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Diasporic Memories and Conceptual Geography in Post-colonial Hong Kong

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 March 2014

History Department, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA Email:


This paper explores how the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has been trying to incorporate post-1997 Hong Kong into the framework of a Greater China. The construction of two ‘narratives’ are examined: the grand narrative of Chinese history in secondary school textbooks in Hong Kong; and the development of a new regional framework of the Pearl River Delta. The first narrative, which focuses on the past, signals the PRC government's desire to inculcate through education a deeper sense of collective identity as patriotic citizens of China amongst residents of Hong Kong. The second narrative, which represents a futuristic imagining of a regional landscape, rewrites the trajectory of Hong Kong by merging the city with the Pearl River Delta region. However, these narrative strategies have triggered ambivalent responses from people in Hong Kong, especially the generations born after 1980. In their discursive battles against merging with the mainland, activists have sought to instil a collective memory that encourages a counter-imagination of a particular kind of Hong Kong that draws from the pre-1997 past. This conflict pits activists and their supporters against officials in the local government working to move Hong Kong towards integration with greater Guangdong and China at large. But the local resistance discourses are inadequate because they are constrained by their own parochial visions and colonial nostalgia.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Chow, Rey (1993). Writing Diaspora; Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 22Google Scholar.

2 Unlike earlier Chinese history textbooks authored or co-authored by one or two renowned scholars in the field, the textbooks published in the 2000s were written by committees.

3 The protests in the summer of 2012 forced the Hong Kong government to postpone the compulsory commencement of the new subject curriculum. However, some activists continued to criticize that the government can threaten to withdraw financial subsidies to schools that do not follow the government's guidelines. In October 2012, after tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets against the introduction of the subject, the Chief Executive finally agreed to shelve the proposal officially.

4 For details on changes in history education curricula, see Kan, Flora (2007), Hong Kong's Chinese History Curriculum from 1945: Politics and Identity (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Vickers, Edward (2005), In Search of Identity: The Politics of History as a School Subject in Hong Kong, 1960s–2005 (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong, Comparative Education Research Center)Google Scholar.

5 Kan, Flora and Vickers, Edward (2002), One Hong Kong, Two Histories: ‘History’ and ‘Chinese History’ in the Hong Kong School Curriculum, Comparative Education, 38: 2, 7475CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Vickers, E., Kan, F., and Morris, P. (2003), Colonialism and the Politics of ‘Chinese History’ in Hong Kong's Schools, Oxford Review of Education, 29:1 (March), 95111CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Luk, Bernard (1991), Chinese Culture in the Hong Kong Curriculum: Heritage and Colonialism, Comparative Education Review, 3: 4, 664665Google Scholar.

8 See Xiaoqing, Lin (1999), Historicizing Subjective Reality: Rewriting History in Early Republican Early China, Modern China, 25: 1, 3Google Scholar.

9 Qian, Mu, and Sun, G. (1984) Xinbian Zhongguo Lishi (Hong Kong: Ren Ren and Ling Kee Publishing Company), p. 5Google Scholar.

10 Yiming, Liang, Weiru, Luo, Weijie, Xie and Xiaobing, Ye (2004), Tanjiu Zhongguo Lishi (hereafter, Tanjiu) (Hong Kong: Manhattan Press Ltd.)Google Scholar, Preface.

11 Hanshen, Chen, Zhiwen, Huang, Qiming, Lu, Guoji, Fan, Jiangcheng, Weng, Yaojun, Peng, Yumin, Bu, Jianhui, Chen, Daliang, Guo and Jierong, Chen (2006), Tansuo Zhongguoshi (hereafter, Tansuo) (Hong Kong: Ling Kee Publishing Company)Google Scholar, Vol. 5, Preface.

12 Vickers, In Search of an Identity, p. 4.

13 Not all the textbooks published in the 2000s have the same kind of prefaces, however. Xin Linian Zhongguo Lishi, published by Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company in 2004, for example, does not have a preface but instead uses an ‘explanation’ (shuoming) to inform readers how the textbook should be read.

14 Curriculum Development Council (1997), Chinese History Syllabus (Forms 1–3) (Hong Kong, Education Department), p. 8.

15 Kan, Hong Kong's Chinese History Curriculum from 1945, p. 128.

16 Tanjiu, pp. 215–217; Tansuo, pp. 77–83.

17 Shanghai Educational Publications (2005), Lishi—Gaozhong Sannianji (History—High School Year 3), (Shanghai Jiaoyu Chuban She).

18 Hanshen, Chen, Zhiwen, Huang, Qiming, Lu, Guoji, Fan, Jiangcheng, Weng, Yaojun, Peng, Yumin, Bu, Jianhui, Chen, Daliang, Guo and Jierong, Chen (2006), Tansuo Zhongguoshi (Hong Kong: Ling Kee Publishing Company)Google Scholar, Vol. 5.

19 Siu-kai, Lau (1997), Hongkongese or Chinese: The Problem of Identity on the Eve of Resumption of Chinese Sovereignty Over Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong), p. 27Google Scholar.

20 Renita Yuk-lin Wong (2002), ‘Going “Back” and Staying “Out”: Articulating the Postcolonial Hong Kong Subjects in the Development of China’, Journal of Contemporary China, pp. 11; 30, 141–159.

21 See Footnote 3.

22 The Third Plenum of the 11th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party adopted the Open Door Policy, and in July 1979, the Party Central Committee decided that Guangdong and Fujian provinces should take the lead in conducting economic exchanges with other countries and implementing more flexible policies governing towards investments. By August 1980, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Shantou within Guangdong Province were designated as Special Economic Zones (SEZs), followed by Xiamen in Fujian Province in October 1980.

23 The Chief Executive announced on 8 September 2012 that this plan ‘will not be implemented until the city has examined its capacity to receive more visitors’. See ‘Leung Chun-ying gets Shenzhen to delay issuing multi-entry permits’, South China Morning Post, 8 September 2012.

24 The National Development and Reform Commission. ‘The Outline of the Plan for the Reform and Development of the Pearl River Delta (2008–2020)’, 17 April 2009.

25 ‘China to create largest mega city in the world with 42 million people’, The Telegraph, 24 January 2011.

26 Ibid.

27 Guo Yuewen, spokesman for the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, said that the reports ‘are false.’ Guangdong denies creating world's largest megacity (Xinhua)’, China Daily, 28 January 2011. Guo said: ‘I can only say that Guangdong province is improving integration of infrastructure, industries, urban-rural planning, environmental protection and basic public services in the delta region’. However, The authority did acknowledge that the ‘mega-city’ project was in line with the Outline of Planning of the Pearl River Delta Region Reform and Development (2008–2020), passed by the central government in December 2008.

28 ‘HK developers retain appetite for land banks’, South China Morning Post, 6 September 2012.

29 Chris Devonshire-Ellis, ‘China's Mega City? Er. . .Hang On a Second’, China Briefing [website], 27 January 2011.

30 Liu Dong, ‘A Fable of Food’, Global Times, 23 July 2012. Imported food to Hong Kong from the mainland includes 100 per cent of fresh beef, 94 per cent of fresh pork, 92 per cent of vegetables and 66 per cent of eggs.

31 ‘Major Source of Supply’, The Water Supplies Department, Hong Kong. [accessed 4 February 2014].

32 ‘Beijing promises to keep pantry full’, South China Morning Post, 3 January 2012.

33 Cavallaro, Dani (2007), Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science fiction and the Work of William Gibson (London, New York: Continuum), p. 208Google Scholar.

34 Comments made in a discussion blog on ‘In Media’, a web site formed by Hong Kong activists. [accessed 4 February 2014].

35 ‘The Military Strategic Significance of the High-speed Rail (Gaotie de Junshi zhanlue yiyi)’, Wenhui Bao, 15 February 2010.

36 The Queen's Pier was built in late 1957, following a major wide-ranging land reclamation on the two sides of Victorian Harbour. The original Star Ferry Pier in Central District was officially closed down by the government in order to facilitate land reclamation. There was fierce opposition by conservation activists, who carried over their campaign to preserve the landmark. The piers have been modified and reconstructed a few times during history. It was the central flashpoint of the Hong Kong riots in 1966. The ferry service from the pier was suspended on 11 November 2006.

37 Author's emphases. ‘Letter to Hong Kong-Heritage Preservation’ by the Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, broadcasted on Radio and Television Hong Kong on 28 January 2007.