Historical Development of the Concept as a Hong Konger (2) – Development of Cantonese

There was no official language in Hong Kong in the 1950s. In that decade, Hong Kong population increased by several times, with immigrants from both Northern and Southern China flooding in. With such diverse origins of immigrants, we had different languages coexisted in this tiny place: Hakka, Shanghaiese, Teochew were spoken by many. There were even dialects from Tianjin and Peking. Hong Kong was a multilingual city.

The New Territories has been the habitat of Hakka people, mixed with many other ethnic groups, such as Tanka people. Hoi Pa Village in Tsuen Wan, Sam Tung Uk and Yim Tin Tsai Village in Sai Kung were famous Hakka villages, sharing similar architectural style with Hakka village in Mei County of Guangdong province of  China.

The rise of Cantonese to become dominant language in Hong Kong was the result of compulsory education. Hong Kong colonial government did not state clearly its policy in “official language”. Colonial government just carried out policies quietly without making clear instructions, yet the language used in compulsory education since 1960s has always been Cantonese.

Why was Cantonese chosen? It was due to the Leftist Riots in 1967. The United Kingdom adjusted its policy of Hong Kong. Hong Kong used to be treated as a free port with minimal restrictions to immigrants. The immigrants were viewed as temporary residents who would return to their homeland when the situation permitted. Therefore, there was no long term planning for this city, which was especially obvious in respect on cultural policies. There were hardly any cultural policies at all.

Of course, this was a pragmatic strategy, considering possible threat of annexing Hong Kong by Chinese Communists.

The Cultural Revolution in China caused a change to the picture. The refugees in Hong Kong became reluctant to return to China after witnessing the brutality of the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, the Revolution stimulated Chinese mainlanders in China to seek refuge in Hong Kong. 1967 Leftist Riots, which were highly correlated with the Cultural Revolution, alarmed these once fragmented and individual refugees of the imminent threats, making them to change their mind – starting to treat Hong Kong as their homeland.

The Leftist Riots ended by the order of Zhou Enlai. This hinted the “liberation” of Hong Kong was out of schedule for China. Hong Kong therefore became the shelter for those fleeing from the Cultural Revolution. This situation made the refugees to rethink of their roles. They could no longer treat themselves as passers-by; they became settlers. In this case, Hong Kong could no longer be managed like a large-scale refugee camp. Social policies had to be adjusted for its long term development.

From that point of time, the Hong Kong government had a drastic change in its policies: large-scale construction schemes of public housing for refugees to settle down; implementation of compulsory education, not only to improve education level, but also a process of identity construction. “Identity construction” meant a nation-building process, to create a new identity: a new identity with much stronger coherence, self-identity, sense of belonging and homogenous cultural characteristics among the residents. This was accompanied by industrialization, the strengthening of the trade networks with the South East Asia and Japan, the construction of desalination plant, while reducing its economic and entrepot trade dependence on mainland China. All these aimed at building up Hong Kong as a place for long term development.

Standard Cantonese was chosen as the de facto official language. Since then, the word 廣府話 (translated as Standard Cantonese, literally means the Cantonese primarily used in the core Canton/Guangzhou region) was renamed as 廣東話 (translated as Cantonese, which includes variations used in different regions of Guangdong province). “Cantonese” is a broader sense which includes “Standard Cantonese”. Treating “Standard Cantonese” as “Cantonese” served to consolidate the leading role of people from core Canton regions as the mainstream ethnic group in Hong Kong society. Simply speaking, that is to treat the people with core Canton origin as the major ethnic group among Hong Kongers. They served to assimilate the descendants of other refugees, which in turn strengthened the British rule.

Chinese and English bilingual subtitles were compulsory in the Hong Kong movies. “Chinese” became one of the official languages (This so-called “Chinese” language was de facto Cantonese, different from Putonghua of Communist China or Mandarin of Republic of China). These were the policies to nurture Cantonese as official language of Hong Kong. With favourable cultural soil, Hong Kong Cantonese movies emerged in this decade.

The diminishing influence of Hakka dialect was more or less the result of government policies. The British made a generous offer to indigenous inhabitants allowing them to emigrate to the United Kingdom. In that era, migration to the Kingdom was rather easy. These emigrants often left in a scale which most villagers in the village emigrated at the same time. Though they may still have properties and lands in Hong Kong, they lost their cultural influence. This helped the British government to clear a major obstacle in construction of Cantonese mainstream culture in Hong Kong.

Of course, not all the inhabitants were gone. So the Cantonese in Hong Kong was actually a language which based mainly on Standard Cantonese, and mixing the dialects of Chaoshan, Hakka and other provinces to form the “Cantonese of Hong Kong”. The influence of other dialects can still be found today, such as the use of 伯娘 in greeting elder uncle’s wife.

With the grownup of first generation taught by official Cantonese, other dialects and Hakka would lose their influence. Most of current Hong Kongers speak Cantonese. So we can see that the rise of Cantonese as mainstream culture in Hong Kong was a process of cultural colonization, instead of protecting cultures. This was quite a rare case in colonial policies. British was using the tools of nation build-up to construct the identity of Hong Kongers – a cultural identity with its mainstream based on Cantonese.

Such nation-building is in fact harmful to colonial rules, as it may spark independence movements. However, Hong Kong was quite a special case. For a long period of time, the political pressure of Hong Kong was the imminent annexation from mainland China. Hong Kong population was mainly composed of refugees who concerned primarily of personal security. So the nation-building process not only did not cause any harm to the colonial rule, but served to consolidate Hong Kong society to become a stable society for prosperous economic development. The refugees once without roots were transformed into citizens taking their roots in Hong Kong.

So you may ask: why the British didn’t pick Hakka dialect as official language but Cantonese? The answer is quite simple: only Cantonese could serve the purpose. The cultural influence of Canton was too significant to be ignored. Since late Qing period, the power of local Cantonese culture strengthened with time, which reached a climax when the emergence of Cantonese warlords in the beginning of the Republic of China. Cantonese essays and writings were widespread, and many Cantonese words were invented for widespread usage at that time. The Hong Kong colonial government was just borrowing the accumulated achievements of Cantonese culture. The British picked Cantonese for its economic and cultural power, as well as its usage overseas.

My professor once said that he was asked to explain why Cantonese language and characters had such significant influence when he attended a conference in Taiwan. Why was Cantonese so well developed, while Taiwanese characters were lagged behind? The reason was the cultural accumulation. They had significant difference in historical heritage and the influence of talents.

In a wider scope, though Cantonese attained dominance in Hong Kong, Chaoshan culture still had significant influence in Singapore and Thailand. Min Nan and Chaoshan were close branches in language division. The role of Min Nan language in those countries strengthened the role of Chaoshan.

Cantonese achieved its dominance with the endorsement of Hong Kong colonial government, would it be able to surpass other languages in Southern China. Hong Kong used public resources to promote the role of Cantonese. It even established Cantonese database. Hong Kong government made use of the accumulated achievements of Cantonese culture for nation-building. Hakka was not so fortunate to have its own government or even country.

Without the support of media and education, Hakka culture could only rely on civil resources. With gradual loss of Hakka culture, Hakka people would become assimilated – blood linkage could not retain cultural heritage.

Strictly speaking, “Cantonese” refers to a language with primary Cantonese branch mixing with other dialects, which is different from “Standard Cantonese”. Though the word “Cantonese” was so widely known, it was actually a dialect when compared to “Standard Cantonese”.

Nothing more to say between China and Japan! Get prepared for military conflicts

(Note: An amusing article dated 30th October 2013 from Globaltimes, another mouthpiece of Chinese Communists. Chinese never learn to be prudent in their territorial ambitions, and refrain from exaggerations. This time the article again concerns the Japanese, the deadly foe to those Chinese brainwashed with patriotism.)

Link of original text in Chinese: http://mil.huanqiu.com/paper/2013-10/4506832.html

Commentaries: Japan has few cards to play against China even cuddling the U.S.

screen capture on senkaku

Itsunori Onodera, the Japanese Minister of Defence, spoke in the press conference in the morning of 29th October that the recent “invasions” of the Chinese in the territorial waters near Diaoyu Islands/Senkaku Islands, have stepped into the grey zone between peaceful period and the state of emergency. Such statement reignited the tension on Sino-Japanese relations.

There is nothing more to talk between China and Japan. Only mutual attacks and warnings remain. Both sides are firm on their grounds and no one is willing to concede. Each side is cautious to test the bottom line of the other on one hand, and get prepared for military conflicts on the other.

senkaku islands

The U.S. casts a great shadow on Sino-Japanese relations. It is quite probable the provocations from Japanese are connived by the Americans, yet the Japanese has no idea what kind of assistance they can get in case military conflicts break out. Although it is quite apparent that the U.S. and Japan are on the same side, the U.S. never gives up its role as a mediator to balance the power of the two sides. If China and Japan engage in military conflicts, it will be a hard decision for the U.S. to decide what kind of intervention to take.

As long as the U.S. refrains from supporting Japan to go to war with China publicly, we can ignore the attitude of the U.S. by concentrating on contending Japanese provocations. Though Japan is arrogant in its words, the lacking of confidence is quite apparent. If it is not the case, Japanese officials don’t need to show their determination publicly by repeating their words, and to request the U.S. to clarify its role in every possible occasion.

map of senkaku islands

China has been refusing to meet Japanese senior officials. China only reiterates its position through the spokesmen of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence, casting a great contrast with the actions of the Japanese, with its Prime Minister and the heads of ministries requesting dialogues with China. China has already got an upper hand against Japan psychologically. Japan can do no more but to play rascal tricks to get attention from China.

Japanese plot to nationalize Senkaku Islands was a total failure. The current Japanese “effective control” on the Islands was undermined by China. Japan showed its weakness in front of Chinese determined counterattacks. Japan is taking steps to reaffirm its bottom lines against further actions from China to safeguard its sovereignty in the Islands.

As it is not a realistic objective for China to retake the Islands now, the new order may be possibly formed by the two sides under current tensions.

The threats from Japan to shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles and the hostile comments from Japanese officials are tricks on the bargaining table. Though Japan seems to insist on the line-to-take in denying any territorial conflicts ever exist over the Islands, it can do nothing but to keep an open eye to Chinese official vessels cruising the territorial waters around the Islands routinely and the Chinese vessels entering 12 knots of territorial waters.

China and Japan are in the contest of determination. The result of such standoff affects the Sino-Japanese relations in foreseeable future.

China should not only maximize its current advantage in the dispute over the Islands, but should teach Japan a lesson through this event: provoking China will not bring any good to Japan. Even Japan is allied to the U.S., it still has no advantage in the dispute.

Prolonged confrontation between the two makes them strategic enemies. But China and American will not. China and the U.S. have many common interests and opportunities globally. Japan is the pawn of the U.S., not the vice versa.

As long as the situation on the Islands is off from the expectations of China, and that the Japanese insist on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, China should keep on putting pressure on Japan. However, China doesn’t need to put the same pressure on itself by setting an unrealistic objective. China should put pressure on Japan, but not itself.

Let the Japanese senior officials to repeat their offensive empty statements. China just needs to keep its pressure on Japan being stable, consistent and sustainable, showing the power and dignity of a rising world power. China should at the same time show to be strategic self-restraint and rational, this can at last perish the determination of Japan.




hong konger first





防止左賊散佈歪理的防火牆,是歷史知識和邏輯思維。偏偏兩者,都是香港人最欠缺的。西諺云︰Common sense is not common,信焉。

Historical Development of the Concept as a Hong Konger (1)

Early British colonial rule

Chinese and foreigners were segregated under early British rule. The Europeans had their own buildings and facilities, similar to the other British colonies around the globe. Most of them lived in the Mid-Levels. The boundary of Hong Kong was open to China in the early days. The Chinese were free to travel between Hong Kong and mainland China. The Chinese were living in the villages in the foot of the mountain. In principle, the British didn’t intervene too much in the matters among Chinese. The Great Qing Legal Code still applied to them.

In the beginning, the rule of the British over Chinese was only through the Hong Kong Police Force, a small-scale colonial police force, responsible for security to fire services. The attitude of Britain towards Hong Kong was similar to its other colonies: non-intervention policy towards daily lives of local inhabitants unless absolutely necessary.

The United Kingdom has proclaimed clearly its principles in ruling Hong Kong in the beginning:

  1. Hong Kong to become a free port with no tax levied, open to the world for trading;
  2. To respect the customs of local inhabitants

During Taiping Rebellion, many merchants in Southern China escaped to Hong Kong to avoid warfare. They employed many labours from Guangdong and Fujian, this resulted in great surge of population. Hong Kong naturally took the path to become an entrepot (there was often a misunderstanding from mainland China that Hong Kong became a rich city from entrepot trade), with over a hundred thousand population. As Hong Kong was an entrepot, everyone could do business here regardless of your origin. In the early days of colonial rule, no tax was levied. Commerce became prosperous under such free environment.

As mentioned above, under the principle of the colonial government in respecting local customs, there was no town planning at all for the Chinese community. This resulted in serious hygiene problems. When epidemics broke out, not only the Chinese were infected but the British. Only for this reason did the colonial government start to intervene on the rule of the Chinese community.

The most important change was the decree issued in 1865 proclaiming the equality of the law of Hong Kong towards everyone. The original texts with discrimination to Chinese were abolished. This marked the ground stone of the rule of law of Hong Kong.

Another change was the establishment of the Urban Council, with similar functions of a council. This elected council functioned as an institution to tackle with home affairs, such as hygiene problems in the city, and the development of utilities like gas, electricity and freshwater. To the British, it was most important to maintain good hygiene in the Chinese community. That is a typical colonial policy, pragmatic and free from ideologies. The British colonial government in Hong Kong has been a pragmatic one throughout the colonial history of Hong Kong.

To sum up the British rule in one sentence: the colonial government refrained from intervention in local affairs unless absolutely necessary. The Manchus were unable to rule, while the British didn’t want to. This resulted in a free environment for knowledge and business to thrive, and the result why Hong Kong later became the freest economic entity in the world. It is better to say Hong Kong people were the few lucky ones who could disregard the rulers throughout human history, then they were contented to the rule of the British.

Hong Kongers’ identity as refugees

Hong Kong has long been separated from Chinese rule for over 150 years, a much longer period to much Chinese sovereignty on Earth. However, the history of growth of self-identity was not that long, it was only the matter of recent decades.

Hong Kong was a society composed of refugees. We had refugees from mainland China, India and Vietnam. They formed a majority of the Hong Kong population (Hong Kong’s population increased for several times after World War II). Many families took root in Hong Kong for only two to three generations. Therefore, their mindsets developed in their origins were brought to Hong Kong, many of them with certain political backgrounds.

On the other hand, the education system in Hong Kong was not unified. There was no legitimate official concept and ideology in the education system. The system allowed the Government and civil society to establish their own schools. The school authority had the rights to implant the concepts they wanted to disseminate in their curriculums. There were school institutions with different backgrounds, from religious groups, industrial associations, clan relative societies, academic institutions and political groups (such as Leftist schools), with religious variations from Buddhism to Christianity to Muslims. Different students from different schools will therefore hold different values.

This resulted in heterogeneous and diversified mindsets and values in Hong Kong, many of them were quite radical. Few could find somebody else with congruent views as himself. Everyone is more or less different from the others, and that’s why many find themselves confused in the question of self-identity. The identity as a “Chinese” and as a “Hong Konger” gradually becomes antagonistic, especially when this “China” is so distinctively different in its culture, thinking and concept from Hong Kong, the antagonism is further sharpened.

That is the infant stage of the identity as a Hong Konger. There are not yet any significant figures or groups. Hong Kong people are awaking. When you start to find yourself have something distinctively different, it’s hard to cheat yourself anymore.