Multiculturalism in Hong Kong - a possibility at all? (3)



As the cultures and traditions, thus living habits differ, it is easy for the host country to relate the minority cultures to a lot of negative words.  That tells why multiculturalism should be encouraged on a ground that stereotypes should not be produced, except that it is difficult.  Both Champagne (1997) and Baumann (1999) reminds us how easy it is to fall into traps of stereotyping people while ‘groups’ are observed and defined. To belittle people is painless, so it can result in more self-confidence when compared to those belittled ‘others’.  Baumann (1999) recalls a student’s discovery, who ‘found that the stereotypes that Dutch social researchers ascribed to the “backward Muslims” in the Netherlands apply, almost word for word, to the Dutch who sought a better life abroad’ (P.147).

On the other hand, by arousing the awareness of multicultural issues, someone takes it positively as a means ‘to learn about racial and cultural differences, to experience these differences in a normative fashion, and as a result to use this knowledge of differences as a mechanism for individualizing the person, given the context of multicultural realities’ (Zuniga, 1997, P.35).  This kind of optimistic point of view is good; at least for the establishment of a more general acceptance of multiculturalism for the very first step, it is crucial.  If multiculturalism is designated to stereotype the minorities, it must fail, for it does not help to promote understanding between communities, yet conversely create more misunderstanding and conflicts.  Nevertheless, it is worth baring in mind this danger of developing such stereotypical impressions during the process of carrying out any multicultural practices as well as researches, so to prevent it from happening.

Another challenge of multiculturalism in HK is the Government’s stance on ‘nationalism’ and related concepts like patriotism.  When de la Vieja ‘expect[s] that post-nationalism and cosmopolitanism would avoid some disasters’ (P.184), nationalism is still a powerful force in many countries including China (The People’s Republic of China, or PRC).  Exclusion of foreigners as members of HK society in all sorts of studies and grand narratives including ‘national identities’ and ‘HK identity VS Chinese identity’ (E.g.: Lau, 2002) has totally ignored the existence of these HK people, as if there were only ethnic Chinese in HK. This kind of ‘nationalist’ approach is derived from the dominating nationalism implemented in PRC, following the handover of HK in 1997.  While Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education (CPCE) has spent much effort in ‘Patriotic Education’ ever since (www.cpce.gov.hk), the target and scope of this kind of ‘education’ has only concentrated on the shaping of a national identity and the sense of belongings towards PRC.  Video clips featuring the national anthem and ‘honourable events’ of PRC (Our Home Our Country II - Faces of China) are broadcasted with the form of advertisements through television airtime.  This kind of brain-washing is trying hard to promote the ideas of ‘nation-state’ as how it is constructed in PRC. 

This kind of nationalism can be classified as ethnic nationalism instead of civic nationalism (Brubaker, 2004) in spite of the fact that the contemporary ‘China’ is composed of people from one major ‘nationality’ (directly translated to be ‘minzu’), Han (www.wikipedia.org; www.answers.com), plus many minorities.  Although PRC ‘officially describes itself as a multi-ethnic unitary state and, as such, officially recognizes 56 nationalities’ (www.wikipedia.org), the minorities are not really taken into account parts of ‘Chinese cultures’, yet only ‘cultures of the minorities’.  The extremely centralised power has determined the ‘mono-cultural’ nature of this country politically, and the ‘alternative’ cultures are not respected.  A vivid example is that ‘[i]n 1951, the use of derogatory names was abolished, but the new, currently used names were set by Han Chinese’ (Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, or CCC, www.c-c-c.org).  As illustrated, the hegemony of ‘Han as the orthodox’ is gradually planted throughout the whole China, and the education and ‘help’ provided to the people from more remote provinces (where most ethnic minority groups are still found) are to civilise and modernise the people by teaching them Chinese and Mandarin, which, in fact, is to ‘Han-ise’ and homogenise these minorities by first diluting, then gradually killing off their own traditions and cultures.  Under this context, the whole idea of ‘nationalism’ in China is an ethnic nationalism, which excludes all ethnic differences (Brubaker, 2004).  The blurred lines between ‘us and them’ within China has also blurred the reception and recognition of presence of ‘other’ ethnic groups as stake holders.  As this ethnic nationalist approach has eliminated the diversity of cultures and reduced all nationalities and ethnicities to nothing but one united ‘group’, the following of this ideology would further marginalise the non-Chinese HK people, for as hard as it is for local Chinese to accept the new identity to be a member of PRC, the non-Chinese would find it even more difficult to identify themselves with this ‘model’ as a typical HK citizen.  For this, it seems that the keen and clear desire of HK Government to create a national identity for its people has hindered the possible implementation of multiculturalism in this city. 

A negotiation could be done between the two seemingly opposite ideas - nationalism and multiculturalism, here, as a more mild and moderate approach instead of the cry for stopping the promotion of nationalism in HK.  A suggested alternative between ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ nationalism is ‘counter-state nationalism’, as it is not always specifically ethnic, while may also partake of ‘civic’ qualities when it is defined in ethnic or cultural terms (Brubaker, 2004, P.145).  This new standpoint can blur the civic-ethnic distinction and thus allow more space for multicultural movements to make HK a more harmonious society. 

Nationalism brings in another dimension to this discussion, which is religion.  Religion is another dimension when overlooking the whole picture of ‘multiculturalism’, and a very important one, yet often neglected.  Baumann (1999) even puts ‘religion’ as one of the three sides of a triangle which he calls ‘The Multicultural Triangle’.  As a matter of fact, the problems facing multiculturalism is not only the conflicts between ethnicity and nation-state, while religion has also been playing a major role within this ‘The Multicultural Triangle’ (Baumann, 1999).  Religion sometimes stays close with ethnicity and becomes part of the politics of identity, while religion and nationalism are competitors from a certain point of view (Baumann, 1999), fighting for loyalty and the centeredness of life.  In HK, the most obvious religious group of non-Chinese should be the Islamic communities.  Not a lot of HK Chinese are Muslims, but by heritage and tradition, many South Asians have been born to be Islam.  This is a distinct religious group, as they are rather easily identified, and with certain very rigid rules to follow.  Clear as crystal, their religion is something which could not be destroyed, as most of them have very strong belief.  It is understandable that a religion as a part of one’s culture as strong as such, the idea of the approaches of assimilation or acculturation would not work, and possibly regarded as offensive.  Recalling earlier points, it has further proved that a pluralistic approach (tossed salad or hearty soup) is more suitable for HK, especially when many people did not choose to reside in HK at first, but was anyhow born here, basically because of their parents’ migration, possibly even only temporary, as the result of some colonial policies back in the old days. 

(~'Conclusions' coming next, FINALLY! To be continued~)