which the colony will become a Special Administrative Region of China has not met with the universal approval that the conventional wisdom asserts: that what is good for business is good for Hong Kong.
Britain first established a settlement on Hong Kong island in 1841 , when the Opium War was at its most hostile. Despite initial setbacks from fire. typhoon and pestilence. by 1898 the ‘barren rock‘ had become so successful a trading depét that the adjacent mainland peninsula was leased from China; it is this 99-year contract that comes to an endin 1997.
Until recently there have been no restrictions on immigration to Hong Kong and so whenever there is political turbulence in the region the borders are busy with refugees. There have been periodic mass influxes ofChinese ever since 1850. notably during the revolution after the Second World War and again during the Cultural Revolution in the early Sixties. In the late Seventies over 100.000 Vietnamese arrived by boat: 13.000 are still
there. most in internment camps. awaiting resettlement. In February this year Mrs Marcos flew in unscheduled from Manila with her children and her jewellery. her light plane colliding on the runway with a PanAm catering truck.
l-long Kong‘s reputation as a free haven for refugees has resulted in a population the size of Scotland‘s living in an area the size of Edinburgh and Glasgow. only 57% ofwhom were born there: nearly half Hong Kong‘s population are first generation immigrants.
This goes a long way to explaining the low level ofpolitical activity. Most people there arrived as the victims ofpolitics. on the run from China‘s wars and revolutions. Coming in to a British Crown Colony as stateless refugees. they did not generally expect participatory democracy and have been content to take their chances in Hong Kong‘s aggressive free-for-all economy. And although the ethnic Chinese population are by no means as rich as the English expatriates who dominate public life. Hong Kong still has the second highest standard of living in Asia.
However. over the last thirty years an increasingly educated and Westernised second generation has emerged whose aspirations to political as well as economic liberalism are not met by the system ofbenevolent oligarchy currently in place. While virtually no one wants to see Chinese communism brought to Hong Kong. many view 1997 as an opportunity for new brooms. when British place-men will be replaced and the remnant cobwebs ofcolonial rule swept away.
The agreements reached between London and Beijing in 1984 seemed at first to promise Hong Kong real
:J'T' Mu” Traditional group at the Hong Festival.
autonomy within China under the principle of ‘one country. two systems‘. TheJoint Declaration stated that ‘the previous capitalist system and lifestyle shall remain unchanged for 50 years‘ and that ‘the socialist system and socialist policies would not be practised' in llong Kong. On the other hand. ‘the legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be constituted by elections‘. and ‘the executive authorities shall be accountable to the legislature’. Since then however. attempts to introduce limited elections have met the British Governments's insistence that Hong Kong is not being decolonised. and Chinese observations that sovereignty and administration of the territory is being passed to China. not to the people of Hong Kong.
So what kind of future is in store for the people of llong Kong after 1997'} Are they simply swapping one remote sovereign for another? Fears it would be bad for business confidence mean there is no discussion ofthis in the mainstream media. But even in liong Kong there are people uncowed by business taboos: painters. for example. and photographers. There are also actors. sculptors. potters. video artists. seal-engravers. musicians. poets. composers. singers. mimes. film-makers and writers. As one might expect at such an historical watershed. and in the absence of any ofﬁcial forum for public debate. ; Hong Kong's artists are increasingly l
articulating their private hopes and fears about the future.
Creative self-expression finds little private or public encouragement in Hong Kong. and most of the territory's artists earn a living from other work. With very little chance of receiving public subsidy for his work. and with no system of unemployment benefits to fall back on. it is a brave man indeed who. like Eric Pun. gives up a career as a lawyer to write music theatre. Having successfully adapted the contemporary Chinese novel ( 'in of Cars last year. Pun is now working on a story about the political movement in the universityin the 1970s. ‘annual Fringe Festival’
This is not the kind ofsubject that audiences at liong Kong’s theatres are used to. The prestigious Arts Centre is dominated by English language plays usually performed by amateur expatriate groups (The (iarrison Players is one) and the old Peking ()pera troupes that play at local festivals are regarded by the younger generation as the cultural equivalent of Morris dancing.
()ne place. however. where new artistic ideas will be given a platform is the Fringe Club. situated in a converted ice store in the centre of the financial district. The Club encourages creative activity over a whole range ofdisciplines. providing studio and exhibition space for artists. sculptors and potters. and rehearsal and performance facilities for dancers. mimes and actors. Many of these showcase their work during ‘ the annual Fringe Festival that the Club promotes alongside the l long
.~ _ ":37; Kong Arts Festival (whose programme is principally European classics).
This new generation of artists faces a peculiar cultural problem. Their only artistic traditions are those inherited from Britain and China. but these are by their nature inappropriate to express their growing sense of national identity as citizens of l long Kong. Thus while the young'l‘hree Men in the Mime group still draw their inspiration from Hollywood and from Chinese folk stories. the more experienced Zuni Icosahedron dance/performance ensemble are experimenting with an elliptical and a-narrative form that has few parallels anywhere. Because many of their performers have other full-time jobs. Zuni worked with an energy that to Western eyes is astonishing: The ()pium Wars or Four Public Letters to Deng Xiao Ping. a cycle of four full-length performances with a cast of thirty. was written. rehearsed and performed in only 10 days.
Hong Kong's only small-scale touring theatre company. Chung Ying (which means Chinese-English). have tackled this problem ofcultural identity head-on in their play [Am Hong Kong. Performed in a mixture of English and Cantonese. the company show
the colony‘s history through the eyes of the Chinese who make up 98"} of its population. It examines the role of the British critically but without rancour: ‘Yes.’ says one of the characters. ‘it's a bore we all have to learn English — but think how much worse it would be if they could all speak Cantonese!‘ It also asks some uncomfortable questions about the future: how many people who can afford it will take their money and run in 1997‘? But what wins the hearts of its young audiences above all is its attempt to dramatise their sense of statelessness. While huge effigies of Deng Xiao Ping and Mrs Thatcher sign their Joint Declaration. a young student at an international convention realises that he has none 'of the national symbols that identify his colleagues: a flag. or a figure- head or an anthem. There is no word in Cantonese or in English to describe someone who comes from llong Kong.
The idea that ordinary people w ant to belong there does not sit easily with the Pearl of the ()rient’s popular image here: a capitalist haven for expatriate financiers full of camera bazaars. But the linglish are not noted for a sensitive understandingofforeigners. Now. after 140 years of rule. there is a growing feeling that the British Government‘s final duty there is to introduce accountable and representative government. Rather than abandoning them. we should be giving I long Kong's people the wheel of their own ship.
The List I 1 — :4 .luly31