2021 Winner: The Emergence of an Ever-Changing Hong Kong Identity

Project Information
The Emergence of an Ever-Changing Hong Kong Identity
HIS 195A Thesis Research + HIS 195B Thesis Writing
This essay explores the emergence of a collective Hong Kong identity, called Huenggongyun (香港人), a term which which translates quite literally to “Hong Kong people,” and how this localized identity has shaped and been shaped by each generation of Hong Kongers into a near-nationalistic identity from 1967 to 2020. Particularly important in the development of this identity have been moments of social protest centered on British colonialism, the return of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the changing role of Hong Kong vis-à-vis mainland China. In a broad sense, the term refers to the permanent residents of Hong Kong who see themselves culturally tied to the city regardless of their ethnicity. These people have a sense of belonging and care for Hong Kong, much like what one might feel toward a country or nation, an attachment that has been intensified since 1997.

This thesis analyzes three key protests: the 1967 riots, the 2014 Umbrella Movement, and the 2019-2020 protests. It offers as context five other key events, all of which contributed to shifts in the Hong Kong identity: the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1985, the Tian’anmen protests of 1989, the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the national security bill protests of 2003, and the moral and national reeducation plan of 2010. The progression of a Hong Kong identity has not been even; it is not easy to make claims about an individual person’s identity, let alone about a collective identity of residents of a large city. In comparison to demonstrators -- typically students, activists, and professors who leave paper trails documenting their struggles -- it is less clear what non-demonstrators think about the social movements, especially those that have taken form post-2010. Hong Kong identity developed and changed in a chronological process. First, a generation that left the political upheavals on mainland China, especially from the late 1940s into the 1960s, began to develop a localized identity in the wake of the 1967 riots into the 1970s, as people started to find a sense of belonging in Hong Kong. Second, a born-in-Hong Kong generation, in response to mainland China’s further tightening political grip on Hong Kong from the 1980s to the early 2000s, reacted as this newfound sense of identity was threatened. Most recently, a born-around-the-handover generation saw the rise of a new youth democracy movement after 2010, responding to even further encroachments by China. This essay allows for a cumulative understanding of a new near-nationalistic Hong Kong identity circa 2019-2020, in some respects resembling nationalism, as it developed through times of historic protests and adversity.

Focus On: From "2010's New Curriculum Push and the Birth of Scholarism" on page 29 to the end of the "Hong Kong's 2019-2020 Protests'' introduction on the start of page 41 AND the "Epilogue" from page 67 to page 71. I chose these two portions specifically since this era exemplifies the new youth democracy movement led by those who were born around the handover. This generation has increasingly taken to voicing their opinions and have risen to the political and social scene as people who wanted to shape a more democratic Hong Kong society. This really sets the scene for the Hong Kong Protests that we have seen unfold in the past two years and the shift to a near-nationalistic identity amongst the Hong Kong people who are full of resistance and resilience.
  • Kimberly Ashley Szeto (Nine)