My Take

'Beautiful souls' blinkered to reality

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 2:32am

A distinctive Hong Kong identity politics is emerging. As it is still developing, it is hard to pin down and put your finger on. But one important aspect seems clear enough: demonise China, idealise Hong Kong. Yes, yes, I know. How can that be when the city is part of China? But it's that very inclusion since the handover that is being called into question.

At its most obvious, this involves accentuating the negatives on the mainland while ignoring the positives. And doing the reverse when it comes to Hong Kong. So there is this uncritical celebration of local culture and so-called core values, which can mean anything depending on who you ask: Cantonese language, rule of law, open economy, tolerance (unless you are a Filipino maid or a South Asian) and what not.

Hong Kong is the fountain of goodness, our young activists think. Across the border, it's bad land. And it is leaking badness and contaminating Hong Kong with corrupt officials and "locust" visitors, sometimes literally, like urinating and defecating in public, or spreading a potential flu pandemic.

An expat critic of mine thinks Hongkongers have a bad - and accurate - impression of the mainland because of hands-on experience - by making regular visits there. This elderly retiree has obviously not kept up with current surveys such as those by his former Baptist University colleague Michael DeGolyer, who finds that younger people - incidentally those most prone to identity politics - rarely visit the mainland, if at all. They do, however, read the corrosive, rabble-rousing Apple Daily.

For these people, the state power of the central government is incurably corrupt and dirty. Hong Kong is that little island of light and goodness constantly under threat from that monster. I am not defending Beijing, but we are getting a tad paranoid. You try governing 1.3 billion people with dozens of different ethnic groups. Or at least imagine the immense challenge that it entails.

"Beautiful souls", Hegel calls them, those good and pure critics of power, idealists who play an easy moralistic game. They represent a type that recurs in politics everywhere. For the Hong Kong variety, the Chinese state is pure evil. The mainland is another country; we certainly don't want to dirty ourselves with it.