Friday, March 2, 2012

Dream Makers: Occupation of Afghanistan (2012) and Colonization of Hong Kong (1841)

A number of American officers, high and low ranks, advisers and trainers, were killed by Afghans, creating panics. For our fellow Americans, leadership in particular, who still harbor hope of pacifying – democratizing Afghanistan to secure our national interests in the guise of betterment of human kind, they are well advised to spare some time to read my recent work on POLICING IN HONG KONG (Ashgate, 2012) pp. 16 - 18 regarding how the British fared as a colonial master:

To the British colonial officers and resident traders, Hong Kong was an unruly place because the people did not follow expectations61 and were not amenable to control.62 They had few social bonds and were exposed to many corrupting influences and illegitimate opportunities. British officials characterized Chinese migrants as fugitives from the law, gold diggers or drifters:

In a new settlement, wrested from the Chinese by force of arms, although England be at open war the Chinese government and the Chinese population, yet the latter are invited to repair to hold lands, to build houses, and to become denizens; with such an invitation, under the state of war between the two countries, we have long and often said that only the worst spirits of the warn-out time would flock to Hongkong—our prediction has been fulfilled to the very letter; all that there is of bad and worse in China have flocked and are flocking to Hongkong.63

The Hong Kong inhabitants, day laborers (from Kowloon) and transient workers (from China) were also feared as “terrorists” ever ready to destabilize Hong Kong, especially in the early years of the colonization (“seizure”) of Hong Kong, first without a treaty, and finally under the “unequal” Treaty of Nanking. Indeed, the British were seen as aggressive and shameless “foreign devils” who had invaded China on account of opium trade, and who, after all, were unwelcome guests of the magnanimous Emperor. This view stirred up resentful and emotional sentiments of the most powerful kinds: nationalism, regionalism and anti-foreignism. Thus people who worked with/for the British were labeled “han jiang” (traitor), registering the sense of betrayal.

The apprehension of the Chinese was real and palpable to the ruling British. In time chronic fear transformed into paranoia and a state of hysteria. At one point rumors were heard such as: “The Chinese are making preparations to attack Hongkong. The force is variously estimated at ten to fifteen thousand men ….”64

But for the Hong Kong foreign communities, disorderly soldiers and sailors could be just as bad: a letter to the editor published in Friend of China in 1842 read: “Sir, the disgraceful scenes of which our streets are the arena, call loudly for magisterial interferences, each day they become worse and worse. You must be quite sure. I can only allude to the drunken delinquencies of our soldiers and sailors: for the conduct of our native population, by contrast is truly admirable.”65

The moral panic66 generated by hateful and contemptuous (“terrorists”), and otherwise immoral and depraved (“criminals”) Chinese, lurking in every corner waiting to strike at every expat, was both real and unnerving. No one was spared, not even well-guarded governors. It was reported in the news:

More about the assassination. It is apparently reported in Canton, and is very generally believed, that the officer upon whom it devolved to organize the assassination of Governor Amaral, has been rewarded with a button of considerable ran for his services! And has the promise of a situation of emolument on the first vacancy (from the Hong Kong Register, September 11—Friend of China, September 12, 1849).67

The fear of crime (committed by Chinese) and disorder (conducted by foreigners) in the respective Hong Kong communities needs to put in context. While the British Government might not have been ready to invest heavily in Hong Kong due to legal uncertainty (a treaty not yet having been signed), economic difficulties and a lack of political commitment (politics at home, differences between the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, conflict between Whitehall and trade representation), a local vibrant expat community was fast emerging and consolidating, and they were committed to making Hong Kong a home away from home. More significantly, they wanted to make Hong Kong every bit like the home they left behind in Europe, with an elegant lifestyle and high culture to match. Their expectations were high (which exacerbated the fear of disorder and the unknown and therefore a sense of helplessness). Thus we witness in 1843, the expat community in Hong Kong attempting to bring high culture to Hong Kong, a place with no culture:

Advance Hongkong!!! Theatre Royal … Messrs. Dutronquoy & Co. at length the satisfaction of announcing to the nobility, gentry and clergy thus flourishing and opulent Colony, that the Theatre is advancing most rapidly towards completion. It is on a most splendid scale, and what with the pieces that will be performed, the Scenery that will be introduced and the splendid assemblage of rank, beauty and fashion which they hope to be honored with, there is no doubt but that the blaze of Splendor will dazzle the eyes of all beholders. Vivat Regina. N.B. The actresses have arrived during the last week, their beauties and talents are only to be surpassed by their spotless virtues.68

By 1847, the European community has secured itself a well ornate Hong Kong Club as the center of community social activities.69

The two groups of people (European and Chinese), while different in ethnic composition, cultural disposition and economic circumstance, had one thing in common. Both had uprooted themselves from well-established societies to a new land in search of fame, fortune, adventure and a safe haven. They exhibited unbound personal aspiration and few communal bonds/restraints. “Hong Kong became a society of immigrants, sojourners, transients and aliens.”70 As a noted sinologist of the time, Dr Eitel, observed in 1891:

The Chinese also, the refuse of whose lowest classes began, early in 1884, to flock to the site of the present city of Victoria, consisted during the first few years of our Colonial history, chiefly of boat-people, common labourers, stone-masons, blacksmiths, and provision dealers, all of whom have come to Hong Kong, in defiance of Mandarin prohibitions, for temporary employment rather than as settlers and left their families on the mainland. They naturally had neither the time nor inclination to think of the education of the young.71

One of the many things that separated the two groups related to the fact that the expat group, notwithstanding having been transplanted from a distant land and uprooted from a different society, still enjoyed a sense of identity, entitlement, community and permanency due to their elevated social status, superior economic position, dominant cultural symbols and controlling political institutions. This was not the fate of the Chinese, who had found themselves in a permanent state of denial and drift:
As regards the population of the island, one third have no land habitation but live wholly on the water, another third may be considered in a perpetual state of migration and shifting domicile, and even upon those more respectable people who have longest inhabited the island we have lately seen that more than twenty thousand have abandoned their families and their business at the arbitrary mandate of the mandarins on the mainland.72

Since the Chinese—local and transplants—refused to accept British rule, they found themselves aliens within their own (Chinese) land and culture. “Any Chinese resident here would at present hear with amazement that either himself or his children were no longer regarded as owing allegiance to the Emperor of China but to her Majesty.”73


On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong sovereignty reverted back to China.

Still, we now see more churches than temples, more blonde in bikini than Chinese in cheongsam, more calculator than abacus, more lawyers than mediators. Notwithstanding, after 15 years few in Hong Kong if any would remember, still less sing the praise or level a curse at the British, for leaving the Hong Kong people with so many cultural artifacts (for better or ill).

Looking at Afghanistan, colonial history is repeating itself - American military will leave, eventually, but American culture would stay, forever.

Who is there to clean up the alien culture for Hong Kong and Afghanistan people, after the colonizers depart, with Hong Kong children crowding to Pizza Huts instead of visiting traditional tea houses and Afghanistan kids chanting Martin Luther King than one of their national heroes.

At the end of the day: Whose dream should Hong Kong and now Afghans be pursuing? Whose dream indeed.