• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:42am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 3:33am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 7:08am

Which one fits: Hongkonger or Chinese?

Follow your heart, not political ideology, when facing a question about where you come from


George Chen is the Financial Editor and Mr. Shangkong Columnist at the South China Morning Post. George has covered China's political and economic changes since 2002. George is the author of two books -- This is Hong Kong I Know (2014) and Foreign Banks in China (2011). George has been named a 2014 Yale World Fellow. More about George: www.mrshangkong.com

Have you ever found yourself pausing for a second when people ask you where you come from?

If you are like me, born in one place before moving to another to make a living, you may understand what I am saying. It's not a problem, because while your hometown is where your roots are, you can also have a second or even third "home city" where you live for many years.

But in that first second after being asked where you come from, what is your instinctive response? If you think deeper, you will realise it is actually a question about your sense of identity. At Yale University, where I've been selected to join the Yale World Fellows programme this year, my classmates face the same question all the time. So the 16 of us were advised to read the book In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born French author whose mother tongue is Arabic but who has written in French for many decades.

In the book, Maalouf says: "So am I half French and half Lebanese? Of course not. Identity can't be compartmentalised. You can't divide it up into halves or thirds or any other separate segments."

Everyone should have a strong sense of identity. Your identity reveals your story

I agree with Maalouf. Everyone should have a strong sense of his or her unique identity. Your identity reveals your story. How can you simply repeat or copy others' stories and life experiences?

In Hong Kong, my second hometown, where I have lived since 2008, many people are facing a so-called "identity crisis". It's about colonialism, post-colonialism and perhaps also related to realism, depending on whether you believe mainland-Hong Kong relations is a zero-sum game.

Remember the poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong about the identity of Hong Kong residents and whether they considered themselves Chinese or Hongkongers? Beijing hated the poll so much because it was considered politically sensitive and a challenge to full control of Hong Kong by the central government. I'm not sure it was that sensitive, or worth Beijing complaining about all the time.

What's wrong with people responding with "I'm a Hongkonger" or "I'm a Shanghainese" - if such a poll could be conducted in my hometown, where media control remains extremely tight.

Friends from New York are proud to call themselves New Yorkers. Does that suggest they pose a challenge to the sovereignty of the United States of America?

Your identity is your story and sometimes some people are just too sensitive and mix almost everything with politics. If there's a political problem, then fix the political problem rather than just complain or force people to accept an identity they don't feel engaged with.

After all, love cannot be forced. We all know that.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit facebook.com/mrshangkong


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This article is now closed to comments

Your analogy with Shanghainese or New Yorker identity is completely off the mark. Beijing isn't concerned that the local population considers themselves Hong Kongers, that's a fact, they live in Hong Kong permanently, so they're Hong Kongers.
Beijing's concern, and rightfully so, is that the locals don't consider themselves Chinese, at all.
No New Yorker would say "I'm not American; I'm a New Yorker".
Have Hongkongers looked at a damn mirror lately? What else can they be? Somalian?
One can be both, as any sentient being understands. Sadly those across the border in the Mainland perceive anyone who does not bow down to their dominance as being evil and subversive. It is sad that they cannot respect the people of Hong Kong and perceive us only as cattle or chattel to be used for their purposes. Imagine if the Chinese government started treating other nations as equals rather than vassals. If the Party accepted that people can have different ideas and still love their country. Imagine that. But alas, only communists can rule as they are imbued with the wisdom of having had a daddy and/or mommy who was part of the Mao or Deng dynasties and learned to rule from mommy and/or daddy. If it were not so pathetic, it would be amusing.
I suggest the CCP grow up and stop behaving like petulant children all the time. It's their own bloody fault so many ethnic Chinese don't want to be identified as mainland Chinese but rather "Hong Konger", "Taiwanese", "Malaysian Chinese", etc.
Hong Kongers are Chinese. If they doubt it, they are free to move to the UK.
I see Sleeping Beauty.
What an ill-informed opinion of places outside of China. Is Kobe Bryant viewed as any less American because he is African-American. Is Robert DeNiro more American because he is Italian-American? Lucy Lui? Cameron Diaz? What a fool. Too much mainland propaganda has rotted your brain. Get out and see the world. Or better yet, stay ignorant like your masters in Beijing want you to be.
I suggest you pack your bags and start laboring in Work Camp #4, section-12.
Hong Kong is a Chinese city filled with foreign elements that tries to convince itself that its not.




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