Protecting basic interests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2004, 12:00am

What is patriotism? How do you define patriotism? I have been asked these same questions over and over again in the past few weeks. I believe most of us in Hong Kong are patriots - I do not think too many of us are scheming to overthrow the government or planning to declare independence. And I do not feel that the central authorities question Hong Kong people's loyalties or feelings towards their country.

Really, patriotism cannot be defined - not in the universal sense. Almost every individual's sense of patriotism is different and people feel they are patriots for many different reasons. It is a very personal and subjective view of feelings towards the nation one is a citizen of, the history of which one is a part, and the appreciation of how far one's home has come from the previous years. We will inevitably have different standards.

It is vital for us all to acknowledge that patriotism comes in different forms. It should not be mistaken as extreme nationalism or any type of chauvinism. One way of looking at patriotism is by understanding its three main types: civic patriotism, nationalist patriotism and trait-based patriotism.

Civic patriotism has nothing to do with one's place of birth. It is about the bond one has with other members of society and their 'place' in the state. This kind of patriotism is inherently political in nature but is not dependent on national or ethnic identity. Civic patriotism requires the recognition of a state and a moral duty to it.

In this sense, patriotism does not require an uncritical endorsement of everything that happens in the political body. To be critical is allowed, and considered patriotic. The line between being critical and being destructive lies in one's intentions. The intention of being critical is to bring about common good while being destructive is intended to undermine the state.

Nationalist patriotism focuses on the national group one belongs to, not the political system. A national group has a lot of shared attributes which may include a common history, language and ancestry. National affiliation provides people with meaning and a sense of identity. To better understand what nationalist patriotism is, we must think of it like our relationship with our family. People cannot choose their family, nor can they choose which social group or race they belong to. Shared common bonds between family members impose certain responsibilities - protection of the family is considered a duty.

Trait-based patriotism is perhaps the simplest of all. This is the direct result of reflecting on and appreciating a place's qualities - it could be its beautiful countryside, the quality of life or rule of law, for example. Patriotism is not supposed to be negative, it is about being proud of who we are, our history, and the respect for the state and nation we belong to. It is about protecting our country's territorial integrity. It is also about responsibilities and duties.

Discussing the meanings of patriotism in this context will hopefully clarify some misconceptions we may have, due to the controversies the word has inspired.

I have observed that only a few years ago, people like me were categorised as 'pro-Beijing' when we only thought of ourselves as 'patriots'. 'Patriotism', then, somehow carried with it a fundamentally negative connotation. Traditionally, those who dare to proclaim that they are patriots are cornered, then generalised and unfairly labelled in order to be ultimately denied, singled out and cast in a prejudicial light.

Now the same people who labelled us, by way of political scrutiny, have decided to cry foul over the current debate. Those who are suddenly proud to be patriots now claim that they are victims of oppression.

Never have I been so glad to see so many voicing their wish to join ranks with the rest of the patriots. Never have I been so embarrassed by the ridiculous notion of the need for such a debate to begin with.

This 'patriotism' debate began with the central government's guiding principle that Hong Kong should be run by people who love Hong Kong and China. I am still trying to figure out why this - a sensible request - has been twisted into what we have today. Can anyone imagine having leaders who do not have our best interests at heart?

Leaders of other countries are staunchly patriotic, why should it be any different here? At the end of the day, all Beijing wants, whatever election method we decide to adopt, is for Hong Kong to be run by people who will not threaten the special administrative region or the nation to which we belong.

Ma Lik is chairman of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong