Though I am not from Hong Kong, it has played a central role in informing my theological, political, and intellectual practice. At the end of this post, I’ll list some of my previous writing here and elsewhere online on Hong Kong. I have to write this boldfaced introduction because when I wrote this post, it was not clear until halfway through that an integral reflection on Hong Kong theologically, politically, and intellectually is what I’m after. This is a blog post, which means it is a work in progress; editing it all to fit is beyond the scope of my responsibilities. I don’t know if this is going to be a series, or a thematic signal, or both, or neither on this blog, or in my writing more generally. I just think Hong Kong is important, and I hope that I can muster up the courage to write more about this city that I love, but not where I am from.
On July 1, 2017, the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Xi Jinping, delivered a speech commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. It was a moment that coincided with the swearing in of the fifth Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region (SAR), Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. While demonstrations and arrests raged outside (which involved the noted activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung), Xi used the opportunity to situate the unique constitutional framework that the PRC has with Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR) called ‘one country, two systems’ within what he has called the ‘Chinese Dream,’ a vision of Chinese development (especially with regard to infrastructure) emphasizing a Chinese entrepreneurial spirit facilitated and led by the central government and coinciding with a sense of national loyalty, pride, and even love for China as a nation. In many ways, this Chinese Dream dovetails with Xi’s promotion of the ‘Belt-Road Initiative,’ an ambitious multi-trillion dollar plan for China to build infrastructure across the historic Silk Road through Central Asia toward Europe (the ‘Belt’) as well as enhance economic collaboration through the Indian Ocean (the ‘Road’).
In so doing, Xi cements the framework for Hong Kong to become what some local Hong Kong people fear – ‘just another Chinese city.’ Of course, within Xi’s emphasis on the ‘one country’ as the tree from which the two systems grow, Hong Kong is a special city, an international financial centre that maintains its vibrancy from the capitalism of its colonial period but now contributes to the wealth of a proud Chinese nation.
Xi’s visit to Hong Kong, including but not limited to this speech, has stirred the pot among some local Hong Kong people. Ideologically, Xi has the upper hand, constantly referring to the ‘rule of law’ that must prevail, as disorder would be intolerable. Xi even makes reference to those who might threaten the sovereignty of the Chinese nation, a jab toward the Hong Kong ‘independence’ movement that tries to conceptualize Hong Kong as a city-state that is autonomous from China.
But those among the local Hong Kong population who are protesting are not really just talking about democracy or autonomy. In many ways, the question is much more ontological – what is Hong Kong? Ontology – the basic level of existence, which makes the Hong Kong question existential – is important to those who are asking this question because what is at stake is what it means to call Hong Kong home. In this sense, it doesn’t really matter where any individual person in Hong Kong (or for that matter, anyone outside of Hong Kong who cares about the city) ends up on the society-wide deliberation on the merits of democracy, the framework of ‘one country, two systems,’ the feelings of colonial nostalgia versus national loyalty to China, and the question of Hong Kong autonomy. What matters is the more primal, ontological sense of home in a city that has undergone constant transformation in both its colonial period and its strange place under Chinese sovereignty.
Though I have done quite a bit of research on Hong Kong, I must confess that my love for the city doesn’t mean that I’m from there either. In the grand scheme of things that is the ideological identity politics of the Chinese diaspora, I am what they call a jook sing (竹升), a ‘hollow bamboo pole’ who is neither here nor there with my knowledge of and belonging to any of the Chinas or diasporas. In fact, I prefer jook sing to banana because I am so neither here nor there that I don’t really know if I can be considered ‘white’ on the inside. Most days, I feel like I’m empty.
And yet, Hong Kong has loomed in the background for much of my academic career and ecclesial membership. Much of my academic research has been motivated by my personal obsession with Chinese Christians in North America – by which I initially only meant ‘Protestants’ – but the more I looked into it, the more I found I had to understand Hong Kong as a place of origin and transit, which eventually led me to conduct research on Hong Kong itself. My first book – on which I served as lead editor – is thus about Hong Kong.
Ecclesially speaking, you could say that growing up Cantonese in a Chinese evangelical church gave me at least my first fantasies of Hong Kong. Becoming Anglican supposedly linked me ideologically to Hong Kong as a former colonial outpost, although the truth is that my Anglican story has as much to do with Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui as it does with the Province of Southeast Asia; I was, after all, received into the Anglican Communion in 2008 by confirmation at the hand of the Most Revd Datuk Yong Ping Chung.
In the latest leg of my journeying through the churches, I wound up being received by chrismation in the Greek-Catholic Church of Kyiv because I met an Eastern Catholic Jesuit priest while protesting in solidarity with the Umbrella Movement outside the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver. I’d hesitate to say that Hong Kong made me Eastern Catholic – that sounds way too deterministic – but I would say that reflecting on theological politics in Hong Kong has a lot to do with my sensibilities within the Kyivan Church, where many have been reflecting on the theologies that were at work in the 2013-4 Maidan protests and the post-Maidan era. These politics were so central to my catechumenate that my spiritual father once remarked to me after a session, Politics is very close to your soul, Justin. I asked him what that meant and whether that meant that I was in trouble, but he simply said to note it, embrace it, and channel it in my walk with G-d.
I am not from Hong Kong, but my love for the city and my reflection on its politics have long been at work in shaping both my scholarship and my theological practice. My sense is that this means that as forces within the PRC attempt to lump Hong Kong into the Chinese Dream, this is going to force me to reflect at an ontological and theological level about what this dream entails, why there is resistance among some in Hong Kong against this dream, and what can be said theologically about the relationship among justice, the ‘rule of law,’ and the existential sense of being at home in Hong Kong. I don’t know if these further musings can be called ‘Kyivan’ or ‘Catholic’ or ‘political’ or ‘Hongkongese’ or ‘Chinese’ or ‘jook sing,’ but in some ways, I don’t really care about the identity of these thoughts – I want to care about the thinking itself and whether the reflection itself is sound. In particular, I wonder whether these thoughts are a springboard into broader thoughts about what some scholars of the Asia-Pacific have called ‘Asian modernities’ or ‘alternative modernities,’ the development of a kind of liberal capitalism in previously colonized Asian nation-states that is said to have a different familial sensibility and a much more ruthless efficiency. The theorist Slavoj Žižek has in fact controversially mimicked the late Singaporean leader Lee Kwan Yew and the conservative philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in calling this trend ‘capitalism with Asian values.’
I wonder what a theological reflection that goes beyond what I did on the Umbrella Movement and into this broader structural frame looks like. What does makrodiakonia mean in this context? Is it just about occupy movements like Maidan and the Umbrella Movement? It’s been three years since those events took place; what is going on now?
To that end, I’m hoping to use this blog to reflect more on this political dimension of my academic work and theological practice – which I have tried to frame, but seldom succeeded in maintaining, as an integral whole. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop with the personal reflections on intellectual chastity or the exuberance about Eastern Catholic practices; again, these are part of an integral whole. But it’s been a year out from my chrismation, and it’s time to stop teasing about makrodiakonia and get serious.
PREVIOUS WRITING ON HONG KONG
Written from Hong Kong during 2012 fieldwork, but only obliquely about it
- Remembering Martin Luther King Jr at the Qingming Festival
- God Is Dead
- Anglophilic about Athanasius: a silent exodus reflection
Before the Umbrella Movement
- Lord, what can I do for this city?
- We Remember
- What’s So Good About Being Anglican? (Part 2)
- Edward Snowden’s Right of Abode
- Pay attention, people. Taiwan matters. Hong Kong matters.
- Chinglican Christianity: The Civil Society Question
- ‘We Are Pissed Off Too!’
- Yes to Tiananmen invocations, but no, not what you think
- Chinglicans in communion: in defence of Occupy Central with Love and Peace
- Should Asian Americans/Canadians care about Hong Kong? Part 1: The Preschool Answer
- Should Asian Americans/Canadians care about Hong Kong? Part 2: The Asian American/Canadian answer
- Should Asian Americans/Canadians care about Hong Kong? Part 3: What’s Political Agency for?
- Should Asian Americans/Canadians care about Hong Kong? Part 4: The UK Question
- Assuming Catholic Geopolitics
- EXAM REVIEW: Hong Kong’s Occupy Central with Love and Peace
- Benny Tai as political theologian, or what Elizabeth Stoker Breunig might have to say about Occupy Central
- The BCTF, the BC Liberals, and Occupy Central
During the Umbrella Movement
- Cascadian Privates and Occupy Central (written on 28 September 2014 itself!)
- The World Is Watching
- It Has Always Been the Students, and the Clergy, and Catholic Social Teaching
- TALK (University of Washington Catholic Newman Center): Passive Compliance to Occupy Central
- If you are not informed about Vancouver solidarity, don’t comment
- OPEN LETTER (Vancouver Sun): Chinese Christians passionately back Hong Kong protesters
- ETHIKA POLITIKA (Rabelaisian Catholicism): interview series on Chinese Catholicism and Hong Kong protests
- SYNDICATE: The Umbrella Movement and Theology (I wrote the introduction, as well as ‘Mapping the Umbrella Movement’)
- MISSIO: Can American Christians care about Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement?
After the Umbrella Movement
- I really thought I didn’t do China studies until 2014
- REVIEW OF RELIGION IN CHINESE SOCIETY: Under the Umbrella: grounded Christian theologies and democratic working alliances in Hong Kong
- Theological Reflections on the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement (lead editor; single-authored on introduction, Part 1, and epilogue)
- Does being Catholic change how I write about Pope Francis?
- Only useful idiots would say that Cardinal Zen is calling for schism
- Reading Cardinal Tong amidst rumors of a China-Vatican deal
- VIDEO: There’s no need to be an expert to do theological reflection
- What’s so good about being Eastern Catholic?
- My first personal encounter with an Eastern Catholic priest was during the Umbrella Movement
- By participating in the Umbrella Movement, the Eastern Catholic Church’s gutsyness inspired Vancouver’s younger Chinese evangelicals
- Late for an Umbrella Movement retreat, I learned makrodiakonia as the art of political discernment by accidentally walking through the deacon door
- Nativity 2016: God is with us! Understand, all you nations! And submit yourselves, for God is with us!
- In high school, I wanted to become a Byzantine historian, but all I became was a Byzantine blogger
- ‘Catholics on the Eastside, we gotta stick together’
- Why I Blog (Part 1)
- Why I Blog (Part 4): Vox Nova in Hong Kong
- Why I Blog (Part 5): joining the public blogosphere as Chinglican and Religion Ethnicity Wired
- TALK: liberation theology in the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement?
- Arise, O G-d, and judge the earth!