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Say No to National Identity

By Chip Tsao | Jan 06, 2011

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Since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong people have been regularly harassed by survey polls about their consciousness of “national identity.” Do you feel more like a “Hongkonger” or more “Chinese”?

My answers to the inquisitor vary from time to time depending on mood. I tend to say “Chinese,” but add a personal statement explaining why. I am proud of being Chinese for the time being, and I promise I’ll be three times prouder if General Secretary Hu Jintao declares war on India tomorrow and wins it, because I had a hot and heavy Indian meal at a Tandoori restaurant in Wan Chai last weekend, and I was given a hostile look by the Indian waiter upon receiving the bill when I queried why he had charged me for the ice-cream I hadn’t ordered.

Sometimes I choose “Hongkonger” just for the hell of it, like after a hot-springs vacation trip to Hokkaido. The reason: the Japanese immigration officer let me enter the country without hindrance after peeping briefly at my SAR passport with a respectful smile, but the Chinese man in the neighboring queue was stopped and given a hard time. The man made a scene, blustering in inscrutable and broken English, mentioning words like “the Rape of Nanjing” or “Diaoyu island,” or something.

Surveys like this are more or less a waste of time, because fence-sitting answers that depend on circumstances are not always reliable. Don’t tell me someone like Sir Donald Tsang is not proud of being British when he reveals his proper title on a name-tag on his chest at a Chatham House cocktail party in London. But when he’s the leader of the flock gathering in Golden Bauhinia Square on October 1, when he’s seen fighting back his tears while quivering his lips to the tune of China’s national anthem as the red flag rises—well, when you’re thinking of which side your bread is buttered on at that moment, it is only human to feel proud of being Chinese.

Surveys of this kind are more complicated than a Quebecois being asked whether he feels more Canadian or French. As dim sum eaters, most Hongkongers always consider themselves Cantonese first. If one has migrated to the Chinatown in Vancouver for ten years, he considers himself Canadian. A Hong Kong Canadian Cantonese friend of mine once told me he felt like being a Tibetan when he talked to the Dalai Lama in a state of meditation as a Buddhist. Ethnographically, I am Mongolian and I occasionally identify myself with Genghis Khan, and Ulan Bator as my capital rather than Beijing, or even “Victoria”—as they printed in 1940s British geography textbooks. To borrow a quote from Woody Allen: “I can’t understand why more people aren’t bisexual. It would double your chances for a date on Saturday night.”

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