Hegemony - a word lost in translation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2012, 12:00am

'Hegemony' has been on everyone's lips since people turned against the property tycoons.

Now, it seems anything that draws flak from some segments of the public can be denounced as such. Beyond 'property hegemony', consider such examples as 'supermarket hegemony' and 'luxury hegemony'. On Sunday, hundreds of people answered a Facebook campaign against Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana for allegedly banning photography outside its shop windows in Tsim Sha Tsui.

There must have been many dialogues like this on the day: 'Honey, what are we doing today?' 'Let's join the rally against D & G.' 'I was thinking of going to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I guess rallying against luxury bar kuen is a much more meaningful way to spend our day off work together.'

Personally, I think it's misleading to translate the Chinese bar kuen as hegemony. It is a loaded English word. Think Napoleonic France after the 1789 revolution or the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci used it to describe the ideological dominance of the ruling class over the rest of society.

'Dominance' is a simpler and more neutral word that means the same thing. But we Hongkongers, despite or because of our declining language standards, always prefer big English words when simple ones would do.

Poor Dolce & Gabbana. Sure, it's a luxury chain, but it's puny compared with some of the really big names from France. Its sales and security staff might have misspoken, but you get monkeys when you pay peanuts.

There is a Facebook page run by people who call themselves, in English, 'Concern Group for Hong Kong Religious Hegemony'. Whatever. Soon we will have people rallying against the government for political hegemony, doctors for their medical hegemony, lawyers for legal hegemony, and professors for university hegemony.