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Civic Solidarity in Hong Kong and Taiwan


This study examines civic solidarity in Hong Kong and Taiwan at key democratic moments. Using political cartoons published during the 1995 LegCo election campaign in Hong Kong and the 2000 presidential election campaign in Taiwan, our findings indicate that the cultural codes of liberty, though not typically considered part of traditional Chinese values, have become the dominant cultural source for discourse in civil society. Values of caring and state paternalism, which resemble subsets of Confucian values, exist as competing, alternate cultural codes. In Taiwan, politically-divided members of civil society appear to share the same cultural language, thereby fostering a basis for mutual engagement. Nevertheless, little mutual engagement is actually found among politically divergent discourses. In Hong Kong, even a shared cultural language cannot be documented. The conclusion discusses the broader implications of these findings for the inclusive potential of civic discourses, amidst competing identity claims, in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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1 Alexander Jeffery, “Citizen and enemy as symbolic classification: on the polarizing discourse of civil society,” in Fournier Marcel and Lamont Michèle (eds.), Where Culture Talks: Exclusion and the Making of Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 289308; Alexander Jeffery, Action and Its Environments: Toward a New Synthesis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

2 It is important to clarify that we, like Alexander, focus on this symbolic, cultural sense of “we-ness” rather than the mechanisms that may be associated with building such a sense. While social ties and civic engagement are often considered as possible (though not inevitable) mechanisms for engendering and strengthening this symbolic sense of a civic community, the two should not be conflated. Thus civil society scholarship centred on discourse takes up a different object of study from studies of civic ties.

3 Marsh Robert M., “Tolerance of civil liberties in a new democracy,” Comparative Sociology, Vol. 4, No. 3–4 (2005), pp. 313–38.

4 Wong Timothy Ka-Ying and Sun Milan Tung-Wen, “Dissolution and reconstruction of national identity: the experience of subjectivity in Taiwan,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1998), pp. 247–72; Chen Dung-Sheng, “Shenyi minzhu de xianzhi – Taiwan gongmin huiyi de jingyan” (“The limits of deliberative democracy: the experience of citizen conferences in Taiwan”), Taiwan minzhu jikan (Taiwan Democracy Quarterly), Vol. 3, No. 1 (2006), pp. 77104.

5 Chan Ming K., “Hong Kong: colonial legacy, transformation, and challenge,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 547, No. 1 (1996), p. 20.

6 Chan Ming K., “Realpolitik realignment of the democratic camp in the Hong Kong SAR,” in Chan Ming K. and So Alvin Y. (eds.), Crisis and Transformation in China's Hong Kong (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2002), pp. 67110; Agnes Ku, “Postcolonial cultural trends in Hong Kong: imagining the local, the national, and the global,” in ibid. pp. 343–64.

7 Ngok Ma, “Changing political cleavages in post-1997 Hong Kong: a study of the changes through the electoral arena,” in ibid. pp. 111–38; Suzanne Pepper, “Hong Kong and the reconstruction of China's political order,” in ibid. pp. 20–66.

8 Ku Agnes, “The ‘public’ up against the state: narrative cracks and credibility crisis in postcolonial Hong Kong,” Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 18 (2001), pp. 121–44; Ma, “Changing political cleavages in post-1997 Hong Kong.”

9 Ku, “Postcolonial cultural trends in Hong Kong;” Chan Elaine, “Defining fellow compatriots as ‘others’ – national identity in Hong Kong,” Government and Opposition, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2000), pp. 499519.

10 For Locke, what held human beings together in the form of a civil society was their shared fear of the Christian God. For most of the Scottish Enlightenment scholars, civil society was held together by an awareness of the interdependence of need. Hegel found both answers insufficient. He claimed to have produced a political equivalent of the Christian community, “united not by fear of God but by belief in the divinity of the political community itself.” Khilnani Sunil, “The development of civil society,” in Kaviraj Sudipta and Khilnani Sunil (eds.), Civil Society: History and Possibilities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 1132; Seligman A., The Idea of Civil Society (New York: Free Press, 1992). For Habermas, a vibrant pluralistic public sphere is united by the universally-revered value of rational communicative action, thus “any individual or group may argue for continued incorporation into the decision-making process simply by demonstrating their ability to reason and to express it.” Rabinovitch Eyal, “Gender and the public sphere: alternative forms of integration in 19th-century America,” Sociological Theory, Vol. 19 (2001), p. 347. For him, only rational communicative action can achieve social integration necessary for a democratic public sphere without suppressing social and cultural differences. Gellner shares a similar view, with less of a focus on the normative value of rational debate than on the social function of rational individualism. Gellner Ernest, “The importance of being modular,” in Hall John A. (ed.), Civil Society: Theory, History, Comparison (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 4152.) In Democracy in America, Tocqueville praises civic associations in the United States not just for their ability to create social ties but especially their orientation towards the common good, or the propensity to orient their arguments towards public engagement. Alexander Jeffrey, The Civil Sphere (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

11 Fraser Nancy, “Rethinking the public sphere: a contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy,” in Calhoun Craig (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), p. 119.

12 Alexander, The Civil Sphere; Alexander, “Citizen and enemy as symbolic classification.”

13 See Rabinovitch, “Gender and the public sphere”; Ku , “The ‘public’ up against the state”; Gianpaolo Baiocchi, “The civilizing force of social movements: corporate and liberal codes in Brazil's public sphere,” Sociological Theory, Vol. 24, No. 4 (2006), pp. 285311.

14 Ku, “The ‘public’ up against the state”; Baiocchi, “The civilizing force of social movements”; Radcliff Pamela, “Citizens and housewives: the problem of female citizenship in Spain's transition to democracy,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 36, No. 1 (2002), pp. 77100.

15 Baiocchi, “The civilizing force of social movements,” p. 291.

16 Goeff Eley, “Nations, publics, and political cultures: placing Habermas in the 19th century,” in Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere, pp. 289–339; Fraser, “Rethinking the public sphere;” Jacobs Ronald N., “Race, media and civil society,” International Sociology, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1999), pp. 355–72; Jacobs Ronald N., “Civil society and crisis: culture, discourse, and the Rodney King beating,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 101, No. 5 (1992), pp. 1238–72.

17 Jacobs, “Civil society and crisis.”

18 Jacobs, “Race, media and civil society.”

19 See Alexander, The Civil Sphere, particularly chs. 10 and 11.

20 See ibid., particularly ch. 8, for a detailed discussion of civil repairs.

21 Ma, “Changing political cleavages in post-1997 Hong Kong,” p. 120.

22 Wasserstrom Jeffrey N. and Wong Sin-kiong, “Taunting the turtles and damning the dogs: animal epithets and political conflict in Modern China,” East Asian Working Paper Series on Language and Politics in Modern China, No. 9 (1996).

23 Feign Larry, Banned in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hambalan Press, 2005).

24 Lo Ming-Cheng M., Bettinger Christopher P. and Fan Yun, “Deploying weapons of the weak in civil society: political culture in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” Social Justice, Vol. 33, No. 2 (2006), pp. 77104.

25 Kluver Randy, “Comic effects: postcolonial political mythologies in the world of Lily Wong,” Journal of Communication Inquiry, Vol. 24, No. 2 (2002), pp. 195215.

26 Alexander, The Civil Sphere.

27 Davies Christie, “Humour is not a strategy in war,” Journal of European Studies, 2002, pp. 395413; Duus Peter, “Presidential address: weapons of the weak, weapons of the strong – the development of the Japanese political cartoon,” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 60, No. 4 (2001), pp. 965–97.

28 Connors Joan L., “Visual representations of the 2004 presidential campaign: political cartoons and popular culture references,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 49, No. 3 (2005), p. 480; See also Gamson William and Stuart David, “Media discourse as a symbol contest: the bomb in political cartoon,” Sociological Forum, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1992), pp. 5586.

29 Gamson and Stuart, “Media discourse as a symbol contest.”

30 Ku Agnes, Narratives, Politics and the Public Sphere Struggles over Political Reform in the Final Transitional Years in Hong Kong (1992–1994) (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 1999).

31 For a detailed description of the positions and readerships of these newspapers and news magazines during the 1990s, see Lee Chin-Chuan, “The paradox of political economy: media structure, press freedom, and regime change in Hong Kong,” in Lee Chin-Chuan (ed.), Power, Money, and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic Control in Cultural China (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2000), pp. 288336.

32 Ming-Cheng M. Lo and Yun Fan. “Gender and civic imagination: political culture in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” paper presented at the 2006 Annual meetings of the Social Science History Association (Minneapolis, Minnesota).

33 Ku, “The ‘public’ up against the state.”

34 Lo, Bettinger and Fan, “Deploying weapons of the weak.”

35 Binary code was operationalized in two ways: using the three major discourses of liberty, caring and bureaucracy; and using the discourses of caring and bureaucracy and the five subcodes of liberty. These two methods had no effect on the substantive findings. We have presented the second method here for its greater detail.

36 Chang Yu-tzung, Chu Yun-han and Huang Min-hua, “The uneven growth of democratic legitimacy in East Asia,” International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2006), pp. 246–55; Kuan Hsin-Chi and Lau Siu-Kai, “Traditional orientations and political participation in three Chinese societies,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 11, No. 31 (2002), pp. 297318; Lee Francis L. F., “Collective efficacy, support for democratization, and political participation in Hong Kong,” International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Vol. 18, No. 3 (2006), pp. 297317.

37 Wu Nai-Te, “Rentong chongtu he zhengzhi xinren – xianjieduan Taiwan zuqun zhengzhi de hexin nanti” (“Identity conflict and political trust: ethnic politics in contemporary Taiwan”), Taiwan shehuixue (Taiwanese Sociology), Vol. 4 (2002), pp. 75118; Brewer Marilynn, “Multiple identities and identity transition: implications for Hong Kong,” International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 23, No. 2 (1999), pp. 187–97; Fung Anthony, “Postcolonial Hong Kong identity: hybridising the local and the national,” Social Identities, Vol. 10, No. 3 (2004), pp. 399414.

38 Nai-Te Wu, “Identity conflict and political trust”; Chan Joseph and Chan Elaine, “Charting the state of social cohesion in Hong Kong,” The China Quarterly, No. 187 (2006), pp. 635–58.

39 See for example, Ku Agnes, “Negotiating the space of civil autonomy in Hong Kong: power, discourse and dramaturgical representations,” The China Quarterly, No. 169 (2004), pp. 108–35; Ku, “The ‘public’ up against the state”; Simon Scott, “Contesting Formosa: tragic remembrance, urban space, and national identity in Taipak,” Identities, Vol. 10, No. 1 (2003), pp. 109–31; Chen Sheue Yun, “State, media and democracy in Taiwan,” Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 20 (1998), pp. 1129; Fell Dafydd, “Political and media liberalization and political corruption in Taiwan,” The China Quarterly, No. 184 (2005), pp. 875–93.

40 See Ku Agnes, “Immigration policies, discourses, and the politics of local belonging in Hong Kong (1950–1980),” Modern China, Vol. 30 (2004), pp. 326–60.

41 Wu Guoguang, “Identity, sovereignty, and economic penetration: Beijing's responses to offshore Chinese democracies,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 16, No. 51 (2007), pp. 295313; Kuan and Lau, “Traditional orientations and political participation in three Chinese societies.”

42 Ku, “The ‘public’ up against the state;” Lo and Fan, “Gender and civic imagination.”

43 Rabinovitch, “Gender and the public sphere.”

44 For example Kuan and Lau, “Traditional orientations and political participation in three Chinese societies”; Nai-Te Wu, “Identity conflict and political trust.”

45 Ku, “Immigration policies, discourses, and the politics of local belonging in Hong Kong.”

46 Wong and Sun, “Dissolution and reconstruction of national identity.”

47 Brewer, “Multiple identities and identity transition.”

48 See also Ma, “Changing political cleavages in post-1997 Hong Kong.”

49 Wu, “Identity, sovereignty, and economic penetration.”

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The China Quarterly
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