That Lion Rock spirit is not coming back

  • The old Hong Kong was an immigrant society striving and succeeding to become a developed economy, the one of today is very different and lives in an age of anxiety and conflicts
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 11:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 11:56pm

The Lion Rock spirit is gone and is not coming back. But there is no point in mourning because it is not unique to Hong Kong.

Any immigrant society striving and succeeding to become a developed economy has had phases during which it experienced high growth and significant improvement in the livelihoods of ordinary people. That’s because you start at a low baseline.

The inevitable myth then emerges about how the older generations could sustain through hardships with an incredible can-do spirit. If only young people today could realise they have it so good!

I bet old geezers in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan all tell themselves similar stories.

Lolita Hu Ching-fang, the outgoing director of the Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Centre in Hong Kong, recently cited the mythical Lion Rock spirit and like many, warned that the city needed to get its mojo back.

“Today, the social atmosphere is so gloomy because of the extraordinary life pressures and the shortage of smooth political conversations,” she said.

“Hong Kong is a city of workaholics. But the economic structure has been distorted to such an extent that more and more hardworking people can’t afford even a very basic living space.”

A fair point, but of course, poor people used to live in squatter huts on hillsides with no electricity or proper toilets. A fire could wipe out an entire neighbourhood.

It’s estimated that 70 per cent of Hong Kong residents over the age of 70 were born on the mainland and came here in search of better opportunities. Fleeing famine, war, civil war and communism, it’s obvious such people would put up with a lot in Hong Kong. But the kinds of hardship they found acceptable would not be remotely tolerated by young people today.

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I grew up in the 1970s, and basic living space meant something rather different.

So let’s not compare apples with oranges. People just have different expectations.

Living in an age of anxiety and conflicts, it’s inevitable people fantasise and idealise the past. Some young localists think colonial Hong Kong must have been paradise. I have no doubt some people still romanticise the British Raj. But they are not the only ones.

Those who think the city needs its Lion Rock spirit back are equally misguided. Old Hong Kong is gone, along with its “spirit”, while a new one is struggling to be born.