James K Wong & Alvin Y So. Citizenship Studies. Volume 24, Issue 7. 2020.
The meaning of citizenship has undergone tremendous transformations since modern times (Turner 1993; Cohen 1999). A mainstream definition refers to the relationship between state and society, where citizens are granted rights, bounded by obligations, and participate in democratic decision making (Bellamy 2008). Marshall’s (1950) classic definition regards citizenship as encompassing a list of rights granted by the state, including civil rights (e.g., personal liberties and property rights), political rights (e.g., rights to vote and be elected in public office), and social rights (e.g., social welfare and housing), which emerged sequentially from the 18th to the 20th century.
However, the evolutionary experience of citizenship in Europe as captured by the definitions above might not be applicable to a non-Western context. Michael Mann (1987) suggests that there are diverse political strategies used by different states to manifest citizenship. Chang (2012) argues that, for non-Western, late-developing nations, citizenship regimes are shaped by developmental politics. While both the state and citizens are predominantly concerned about economic development and material livelihood, citizens are considered private economic players who do not necessarily enjoy social and political rights. Such state-society relationship is described as ‘developmental citizenship’.
Hong Kong’s citizenship is often portrayed as the enterprising individual, or homo economicus, who works hard, consumes smart, and seeks resources and opportunities to enhance their own lives (Dean 1999; Hui 2006; So 2006). Citizenship in colonial Hong Kong was conditional, depoliticized, and dealt nothing with nation-building (Turner 2006; Ku and Pun 2006; Ku 2009). The neoliberal mode of governance from the 1980s provided favorable soil for enterprising citizenship to flourish and sustain into the post-handover Hong Kong after 1997. On the other hand, the city witnessed the emergence and resilience of civil society activism after the mid-2000s, including the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the anti-extradition protests in 2019. There comes a puzzle: if Hong Kong citizens were merely enterprising, why would the above resistance and antagonism happen in the first place?
This article re-examines Hong Kong’s citizenship in the post-handover era from the perspective of developmental politics. It seeks to argue that Hong Kong’s citizenship is the product of dynamic struggles between state and society over the city’s development. During the first five years after the handover, Hong Kong was formally integrated to Mainland China (hereinafter referred to as ‘China’), and the state did not attempt to nationalize its citizens. Its neoliberal development was met with minimal contentions in society, and hence its citizenship regime remained largely enterprising as in the late colonial era. By contrast, Hong Kong was substantively integrated to China after 2003, and the state attempted to nationalize its citizens through the national integration project. The re-scaling development was met with considerable resistance and antagonism in society. As a result, the citizenship regime was politicized into highly contested forms of developmental citizenship—while the state emphasized the nationalist dimension of development, the society emphasized the localist dimension, which resulted in the state-society tensions over the past 15 years.
This article is structured as follows. The next section discusses the relevance of developmental citizenship in analyzing the state-society relationship in Hong Kong. The section that follows discusses how the citizenship regime in Hong Kong was shaped by forces of the state and civil society over the city’s development after its handover. The last section draws some reflections on the re-making of Hong Kong’s citizenship in the midst of the ongoing political crisis.
The Relevance of Developmental Citizenship in Hong Kong
No Nationhood but Minimal Rights
Hong Kong was a British colony from 1842 to 1997. Despite the presence of British sovereignty, Hong Kong’s citizenship did not endure the same evolutionary path as in Britain. For the colonized subjects—mostly local Chinese—they were granted little rights by the colonial government. Not only did they lack the right to vote and participate in politics, but they were also entitled to no economic and social welfare. Besides, their civil rights were restricted by laws which controlled the operation of civil society organizations and censored anti-colonial speeches and publications. Yet, the colonized subjects remained largely autonomous as long as they remained apolitical (Tsai 1993; So 2006).
Turner (2006) suggests that ‘citizenship in Hong Kong was never intended to be a nation-building exercise’ (p.xix). To the British, Hong Kong was valuable because of its strategic location for entrepôt trade, which enabled them to secure economic and military interests in Asia. The colonial government did not expect strong loyalty and commitment from the local Chinese. Likewise, most Hong Kong Chinese considered themselves sojourners who identified themselves with China more than Hong Kong or Britain (Faure 1997). Nationhood was largely absent among the Hong Kong Chinese, and it was not on the agenda of the British either.
After the Communist Revolution in 1949, there was an influx of refugees from China to Hong Kong. Strict border controls were established by both the Chinese and colonial governments. For the first time, the British were conscious of suppressing the national identity and loyalty to China among Hong Kong Chinese. ‘De-nationalization’ policies were introduced, including crackdown of the Chinese Communist Party, discrimination against the Chinese language and education institutions, and re-orientation of the economy from China-based entrepôt trade to global-wide export-led industrialization (So 2006). As a result, even though Hong Kong Chinese were not required to take up the British identity, they were expected to detach themselves from the Chinese nation.
Over the ensuing decades, Hong Kong’s citizenship remained largely unconcerned about national identity. Following the 1966–67 riots, the colonial government organized campaigns to cultivate a sense of community and belonging among citizens, such as Festival of Hong Kong and Clean Hong Kong, but these campaigns did not address the Chinese identity of citizens. In terms of political rights, apart from a small group of elites co-opted into government administration, most citizens were unable to vote or participate in administrative decision-making (King 1975). On the other hand, in the 1970s, the government started to pay attention to the social rights of citizens by expanding social welfare provision, such as housing, education and social security. However, it remained controversial as to how far such social welfare and services were deemed as rights or merely a safety net for the disadvantaged (So 2006).
The Emphasis of Civil Rights
Notwithstanding the minimal social and political rights, Hong Kong’s citizens in the colonial era enjoyed a high level of economic freedom. The colonial government adopted, in principle, the positive non-interventionist policy to manage the economy, including low tax rate, relaxed business regulations, and low government spending (Haddon-Cave 1984; Lee 2005). Even the minimal social welfare provided was meant to promote economic development rather than redistribute wealth (Lee 2007; Wong 2012).
Against the backdrop of neoliberal governance, Hong Kong’s citizenship gradually evolved into being atomized, self-serving and politically passive. Good citizens were interested in market activities in order to maximize their individual benefits and well-being. They were concerned mainly about civil rights such as economic freedom and property rights, while caring little about social and political rights. On the other hand, they were attentive spectators who, except staying tuned with current affairs, were unmotivated to participate in politics and uncommitted to community and national affairs (Lau and Kuan 1995). This is the so-called ‘enterprising citizenship’ (Jessop and Sum 2000; Jessop 2002; So 2006; So and Xianjia 2012).
Hong Kong’s enterprising citizenship emerged from the favorable soil of neoliberal governance in the colonial period, which endured into post-handover Hong Kong. The economistic and individualistic assumptions in the enterprising citizens were largely consistent with the practice of positive non-interventionism. The minimal social welfare provision also drove citizens to focus on self-help and self-enterprise for subsistence and flourishing. The protracted democratization after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 also, albeit indirectly, consolidated the economic, rather than political, dimension of citizenship.
Nevertheless, the notion of enterprising citizenship falls short in explaining the emergence and resilience of civil society activism over the past 15 years. After the mid-2000s, Hong Kong witnessed a wave of street-level protests and confrontations on issues over the demolition of Star Ferry and Queen’s Piers (2006–07), the construction of the high-speed railway link (2008–09), the introduction of the national education curriculum (2012), the Northeast New Territories Development Plan (2012–14), and Hong Kong-Mainland China conflicts (2012-present) (Cooper and Wai-man 2018). The list also includes the Umbrella Movement (2014), the Mong Kok riots (2016), and recently the anti-extradition protests (2019). The puzzle is that, if Hong Kong citizens were truly enterprising individuals, why would there be such resistance and antagonism in the first place? It appears that the notion of enterprising citizenship, which focuses mostly on civil rights, can no longer accurately capture the reality of Hong Kong’s citizenship regime.
The Perspective of Developmental Politics
The Marshallian conception of citizenship as constituting civil, political and social rights has been criticized as centering on the evolutionary trajectory in Britain (Mann 1987). In their studies of citizenship in East Asia, Chang Kyung-Sup and Bryan Turner (2012) argue that the East Asian experiences are so unique that they can serve as paradigmatic rivals or alternatives to the Western world. In particular, East Asian citizenships have been transformed by contextual conditions such as developmental politics.
For developmental states, politics has an inescapable role in economic development (Leftwich 1995). Rather than following the Western model of neoliberal governance, these states employ political and bureaucratic resources to intervene extensively in markets to pursue national economic interests. With a powerful and autonomous bureaucracy and a relatively weak and subordinated civil society, a developmental state can mobilize national resources and exercise authoritarian control on citizens (Chang 2012). In this way, citizens often need to sacrifice some of their civil, political and social rights (Chang and Turner 2012).
Hong Kong is often considered an administrative developmental state (Lee 1998, 2005; Painter 2005; Cheung 2008; Ma 2016; Woo 2019). 2 Since as early as in the colonial era, the Hong Kong government has been relatively insulated from political and social pressures (Lau 1982; Painter 2005). With the absence of universal suffrage, developmental elites and economic bureaucracies legitimatize their rule by stimulating the city’s economic growth through policy initiatives (Sing 1996; Ma 2011). The civil society, on the other hand, remains weak and controlled (Chan and Chan 2017).
The adoption of positive non-interventionist policy speaks of the Hong Kong government’s involvement in managing the private sector and facilitating market activities (Lui and Chiu 1993; Ngo 2000). As a developmental regime, the government does not comply entirely with the laissez-faire principle as in neoliberalism but takes part in managing the market through industrial policies and building coalitions with the business sector. While citizens generally benefit from the consistent policy outcomes of economic growth, the relatively strong and insulated government is able to limit the channels of access for contentious voices. Together with the lack of universal suffrage, this contributes to the political inactiveness of Hong Kong citizens.
The Notion of Developmental Citizenship
Chang (2012) proposes the notion of developmental citizenship to describe state-society relationships in developmental states, where citizens are treated as private economic players focusing on individualized material livelihood and supporting national economic development. Developmental citizens are not usually entitled to social rights. In some socialist economies, developmental citizenship also implies the lack of civil and political rights.
The notion of developmental citizenship is relevant to the analysis of Hong Kong’s state-society relationship for the following reasons. First, Hong Kong shares the key features of developmental states in East Asia. For example, the state positively manages economic development, citizens act as private economic players, and the civil society remains underdeveloped. In return for economic benefits, citizens also possess few social and political rights, although civil rights—especially economic freedom—are present. These features are traceable to at least the late colonial times. Second, the notion is consistent with the idea of enterprising citizenship, but it does not assume that such enterprising orientations of citizens are primordial or fixed, nor is such regime enterprising under all circumstances. Rather, it recognizes that the state-society relationship can change subject to the change in developmental politics. After all, neither the state nor society is passive, and they can choose to act in response to changes in economic, social and political development. In this way, the notion of developmental citizenship offers a clue for understanding Hong Kong’s civil society activism during its post-handover years.
All in all, the perspective of developmental politics enables us to locate the specific site for contentions between state and society in Hong Kong, i.e., the city’s development, as well as to examine how the dynamic process of developmental politics contributed to the emergence and resilience of civil society activism after the mid-2000s. The next section aims to achieve the latter objective by studying the transformations of Hong Kong’s developmental politics after the sovereignty transfer in 1997.
Developmental Politics in Post-Handover Hong Kong: National Integration and Civil Society Resistance
The First Phase: 1997-2002
The enterprising orientations of Hong Kong citizens, as demonstrated in the last section, can be traced back to the British colonial rule. The absence of nationhood, the detachment from the Chinese nation, neoliberal governance and the relatively closed political system all contributed to the making of atomized, self-serving and depoliticized citizens possessing minimal social and political rights. Such enterprising citizenship was the outcome of a particular developmental trajectory during colonial Hong Kong, especially after China’s Communist Revolution in 1949.
In 1997, Hong Kong was handed over to China. Based on the principle of ‘One Country, Two System’, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) was established. As guaranteed in the Basic Law, Hong Kong people would be able to rule the city themselves with a high degree of autonomy as well as to retain the capitalist system and existing lifestyle. There was a belief, albeit unrealistic, that the city would remain unchanged for 50 years. In fact, Hong Kong underwent tremendous changes in its economic, social and political development over the past two decades, and hence its developmental politics and citizenship.
So (2006) suggests that, soon after the sovereignty transfer, the government realized a dilemma in defining Hong Kong citizenship in the new era. On the one hand, it was undesirable to actively nationalize Hong Kong people as Chinese citizens because doing so would turn Hong Kong into an ordinary Chinese city, hindering its global city status for competition in the world’s economy. On the other hand, it was politically impossible to localize Hong Kong people. This is because, by instilling a strong sense of local identity and belonging, it would invite skepticism over the intention of promoting separatism or independence.
Facing such dilemma, the government branded and marketed Hong Kong as the Asia’s World City. It further advocated the idea of enterprising citizenship which sidestepped the need to address issues about nationhood or localism. The neoliberal citizens from the colonial period were supposed to remain individualized and depoliticized and care only about how they could utilize market activities for maximizing their opportunities and well-being. Such enterprising or neoliberal citizens were seen to exist prior to, or independently from, a certain type of national or local identity and belonging. At the same time, their pursuit of personal ambitions was very much in line with Hong Kong’s goal of development through global competition.
For the first five years, Hong Kong’s developmental politics revolved around the developmental crisis following the Asian financial crisis in late 1997. The developmental crisis was attributed to several structural problems of the city’s economy. While land prices and production costs continued to increase following de-industrialization in the 1980s, the development of high-end technology and innovation was constantly lagging behind other competitors in East Asia, notably Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Hong Kong’s heavy reliance on trade, finance and foreign investment further added on the vulnerability of the city’s economy. All these problems surfaced progressively after the Asian financial crisis, resulting in the loss of values in stock and real estate markets, high unemployment rate, and unprecedented budget deficit of the government (So 2006).
As a developmental regime, the Hong Kong government responded to the developmental crisis with a new ‘crisis-survival-competition’ discourse which intensified the neoliberal governance from the colonial times. A top priority was to eliminate the deficit budget, and in particular, reducing public expenses on social welfare programs was deemed as one of the effective approaches. The government introduced a new funding model in order to incentivize publicly-funded social service agencies to cut costs, such as reducing staff and salaries, imposing user-pays mechanisms, and minimizing resources for service delivery (Lee 2005; Fung 2017).
Another measure was to introduce the New Public Management (NPM) to the government and social welfare sectors. Such reform program demanded that the provision of public and social services should comply with market logics and principles to achieve efficiency, instead of equity and universal access (Lee 2007). Prominent examples included the privatization of school education (e.g, Direct Subsidy Scheme) and shopping malls of public housing estates (e.g., Link Real Estate Investment Trust).
In 2000, the Hong Kong government implemented the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) Schemes. The MPF Schemes required all employers and employees aged between 18 to 65 to contribute a certain proportion of the employees’ salaries as the latter’s future pensions. The MPF contributions were managed by private investment companies based on the investment choices of employees. However, all gains and losses were at the risk of employees, whereas the government would not guarantee any investment outcomes or compensate any losses.
Notwithstanding some controversies and oppositions from the civil society, these welfare adjustment and privatization programs were successfully launched and realized within the first five years of the Hong Kong SAR. Despite the persistent absence, and even retrenchment, of social rights, Hong Kong people reluctantly accepted the survivalist discourse to work hard and ‘live through the hard times’ with the government. In response to economic restructuring, some were also willing to take up government-sponsored continuing education and job retraining programs. Rather than comprehensive social protection, citizens expected from their government initiatives to recover and stimulate the economy, so that they would be able to sustain through the aftermaths of the financial crisis. All these demonstrated the extension of neoliberal governance of a developmental state from the 1980s.
For the first phase of Hong Kong SAR, the Chinese government was conscious of the differences between Hong Kong and China. Based on the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, not only did it keep its hands off from Hong Kong’s domestic affairs, but it also instructed officials in the central and Hong Kong governments not to interfere each other. Henceforth, Hong Kong’s integration to China remained formal and minimal. There was no pressure for Hong Kong to nationalize its citizens. The neoliberal policies of development were believed to reflect the interests of Hong Kong, which were met with minimal contentions in society. Therefore, Hong Kong’s citizenship regime remained largely enterprising and depoliticized as in the late colonial era. Nevertheless, the situation started to change as the city moved towards the watershed of 2003.
The Second Phase: 2003-2019
In 2003, the Hong Kong government proposed to enact the controversial national security law, or Article 23 of the Basic Law, which had implications on the civil rights of its citizens (So 2002). The law would enable the government to control or repress protests and movement organizations, particularly those labelled as illegal in China, suspicious of advocating treason, secession or subversion (Ma 2005). From the perspective of Beijing, Hong Kong had the constitutional responsibility to legislate against activities that would threaten national security. It was sometimes claimed that the proposed legislation of Article 23 was a response to the pressure from Beijing to outlaw the operations of anti-communist organizations, notably Falun Gong (Wong 2006).
In July 2003, some 500,000 people took onto the street and joined a protest rally against Article 23. The protest was one of the largest in post-handover Hong Kong (So 2008, 2011). The protestors demanded mainly the withdrawal of Article 23, while demonstrating against the government’s failure in handling the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in the first half of the year as well as in reviving the economy out of the Asian financial crisis.
The city’s developmental trajectory shifted dramatically following the massive protest in 2003. Between 1997 and 2002, Hong Kong was formally integrated to China in the way that there was no intervention in each other’s economic, social or political development. However, in 2003, Beijing realized the incapacity of Hong Kong’s government and the potential threats of the city to national security, and it started to step in and resolve the city’s economic and political crises. Subsequently, Beijing became more proactive and involved in affairs associated with Hong Kong’s development. After 2003, Hong Kong’s integration with China was no longer only formal but substantive and intense.
Subsequently, Hong Kong identified and aligned itself with the national development of China. Although Hong Kong was still branded as a global financial center, its economic, social and political development began to emphasize more on national re-scaling, which aimed to synchronize the city’s development with that of China. Two remarkable policies, both introduced in 2003, included the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) and the Individual Visit Scheme, which enabled, respectively, most Hong Kong’s products and services to be exported to China without tariff and residents in selected provinces in China to visit Hong Kong on an individual basis (Kynge and McGregor 2003; Black 2007; Ma 2015). Both policies facilitated the interactions and exchanges of both territories’ economies and people.
Towards the second half of the 2000s, the national re-scaling exercise also transformed the landscape and infrastructures of Hong Kong. As the Star Ferry and Queen’s Piers were demolished in 2006–07 to give way to the reclamation project in the central business district, old memories from these colonial constructions were washed away altogether and gradually replaced by new imaginations. One key imagination was Hong Kong being merged into the Greater Pearl River Delta region (or the Greater Bay Area) with other 10 cities, including Macao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhuhai. The cross-border infrastructure projects proposed in the late 2000s, notably the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, drew considerable controversies over how much the cost Hong Kong would have to shoulder and how far Hong Kong could benefit from these projects. Under the name of heritage preservation, there were protests and demonstrations against both the demolition of colonial constructions and cross-border infrastructures.
Progressively, the emphasis of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle was shifted from ‘Two Systems’ to ‘One Country’. In the eyes of Beijing, the development of Hong Kong would not be successful by running a separate economic, social and political system on its own. Instead, Hong Kong would need to be incorporated into the orbit of China, be part of the national development process, and share unified interests and goals with other parts of China. Hong Kong citizens were supposed to identify themselves with the entire Chinese nation, such that both the people and their hearts would truly return to China in the post-handover era. The mismanagement of the city during the first five years after the handover strengthened the belief that the emphasis of ‘Two Systems’ would not serve the interests of either Hong Kong or China.
The Re-making of Hong Kong’s Citizenship
To reiterate, the notion of developmental citizenship enables us to understand the changes in state-society relationship in terms of the changes in developmental politics. The state-imposed national integration project contributed to a new citizenship regime in Hong Kong after 2003. The developmental politics was no longer restricted to affairs and interests within the city but expanded to those of the entire Chinese nation. The development of Hong Kong could not, and should not, be separated from the development of China.
The closer economic ties between Hong Kong and China highlighted the long-existed differences in history, culture, spoken language and lifestyles between the two territories. To better synchronize with China’s development, the Hong Kong government was keen to cultivate patriotism onto its people in the hope to make them identify themselves with people in China as one Chinese nation. A good citizen, so to speak, is supposed to support the Chinese authority in exercising sovereignty in Hong Kong and protect China’s national interests, such as national security. Although Hong Kong people remained largely free to pursue economic ends, they were supposed to not only consider their self-interests but also identify themselves with the Chinese nation. In this way, nation building was, for its first time, put onto the agenda of Hong Kong’s developmental politics and citizenship regime.
A noteworthy example was the government’s proposal of a new moral and national education curriculum in 2010. The curriculum aimed to enhance the patriotic attitudes of Hong Kong’s primary and secondary school students towards China, such that they would ‘love China’ and ‘love Hong Kong’ at the same time. Students would be expected to show respect and positive affections towards China’s national flag and even praise the communist and nationalist ideologies (Yoeh 2017). In 2012, the civil society opposed to the proposal by waging protests, demonstrations and hunger strikes. The new curriculum was accused of indoctrinating and brainwashing young souls with a distorted understanding of ‘patriotism’, thus hindering them from thinking independently and critically as well as insulting academic integrity and teachers’ professionalism. The massive turnout in the anti-national education movement eventually forced the government to withdraw the proposal in 2012. The emergence of student-led movement organizations, notably Scholarism, also foreshadowed the rise of youth activism in the ensuing years (Adorjan and Yau 2015).
In 2014, the Chinese government issued a White Paper to reassert Beijing’s ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’ over Hong Kong. It emphasized that Hong Kong is not fully autonomous, and its high degree of autonomy is authorized by the central government. It also suggested that rulers and officials of Hong Kong must be patriotic such that they can safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and developmental interests whilst maintaining the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong (SCMP 2014). This implied that Hong Kong would not be governed by people who failed to ‘love China and Hong Kong’ or even stood against China and its ruling party. In this way, civil rights of Hong Kong citizens were restricted because, at least in principle, certain people would be excluded from the possibility to govern Hong Kong or take up public offices.
The Umbrella Movement in 2014 was a large-scale resistance movement against the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to restrict and pre-screen candidates for the Chief Executive elections. The decision ruled that only patriots would be allowed to run such elections even upon the introduction of universal suffrage in the future. The protracted democratization of Hong Kong, together with the above decision, triggered the 79-day Umbrella Movement, featuring movement leaders from the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism as well as more than 100,000 protesters at its peak to occupy main roads in three different districts of the city. The Umbrella Movement was, nevertheless, ended with clearance of occupation sites and prosecutions of movement leaders.
The failure of the Umbrella Movement was ensued by the authority’s prolonged repression on the democracy movement, with Hong Kong citizens’ political rights further restrained. During the Legislative Council Election in 2016, the Hong Kong government demanded all candidates sign a form to declare their acceptance of Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China in order to qualify to run for the election. Several localists, notably Edward Leung Tin-kei of the Hong Kong Indigenous, were disqualified (also known as ‘DQ’) due to the suspected pro-independence or pro-self-determination orientations in their election platforms (Cheng 2016). Later, more candidates with similar orientations were disqualified in by-elections (e.g., Agnes Chow Ting) as well as village elections (e.g., Eddie Chu Hoi-dick). In addition, some elected legislators were also disqualified after the swear-in ceremony of the Legislative Council in 2016, because they either swore allegiance to the ‘Hong Kong nation’ or failed to take their oaths properly (e.g., Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching) (Lau 2016). Apparently, these disqualifications eroded the political rights of not only the elected politicians concerned but also the constituencies who voted for these politicians in the previous election.
After a series of crackdowns on pro-independence and pro-self-determination politicians, Beijing intensified its repressions on pro-independence activists and activities. It warned that such activists and activities were anti-China forces attempting to challenge the authority of the central government and separate Hong Kong from China. Beijing adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ approach and insisted that neither pro-independence nor pro-self-determination stances would have any market in China or the rest of the world. In a nutshell, there would be a red line that should not be crossed (So and Ip 2019).
As a response, the Hong Kong government took one step further to delimit the civil rights of its people. ‘Hong Kong independence’ became a taboo and people were not supposed to even discuss it. When the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) invited Andy Chan Ho Tin, leader of a pro-independence organization, Hong Kong National Party, to deliver a luncheon address in August 2018, the government issued a statement condemning the address as inappropriate and unacceptable for providing a public platform for disseminating pro-independence views. The Foreign Ministry of China also accused the FCC of abusing the freedom of the press and expression and disrupting the rule of law in Hong Kong (Quackenbush 2018).
The FCC incident was symbolically significant for Hong Kong’s citizenship regime. The government’s proactive opposition to Hong Kong independence was an indication that the long-taken-for-granted civil rights, especially the freedom of speech and organization, were put under threat. During the colonial era, even though some communist organizations were prohibited, there was no concrete red line to regulate expressions on colonialism or imperialism. However, towards the end of the 2010s, there was no way to guarantee whether one would have to bear the legal consequences for simply discussing, rather than advocating, the idea of Hong Kong independence (Creery 2018). Soon after the FCC incident, Victor Mallet, former vice-chairman of the FCC, was denied of his working visa in Hong Kong. At the same time, the Hong Kong government published a gazette notice to ban the operation of the Hong Kong National Party on the grounds of national security (SCMP 2018).
All in all, from 2003 to 2019, Hong Kong was substantively integrated to China, and the former’s developmental politics revolved around the state-imposed national integration project. Such integration was substantive rather than formal, which attempted to nationalize Hong Kong citizens. Unlike the situation before 2003, citizens were expected to respect China’s sovereignty, demonstrate patriotism and identify themselves with the developmental interests of both Hong Kong and the whole Chinese nation. As a result, Hong Kong’s citizenship was politicized into highly contested forms of developmental citizenship, with the state driving the nationalist dimension of development and society driving the localist dimension. This resulted in the state-society tensions over the past 15 years.
Conclusion: Whither Hong Kong Citizenship?
In the new age of Hong Kong’s developmental politics, the role of the state is becoming increasingly more significant compared to that of the market. After all, the national re-scaling exercise after 2003, especially the cultivation of patriotism, was driven mainly by the government. While the government attempted to nationalize its citizens, the civil society responded through resistance and antagonism, such as protests against the high-speed railway link, the anti-national education movement, the Umbrella Movement, and the pro-independence/pro-self-determination movements (Ip and So 2018; So and Ip 2019). As a result, Hong Kong’s citizenship was politicized into highly contested forms of developmental citizenship, with state and society driving, respectively, the nationalist dimension and the localist dimension of development. The re-making of Hong Kong’s development citizenship has so far been a journey full of controversies and contentions.
From the perspective of the Chinese authority, Hong Kong citizens have not fulfilled satisfactorily their roles as citizens. In the first five years after the handover, they were able to retain their enterprising orientations as in the late colonial era, provided that they were willing to give up some of their civil rights for protecting China’s national security through legislating the Article 23 bill. The protest in 2003 forced the Hong Kong government to withdraw the bill, but in return, Beijing became ever more determined to nationalize Hong Kong citizens. While the civil society resisted the national integration project, the Beijing and Hong Kong authorities responded by pressing on the need of Hong Kong citizens to consider the developmental interests of the entire Chinese nation, to ‘love China and Hong Kong’ and to never cross the red line while exercising their freedom of speech. On the other hand, in the eyes of Hong Kong citizens, these expectations would compromise their civil and political rights.
In 2019, the anti-extradition protests broke out to oppose the government’s proposal of amending the fugitive offenders bill. The amendment would enable the Hong Kong government to detain and extradite criminal fugitives to territories currently having no extradition agreements with the city, including China and the Taiwan region. On 9 June 2019, one million protestors took onto the street to demand the withdrawal of the bill, but the government turned a deaf ear to the protestors’ calls and attempted to push forward the legislation in the following week.
Subsequently, massive demonstrations and conflicts were ignited throughout the city, with a record-breaking protest rally with 2 million people, demonstrations and assemblies in different districts, sit-ins at the airport and lobbies of government offices, besieges of police stations, blockage of main roads and metro train doors, and strike actions … Some of the militant protestors even took part in the sabotage of the legislative chamber, Hong Kong SAR’s regional emblem, China’s national flag and emblem, publicity for national day celebrations, metro stations, traffic lights, as well as banks and shops associated with China.
It is worth noting that such protests were framed specifically as ‘anti-extradition to China’ for mobilization. While some militants were attacking state infrastructures and symbols as well as businesses associated with China, some other protestors demanded sanctioning the Hong Kong government and its officials for having infringed people’s human rights through police repressions and crackdowns. Besides, the protests also witnessed the attempt to build a brand-new identity among Hong Kong people. A movement slogan ‘go for it, Hongkongers!’, the anti-extradition anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’, Lennon Walls and human chains in various districts … are all likely to contribute to a new understanding of Hong Kong’s citizenship, at least from the perspective of the civil society.
Before the summer of 2019, nobody would ever find massive political turmoil and social unrest at all conceivable in Hong Kong. While it is beyond anyone’s knowledge to predict when and how the anti-extradition crisis will conclude, it is also unclear about whether emphasizing the nationalist dimension of developmental citizenship is a recipe for success or failure. Regardless of the answer, it is likely that Taiwan will reassess, based on the experience of Hong Kong, the desirability and feasibility of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, especially in terms of the compatibility between their existing democratic citizenship regime and the potential nationalization from China. As for Hong Kong, it would be safe to say that their citizens are no longer purely enterprising individuals, and a good citizen is supposed to move beyond and transcend the identity of homo economicus from its colonial legacy.