Nationalism cannot cure Hong Kong’s ills

By Angela Hui, 18 (a student taking a gap year)

Nationalism isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can bring people together - but it may not address our city's many issues

By Angela Hui, 18 (a student taking a gap year) |

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The key to improving the situation in Hong Kong is in the government’s hands.

In his May 25 “Op-ed” article Hongkongers, don’t just reject nationalism — it can be a good thing, Henry Lui argued that Hong Kong people should embrace nationalism. Although it is true that nationalism can encourage collective action when facing challenges, it may not be a practical solution to the city’s many problems.

Before cultivating this affection for our homeland, we have to deal with a key issue – which exactly is our homeland, Hong Kong or China? The identity of Hong Kong residents has polarised opinion, with people identifying themselves as Chinese, Hongkongers or both. According to a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong last December, more than 60 per cent of the respondents identified themselves as Hongkongers and around one-third as Chinese. Faced with such an identity crisis, should the citizens develop a love of Hong Kong or China? This “division” makes it even harder to reach middle ground and cultivate nationalism. It is more likely that conflicts will arise before unity is strengthened.

Also, how can the government promote nationalism? We have seen some failed attempts by the government to build our national identity. The proposal for implementing moral and national education in 2012 faced stiff public opposition. Some 100,000 people took to the streets to protest against introducing the subject in schools. Critics claimed it amounts to “brainwashing” young minds with pro-mainland propaganda. The scheme was eventually scrapped.

In this age of growing xenophobia, any attempts to cultivate a love of the motherland are likely to arouse public dismay, making it almost impossible to promote nationalism.

Even if nationalism is practical in Hong Kong, what should we rely on to sustain this love of our country? Nationalism is based on national pride or hope for a better future – both unfortunately denied by our very own government. Hong Kong people are deprived of pride, because of the city’s falling competitiveness and endless political scandals. As a result, the roots of nationalism are extremely fragile and can be easily cut down by harsh reality. Nationalism, simply for the sake of unity without a proper foundation or an achievable goal, won’t take us anywhere.

It is obvious that our society is fragmented and calling for a love of the homeland is a direct way to build unity. Yet, we should consider this: why is our city divided in the first place? The most significant factor is our government’s inadequacies. In the past decade, there has been a series of problems ranging from skyrocketing property prices and lead-contaminated water, to corruption and “white elephant” projects. Separatism is merely a side product of failing governance and rising distrust between the authorities and citizens.

We should not blame the people for dissociating themselves from the unpleasant mess in our society, given that it is human nature to do so. Asking the public to love a city that is being torn apart is way too demanding, especially when the key to improving the situation is in the government’s hands.

While I understand that Hong Kong lacks the synergy to move forward, uniting people through nationalism is not the most appealing option. To foster people’s love of their homeland, the government should really deliver the goods in an efficient way without any frills. If the government’s credibility and people’s living conditions improve, we would have less to worry about, and then unity would flow, naturally. After all, Hong Kong is a lovely place filled with talented people – we just need to make an effort to get rid of those dark clouds hanging over us.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

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