Independent thinker Horace Chin treads bold path
Lingnan academic Horace Chin has been freely pushing the envelope of political reform and upsetting many in the process
Hong Kong's bond with the mainland is not sacrosanct, if Dr Horace Chin Wan-kan had his way.
It is a proposition that has propelled Chin, a tireless advocate for the city's autonomy, to the forefront of a push to rethink Hong Kong's identity and political future, drawing him followers and detractors alike.
Chin first caught public intellectual consciousness with his 2011 award-winning book, Hong Kong as a City-state - widely seen as the trigger for an ensuing chorus of voices resisting mainland influence in local affairs.
More radical elements took the idea further, expressing a yearning for the bygone days of British rule and waving colonial flags. They touched a nerve in mainland officials, who hit back by calling them "seditious".
That is the backdrop against which the Lingnan University don, also known as Chin Wan, is dubbed "state adviser" by critics - with no small dose of sarcasm.
He is unfazed by such name-calling. "At best I'm just a stateless state adviser," said the man who dreams of a Hong Kong city-state with full sovereignty.
Lately, the term "nativists" has emerged in the local political lexicon to refer to people who share his ideology of focusing solely on Hong Kong affairs to the exclusion of all things national.
Chin was once part of the civil service, working as research director in the Home Affairs Bureau from 2002 to 2007. A PhD holder specialising in folklore studies, he now teaches Chinese studies at Lingnan.
This month, amid political reform debate stirred up by the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, he took things up a notch by issuing a challenge to the 150,000 attendees of an annual Victoria Park vigil remembering the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989.
Hours after heavy rain put an abrupt end to the event, Chin posted strong words on Facebook: "The June 4 night vigil … shows the political stupidity index in Hong Kong remains high, and the altar of demons is still crowded." He continued: "This year heavy rain poured down on the demons; next year thunder shall strike over and again."
Unsurprisingly, commentators rounded swiftly on him, likening his remarks to hate speeches typically made by Beijing-loyalist radicals.
Chin refused to back down; a day later, he lashed out at those sympathetic of Li Wangyang , a Tiananmen activist whose death in June a year ago sparked a public outcry over the mainland's official explanation that he had committed suicide.
"How close were you to Li?" he asked. "Are you really that overwhelmed [by his death]? So much time has passed and you're still holding on to his hanged corpse, refusing to let him go.
"Such is the obnoxiousness of this group of left-wing idiotic rubbish, this kind of hypocrisy."
"Left-wing idiots" and "macro-Chinese idiots" are labels he creates for people who show sympathy for victims of mainland injustices. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Chin stressed that this attitude had no place in Hong Kong.
"We need to drop the identity of 'Chinese' from this moment on," he said. "Mainlanders who identify themselves as Chinese are not entitled to it - they are merely barbarians under the communists' colonial rule."
Chin pointed to distinguishing features such as the Cantonese-speaking population, traditional Chinese characters and ancestral worship as proof that Hong Kong was more like a city-state than part of the country.
His perceived opposition to the commemoration of June 4 was a "misunderstanding", he claimed, saying he was merely challenging the vigil participants and the organisers, whose event slogan, "Love the Country", turned controversial. "The people have gone to the wrong place. The organisers said they wanted to challenge the Communist Party's interpretation of patriotism. This is really silly."
Nor does he hide his disdain for mainlanders. In his books he is free with his criticism, arguing that the party is no different from the British since both have been "imperialistic" over Hong Kong.
It will be "realpolitik" for Beijing to grant Hong Kong the status of an autonomous city-state, he believes.
"Communists are realists. When they think something is beneficial, it becomes a possibility." When asked how long his dream might take to come true, he said without missing a beat: "This will happen in five to six years."
For all his anti-mainland rhetoric, Chin frequented Guangdong cities in the past. "I used to like buying tea leaves there, but do so less nowadays due to the rising yuan. I also crossed over for meals, in Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou."
Born in 1961
1986 Obtained Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Chinese University
1995 PhD, University of Göttingen, Germany
1995-96 At Policy Research Institute
1997-2002 Planning and research manager, Arts Development Council
2002-07 Research director, Home Affairs Bureau
2009-present Assistant professor, Department of Chinese, Lingnan University