The trajectories of radicalisms in Hong Kong

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Source Publication

8th Meeting of East Asian Regional Conference in Alternative Geography: Radicalism in Theory and Practice

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Hong Kong Baptist University


Although radical labor struggles in Hong Kong can be dated back to the Canton-Hong Kong Strike and Boycott (1925-1926) in the mid-1920s, Hong Kong was seldom known for its radicalism. On the contrary, the city has always been touted by the conservatives as an economic miracle—thanks to the people’s alleged ‘political apathy’. Such a mythology has to be carefully deconstructed by mapping the trajectories of radical politics of Hong Kong against its historical and geo-political background. It means that we should take Hong Kong as simultaneously a ‘colonial city’ and a ‘refugee city’. These twin concepts can serve as the best entry points to the understanding of the convoluted and difficult path of political movements in Hong Kong. The troubling complexity of Hong Kong is: with its lingering colonial system governing over its rapidly developing capitalism, Hong Kong is often described as a place having all kind of liberties, lacking only democracy. Also, with its peculiar geo-political setting, Hong Kong is featured by its phenomenal population of immigrants (including a lot of refugee). Those who came in the early post-war era were in general anti-Communist; as a corollary, they were also aversive to radical calls for change. All these factors came together to constitute a society in which the illegitimate colonial rule was somehow precariously legitimized by all sorts of political expediency. What a situation like this would entail is the confusion of the meanings of radical politics.

My presentation tries to sort out the confused meanings of ‘radicalism’ (or the notion of ‘the Left’) in Hong Kong by giving an outline of the development of various radical political ideologies during the post-WWII era. It starts by accounting for the failure of the ‘compromised radicalism’ under the leadership of the pro-PRC Leftists. I will demonstrate how their strict adherence to the party-line of the Chinese Communist Party resulted in the tragic failure of the 1967 Riots. However, instead of rehearsing the conventional conservative consideration of their failure as bringing an end to the unproductive radicalism only to give rise to a prosperous economic development thereafter, I will demonstrate how this failure has ironically inaugurating in the 1970s an era of campus-based political activisms which were more critical, independent and pluralistic. Among these waves of radicalism, the first locally-born generation built up for themselves legacies of political practices conducive to the growth of the local civil society. In the 1980s, some of the energies unleashed by the 1970s radicalisms—in the wake of the coming 1997 handover—had further materialized and transformed into the ‘oppositional’ political forces leading the pro-democracy movement. After detailing the different factions among these young radicals, I will further discuss and analyze the internal conflicts and tensions within the oppositional camp as a whole. I will argue that it is for the failure to solve the tensions and dynamics within the opposition that the new wave of radicalisms—now launched under a new banner of ‘localism’, including its left-wing and right-wing—post as the most serious challenges ever to the oppositional politics nowadays.

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Recommended Citation

Law, W.-s. (2016, December). The trajectories of radicalisms in Hong Kong. Paper presented at the 8th Meeting of East Asian Regional Conference in Alternative Geography: Radicalism in Theory and Practice, Hong Kong.

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