Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam

Bruce Lee, Chinese food: Hong Kong has so much to offer the world, so let’s view the current exodus from the city in a positive light

  • Some 16,000 Hong Kong families are expected to emigrate to the UK this year, with many more to follow them there and elsewhere
  • This should be viewed as another opportunity to share Hong Kong’s unique culture and gifts with the world

Those Hongkongers who are emigrating to Britain should not see themselves as fleeing the city, but as people who are seeking to put down roots elsewhere and seek a new life.

Hongkongers do not chastise expatriates coming to the city to experience a new culture and raise their families. In fact, we embrace these visitors who inevitably become a part of the local fabric. But sadly, there have been mixed reactions towards local residents seemingly “jumping ship” and “escaping” to nations like Britain, the United States and other countries that are home to significant Chinese diasporas.

It’s been estimated that Hongkongers who are planning to emigrate to Britain will be taking as much as HK$150 billion (US$19.3 billion) from the sale of their properties, and that’s this year alone.

That, of course, is fabulous news for the British government – the UK economy will surely benefit from this mass wave of emigration. But many also fear it could sound the death knell for Hong Kong’s people, culture, and the city itself.

Once more, Hongkongers are leaving their city to emigrate, taking their culture and the uniqueness of their home with them. Photo: Sawayasu Tsuji/Getty Images

Up to 16,000 Hong Kong families are expected to start afresh in the UK by taking advantage of a visa scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders. Of the 5.4 million Hong Kong residents who are eligible for these passports, the British government said it expects some 300,000 Hongkongers to move to the UK over the next five years.

US President Joe Biden has also reached out to departing Hongkongers, offering the United States as a temporary “safe haven”. Hong Kong residents visiting the US will be allowed to stay for 18 months. The order also extends to Hong Kong people who are already in the US and whose visas have expired.

Fleeing Hongkongers boost overseas property markets from UK to Canada

Naturally, many are focusing on the “obvious” fact that these departing citizens are taking their opulent “shares” in Hong Kong in terms of capital, talents and skills with them.

In fact, we should also consider that these departing Hongkongers are also taking with them their “Hongkongness”, which they will very likely be sharing in their new home country.

We cannot stop people from leaving; and thank goodness, that is their prerogative, one they are entitled to and can still enjoy. Nonetheless, we can adopt the “glass half-full” attitude.

US President Joe Biden has also offered Hongkongers a temporary ‘safe haven’. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Hong Kong desperately needs people and its locals – even departing locals and foreigners – who cherish the city as it is to continue to express their fondness for it. They need to keep the city and its culture in a prominent position so it doesn’t become a city only known as a place from which people flee.

Chinese diasporas have been part of history for centuries, with records going as far back as the 13th century when Chinese merchants settled in Cambodia.

For many generations, we have been building new lives, setting up homes, and bringing up our children in foreign lands. Our ancestors have been contributing to the development and evolution of these overseas communities, and they have also brought untold value that has benefited their new home countries for many years.

Hong Kong has given much to the world, and will continue to do so. Bruce Lee in a still from Fist of Fury (1972).

History has a funny habit of repeating itself, and we are now seeing our Hong Kong stories being told in Britain.

And why not tell our old stories in new Hong Kong ways and write new ones in a uniquely Hong Kong fashion?

With many Hong Kong-Chinese residents flocking to Britain to settle and eventually gain citizenship, this new wave of emigration could be a blessing. But this can only be achieved if we view it as an opportunity.

It is likely to be filled with hardship and prejudice, but instead of worrying that the Hong Kong culture will be lost or watered down, the new emigrants can view it as an opportunity to share and build more hybrid Hong Kong overseas communities in the UK, and Europe.

The thousands of Hongkongers heading to Britain don’t mark the end of Hong Kong, but a new beginning elsewhere. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

At this crucial time in Hong Kong’s history, we desperately need more unofficial “ambassadors” to speak on behalf of the city. We need overseas Hongkongers to spread its qualities and its uniqueness to others, and we need them to reinforce its international status far and wide. Only true Hongkongers can see the city’s innate charm amid the chaos, and only they can show the world the true soul of the city.

Hong Kong’s influence abroad, whether it’s in the food that Britons and Americans order for their families, or Bruce Lee films like Enter the Dragon that non-Hongkongers gush about to their friends, is invaluable to the global community.

Fear of the unknown is natural but with a “glass half-full” perspective, if we want to conquer the future, we can take away the fear factor by shaping and building it ourselves here, there and everywhere.

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts video tutorials on Cantonese language that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme