Hong Kong has changed, but it’s not about to die

  • The death of the city may have been forecast by the infamous cover of a magazine 23 years ago but, with the colonial era gone, it will rise and prosper again as part of the mainland
PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 8:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 10:07pm

The power of a single headline! Whoever came up with “The Death of Hong Kong” for the infamous 1995 cover of Fortune magazine deserves recognition in the annals of journalism.

Few people remember what the article inside actually said, but practically everyone has heard about the cover.

Suddenly, the phrase is back in circulation. Radio Free Asia quoted it in a report on localist Lau Siu-lai being disqualified from running in a Legislative Council by-election later this month.

The New York Times, writing last week about the failure of British journalist Victor Mallet to renew his work visa, cited the phrase. The journalism director of the University of Hong Kong recently wondered in an article whether the death, much delayed, had finally arrived.

To be sure, those five monosyllabic words articulated a theme, announced the end of an era and encapsulated all the fears about the beginning of a new one. Never mind that so many presumptions, assumptions and Western ethnocentrism had been packed into that headline you would need a scholarly analysis to unpack all of the hidden meanings and malice.

Conveniently, it offered a mental framework in which to understand Hong Kong and anticipate its future, even if the reader, as a foreigner, didn’t know the first thing about the city – especially if he didn’t know a thing about it.

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It has become a Rorschach test, a random ink blot, on which people could project their own prejudices, ignorance and insecurities regarding the city and the rest of China.

No wonder foreign hacks keep coming back to it.

But talking about the death of Hong Kong is as ridiculous as talking about that of Shanghai, Tokyo, New York or Berlin? Big cities change and transform, but they always endure.

The end of an era doesn’t mean the end of hope. The presumption is that an Asian city could only survive and prosper under Western direction and tutelage. That’s why we talk about the death of Hong Kong, instead of the birth of Shenzhen, which in 20 years, has exceeded our city in gross domestic product and become what we have always wanted to be – a hi-tech hub.

Yes, old colonial Hong Kong is dead or dying. But when we have finally learned to live with the rest of the country, and integrate with the high-growth south – when we will have become “just another mainland city” – then we will rise and prosper again.