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Multiculturalism in Hong Kong - a possibility at all? (1)

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(This essay shouldn't be posted here, as it has nothing to do with 'Europe'. But then, I check the long list of columns I have joined, nothing fits it. So, I just put it here. Anyway, things in English are going to be neglected normally; like the non-Chinese in Hong Kong, whom I am going to talk about......)


About 95% of Hong Kong (HK) population is ethnic Chinese (Census and Statistic Department, 2001), which leaves us more than 330 thousand of non-Chinese legal residents (Hong Kong Christian Council, 2001) from the data given by 2001 Census.  Is there any way to incorporate these residents to the HK society?  Or, is this problem or to-be problem neglected because of the dominance of Chinese in HK?      

With a domination of Chinese population, HK is somehow called an international city, partly contributed by the status of an international financial centre, and partly due to the mixed culture of HK.  However ‘mixed’ the culture is supposed to be, the ‘HK cultures’ have mainly been determined by the Chinese population alone.  Does it indicate the problem of exclusion of the minorities?  Or what is it?  In other words, does such a problem exist?   

The first thing to be made clear is about what this essay is really ready to talk about.  Baumann (1999) has organised and concluded three major dimensions of studying ‘minorities’, which are: ‘the relationships between nation-state cultures and “their” minorities, the relationships between and among minorities, and the processes that reach across nation-state borders’ (P.146).  The last one can be related to many other issues including diasporas, transnationalism, globalisation, etc. and more likely to be discussed in a much broader sense than what this essay is to achieve.  Then, without in-depth and extensive primary research, one cannot and should not deal with the second one as it will unavoidably help the building up and reinforcement of stereotyping, and that is even possibly something should be only done by researchers from the same ethnic group (Becerra, 1997a) from a certain point of view, although ‘[i]t would be foolish to claim that simply matching the ethnicity of the researcher and the population under study would insure an accurate, culturally sensitive research process’ (de Anda, P.118).  Anyway, based on so little existing literature and concern on the multicultural issues in HK overall, to start with the second one does not contribute as much to the general understanding of the current situation as to start with the first one.  That is to say, the differences and relationships between groups of minorities are not the major concerns in the following discussion, which allow the lowest level of stereotyping of different religious or ethnic groups for a more just and concise view and understanding of the problem of not handling the racial problems in HK.      

Now, after setting up the scope, from which perspective should this issue be viewed from?  Undoubtedly, to start with, one should agree to a certain extent that ‘[m]ulticulturalism is a well-intended movement’ (Champagne, 1997, P.32), or there is no reason to continue with the discussion.  With this common belief then, what theories should be contemplated?  Maybe the ‘melting pot’ metaphor can be first considered.  While ‘melting pot’ metaphor has long been used to describe the formation of American culture (Palumbo-Liu, n.d.), some academics in the field of Social Work have challenged the acculturation or assimilation approaches by emphasising the ‘unmeltables’ in the melting pot (Maki, 1997).  A new metaphor is created by Maki (1997, P.4) by putting the tossed salad in the melting pot, so the ‘hearty soup’ prepared.  While some ingredients are already melted, some of them are not likely to disappear totally, or at least not in the foreseeable future, in a pot of hearty soup.  So, the paradigm has shifted from melting pot to tossed salad, now to hearty soup, which model is the most suitable for HK? 

Is a melting pot accurate in describing HK?  Or is it the desired form of multiculturalism under the context of HK?  In other words, the melting pot will result in a hybrid culture, although the proportions of different cultures will not be equal.  It can be linked to the postcolonial discussions since hybridity has been described as one of the ways out for postcolonial city or nation-states.   Yet, ‘[i]t seems an insufficient basis on which to consolidate new forms of collectivity that can overcome the embeddedness of prior antagonisms’ (Papastergiadis, P.274).  Hybridity might form new forms of unfair rules and cultures varying with the power.  As the discussion comes to this point, the voices of the minorities should actually be listened.  Do they feel being neglected in the HK society?  An earlier news coverage (Mingpao, 2006, April 06; Metro Hong Kong, 2006, April 06) about the non-Chinese (mainly South Asian) construction workers being discriminated against by the non-provision of English courses has complicated the story a bit.  Under the new ‘Construction Workers Registration’ system in HK, all construction workers have to register to work in the industry, while relevant prerequisite courses must be taken.  Since the vast majority of such courses are conducted in Cantonese and materials in Chinese, has the authority considered about the minorities at all?  To confirm the situation, the website of Construction Industry Training Authority (CITA) was checked (www.cita.edu.hk), and it was proved that all courses provided were conducted in Cantonese and materials in Chinese.  The non-Chinese constructors are not the only sufferers.   Within the same week, another piece of news about such discriminatory practices was reported.  This time, the increasing need of non-Chinese real estate agents has reflected the problem of lack of English training materials for the preparation of the required examinations (Afternoon News, 2006, 17 April).  These two cases have evidently shown the severity and urgency of the situation.    The negligence of the presence of non-Chinese locals by many people and even the Government (perhaps only several government departments) may possibly be the biggest racial problem to be dealt with here, but discriminations are not limited to this.  The comparatively less educated non-Chinese always encounter special difficulties in looking for a job.  Most of them do not speak Cantonese well, and thus suffer from it.  If not getting hired because of lack of Cantonese proficiency is not a kind of discrimination directly, the insufficient help in providing them opportunities of Chinese education (both oral and literal trainings) has hindered their development in HK in one way or another.  Their skin colour and ‘authentic appearances’ may cause some forms of resistance.  A local Indian English teacher in the secondary school of the writer at the time of her study was an exception, and teaching English was one of the few occupations in HK where an Indian face could be privileged.  The ‘all Chinese only’ situation in HK is to a degree comparable to the nationwide ‘discouragement by law’ of bilingual education in 1996 in the US (Darder & Torres, 2004), which followed by waves of complaints and dissatisfaction from different ethnic groups.  As the proportion of ethnic minorities is much lower in HK, such weak grumbles will certainly not cause as much trouble to HK Government as it has annoyed the US. 

Is this kind of systematic discrimination expected?  If non-Chinese have been transparent and unseen the whole time, how can it be a surprise to anybody at all?  Is it true that these problems have not been noticed all through the years, or the people who notice it just choose to pay no attention to it?  


  

(~to be continued~)

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