Friday, April 28, 2006

Deportation and the Hong Kong Identity

It has always been written, including in these pages, that the Chinese population of Hong Kong developed its own identity only after the crucible of the World War II experience of Japanese Occupation. However, in the Minutes of the Legco Meeting of November 14th, 1921 (most certainly a prewar date!), I discovered a fascinating snippet conveyed to the council by members of the Chinese Community on this subject. It was to do with the sense of injustice created by the British policy of deporting troublemakers within the Colony back to the mainland, and to prohibit them from ever returning to the Colony.

While by this date, more barbaric practices associated with 19th century colonial deportation to the mainland, such as the branding of criminals, had been discontinued, they had also been made obsolete by photography. The practice itself, which existed throughout the 19th century, was discarded but then re-introduced, with the continued belief among the colonial authorities that the Chinese of Hong Kong were sojourners, short-term residents just trying to make their money before returning home - in fact, just like the British residents themselves.

But in the statement of the Chinese Unofficial Member, the Honourable Mr. Lau Chu-Pak, he states otherwise:
MR. LAU CHU-PAK: I take this opportunity to say a few words in connection with the Deportation Ordinance, recently introduced and passed. Many Chinese view with alarm the possibilities of such an enactment. Under it, any one, whether he is a British subject or not, is liable to deportation by the mandate of the Executive. I do not say that the law would be enforced arbitrarily, but when it exists, it affords a chance - however remote - for its being so exercised. The law, as it now stands, affects certain sections of the Chinese more than it does any other people, more than even the English, for they can return to their native land, whereas the native of Hongkong and the New Territories have their permanent homes in these two places only, and would have nowhere else to go to, if forced out of the Colony. I submit this point for the favourable consideration of the Executive so that the liberty and livelihood of the native-born of this Colony may be better assured.
It stands to reason, that even if Hong Kong's Chinese population were almost all originally immigrants and migrant workers from China, that many of them did, contrary to even their own expectations, settle down in the city. Furthermore, there were many native residents of Kowloon and the more recently acquired New Territories (1898) whose family had lived in that area for six or more centuries. In such cases, deportation would be a gross alienation of that person's rights, whatever crime had been committed. Yet in the post-World War I fears of leftist and Communist uprisings, deportation was seen as a strict but ultimately legitimate form of punishment that the Government could use against its Chinese subjects.

This of course required in its exercise the belief that the Chinese were still the sojourners they always were, and held to be a self-evident truth about the Colony in the colonial imagination. But the fact that this attitude existed until well after World War II belies the fact that already by 1921, many Chinese regarded Hong Kong as their first, and indeed their only, home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting comment indeed, but I must point out that many HK British are natives, too. I was born in HK, as was my father, and though I have a British passport I absolutely do not regard Britain as home --- and would hate to be deported there! Many British families have been in HK for more than a century. We're not sojourners, we're not expats; we are Heung Gong-yahn.