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Loyalist, Dissenter and Cosmopolite: The Sociocultural Origins of a Counter-public Sphere in Colonial Hong Kong

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 May 2021

Edmund W. Cheng*
Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. Email:


This paper surveys the process of discursive contestation by intellectual agents in Hong Kong that fostered a counter-public sphere in China's offshore. In the post-war era, Chinese exiled intellectuals leveraged the colony's geopolitical ambiguity and created a displaced community of loyalists/dissenters that supported independent publishing venues and engaged in the cultural front. By the 1970s, homegrown and left-wing intellectuals had constructed a hybrid identity to articulate their physical proximity to, yet social distance from, the Chinese nation-state, as well as to appropriate their sense of belonging to the city-state, through confronting social injustice. In examining periodicals and interviewing public intellectuals, I propose that this counter-public sphere was defined first by its alternative voice, which contested various official discourses, second by its multifaceted inclusiveness, which accommodated diverse worldviews and subjectivities, and third by its critical platform, which nurtured social activism in undemocratic Chinese societies. I differentiate the permissive conditions that loosened constraints on intellectual agencies from the productive conditions that account for their penetration and diffusion. Habermas's idealized public sphere framework is revisited by bringing in ideational contestation, social configuration and cultural identity.



本文审视香港在殖民时代后期,知识分子的话语争夺历程,是如何在中国大陆边缘,形成一个回异的公共领域。二战后,流亡的中国知识分子,利用该殖民地的模糊地缘政治,推动自主出版,参与文化阵线,建立一个属于遗民和异见者的他乡。到 1970 年代,本土和左翼知识界,建了一种混合身份认同,以表达他们地理上比邻,社会上却区隔的国族身份,以介入社会不公,来反思对该城邦的归属感。借着审阅文化刊物和访问公共知识分子,本文尝试拿捏这回异的公共领域的内涵:第一,与各种官方论述相抗衡的另类声音;第二,容纳不同世界观和主体性的多元场域;第三,在非民主的中国社会中培育行动主义的重要平台。我尝试将放宽知识群体约束的许可条件,与解释其渗透力和扩散性的生产条件,区分开来。透过引入话语争夺、社会形塑和文化认同的视角,本文重新审视哈贝马斯理想化公共领域的框架。

Special section: “Revisiting the Public Sphere in 20th- and 21st-century China”
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of SOAS University of London

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