pretty ending to this at all. In fact, I’m writing this as I procrastinate on my essays. But hopefully you’ve taken something away from my ramblings at two in the morning, I’d hate to have bored you (not as interesting as Freelance Guy, but I think I did okay).