Patriotism among Hong Kong Chinese has always been a fluid, and periodically vexed, emotional concept. Whether sentiment is outwardly directed towards Britain, China – or countries such as Canada, New Zealand or Australia, where the individual holds citizenship (while conveniently not revoking their Chinese nationality) – or Hong Kong as a vague “city state”, locating just where ultimate loyalty lies has been complex. In British times, exclusion of Chinese from senior participatory bodies, until the late colonial period, largely hinged on questions of ultimate loyalty – not race, as is usually believed. If push came to shove, would individual Hong Kong Chinese remain loyal to Britain, or at least to the British colony of Hong Kong, as their real and only home? Or would the gravitational pull of a shared common language, culture and racial ancestry, combined with personal, political or economic pressures exerted from China, tip the scales? Owing to these conflicting “patriotic” demands, many Hong Kong Chinese children have grown up with their identities anchored to multiple places. Such complications have only become more acute since the 1997 handover. On the one hand, children are publicly enjoined to love the “motherland” and embrace symbolic patriotic displays such as anthems, flags and ceremonial occasions. On the other, most Hong Kong Chinese regard at least one alternative passport, ideally from some (preferably Anglosphere) Western democracy, as highly advantageous. Few – at least privately – consider this situation objectionable. In addition to publicly loving China, and making sure their offspring speak better-than-halting Mandarin, many Hong Kong “patriots” want to ensure they don’t actually have to live there – at least, not permanently. They also seek to discreetly park a healthy proportion of their financial assets far from “Greater China”. Close adherence to outward form, without much of the underpinning substance that gives it meaning, is a readily observable Hong Kong Chinese trait. Patriotism for their theoretical “motherland” is a case in point. “Instant noodle” patriotism became a sarcastic local label during the Sino-British negotiations ahead of the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong in 1984. Previously loyal subjects of British Hong Kong, suitably rewarded by Britain for their community service and utility, suddenly rediscovered how “Chinese” they were as the handover loomed. They became enthusiastic cheerleaders for “everything mainland”, even dressing in a frumpy, pseudo-communist manner, and parroting shrill denunciations of anything that whiffed of the “British colonialism” from which they had previously benefited. One individual who dramatically rediscovered his “Chinese-ness” as the north wind blew more strongly was Eurasian millionaire lawyer Lo Tak-shing. A hereditary beneficiary of everything British Hong Kong had to offer, Lo had been awarded a CBE in 1982, along with earlier accolades; both his father, Lo Man-kam, and his grandfather, Robert Hotung, were knighted for services to the community. Nevertheless, Lo Tak-shing was among the first to give up his British citizenship and become a People’s Republic of China passport holder, in 1995. This dramatic, very public realignment of national allegiances didn’t get him anywhere, and any hoped-for continuation of public appointments swiftly petered out after the 1997 handover. He died in 2006. How a sense of patriotism to broader and more specific notions of China will evolve as more strident racial nationalism becomes the benchmark by which these sentiments are measured remains to be seen. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.