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Re: <nettime> From Deng & Thatcher 1984 to the Hong Kong 2014
dan s wang on Tue, 7 Oct 2014 21:05:43 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> From Deng & Thatcher 1984 to the Hong Kong 2014

Greetings Brian and Nettime, 

When it comes to discussing the demand for suffrage in HKâwhat it means and where itâs goingâI think it is worth remembering that this mess is the legacy of the British, first Cradock and then Patten, who were outplayed by Beijing in the negotiations leading up to the Joint Declaration. The British governmentâs true concern for the citizens of HK was revealed in one simple non-action: the granting of British passports to all HK residents in advance of the handover. This, of course, it did not do. If the democratic well-being and genuine autonomy of HK residents were to be meaningfully supported, and if the demands for autonomy made on their behalf by the negotiators were to have any real bite, this would have been a fundamental operation in the preparations for the handover. All residents would have been thereby granted the choice to stay or leave, freely and of their own will, whenever they wanted to. This would have amounted to calling Beijingâs bluff on their promise of future autonomy and democratic rule in the territory. But no. Considerations for Londonâs future relationship with Beijing took the day. Whatever. These were just a bunch of Chinese people whoâd be breaking their asses, saving their pennies, and studying for their exams no matter what, right? The ultra wealthy already had their exit strategies and Vancouver condos, anyway. 

>From the perspective of Beijing and probably 98% of the ordinary people in the PRC, the primary significance of the return of HK had to do with closing the chapter on the humiliations of the Opium Wars, Chinaâs defeats in which led to the cession of HK island in the first place. In the popular notion (sloppy, to be sure), Chinaâs national narrative begins with the original unification under the Yellow Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, who created out of fractured territory and languages what could from that time forward be called China. So the loss of Macau, HK, and finally Taiwan scarred near to the very heart of Chinese national self-understanding. 

I havenât read that Hai Ren book, but Iâd go further than what Brian relates, at least with respect to the destiny of HK. By the nearing of the handover in â97, Chinaâs leaders already had a vision for managing HK into a transitional period during which Shanghai would be developed as the future East Asian center of finance and trade, the new capital of capital. We could use the term synchronization, but in scale and speed itâs more like leapfrogging. That both Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji had been top administrators of Shanghai before ascending to the national leadership (where they presided over the handover) probably guaranteed their personal interest in the continued rise in status of that city. But as reforms accelerated through the mid-90s, the writing was on the wallâa mainland city would evenually supplant HK as the center of commercial action, and the Communist Party would take the reins from the HK/British bankers, manufacturers, and shipping tycoons in managing capital through a huge expansion. Also, Iâd say that the handover, as a way of re-integrating HKâs millionaire and billionaires into the PRC economy, was almost a formality. By â97 plenty of HK capital had already been sunk into Shenzhen factories and joint ventures up and down the coast.

The cityâs recent turn towards culture and creative industries fits this narrative of the commercial center shifting away from HK. At the time of the handover I bet most HK people, top to bottom, would have scoffed at the idea of HK being an art center. With the enormous government investment in M+ and having won the newest and biggest art fairs in East Asia, some in HK no doubt hope for it to be something other than what HK activist Au Loong-Yu once described to me as the âthe most boring city on earth.â But itâll still be capitalist. Only from now itâll be a high end consumersâ destination, and not for haggling over fake Rolexes on Nathan Road as in the old days. Macau, HK, and Hainan are set to be the new playgrounds.

As far as resonances on the mainland, in my limited view I can see none. I arrived in Beijing for a short eight day trip on Oct 2, the day after Chinaâs National Day. I discussed HK for a bit with some artists, but they are travelers, people who have spent time abroad. Other people seem to be either oblivious or preoccupied with more immediate concerns. One of my first world rituals when visiting China is to have my hair cut while here. The young woman being paid a pittance, Iâm sure, to scrub the scalp of people like me, told me that she arrived in Beijing from a tertiary city Iâd never heard of in Shanxi province mere weeks ago. She came with two other schoolmates to chase dreams in the capital city, and those dreams donât include voting. Just in the Beijing-Tianjin megalopolis there could be 12 million people like her, twice the population of HK, each struggling to survive while discovering with anxiety and euphoria their individual trajectory.

Unlike the post-â97 HK generation making noise now, who have seemingly woken in their young adulthood only to face a future of both precarity and reduced political rights, their generational peers on the mainland often have had to struggle from birth. I hope young HK activists are thinking about long term strategies for bridging differences between themselves and their mainland contemporaries. After all, the Gini Coefficient in the PRC has become much steeper than that of HK. (Not accepting the figure cited by Brian.)
But for that to happen, they first have to recognize the limited relevance of their democratic aspirations. This is a harsh thing to say after people put their lives on hold and bodies on the line for days on end, but the considerable tensions between HK and mainland peoples (meaning those that even care about HK)ânatural allies, one might think given their shared subjectionâwill never be resolved otherwise. When enough people in HK see that the mainland folks are not simply unengaged politically but rather inhabit a permanent space of uncontrollability, and that the central government fears the vast population surrounding every ministerial office and every police station on the mainland far more than they do the Occupy activists, perhaps a shared accounting of discontents could begin. But that requires an acknowledgement that they and the mainlanders exist commonly under one government, and under one logic, that of capital. Again, for that they can partly thank the Crown seventeen years later, for whom HK residents were nothing but colonial subjects to the end. 

There is an interesting discussion to be had about the splits, factions, and different constituencies within the broad movement, and Iâd love to hear any firsthand reports. As well, Taiwan politics will figure into the future narrative, someway, somehow. But for now the jet lag claims meâ.


Dan w.


-----Original Message-----

>From: Brian Holmes <bhcontinentaldrift {AT} gmail.com>
>Sent: Oct 5, 2014 11:28 AM
>To: nettime-l {AT} kein.org
>Subject: Re: <nettime> From Deng & Thatcher 1984 to the Hong Kong 2014 OCCUPY
>On 10/04/2014 11:48 AM, Tjebbe van Tijen wrote:
>> 'Rule of law' did not only benefit big business, but also functioned
>> as social leveller for the less affluent citizens of Hong Kong,
>> because a successful economy is only hampered by too blatant social
>> unequally in its direct realm.
>Dear Tjebbe, despite the due respect which is considerable, I read the 
>above and said, "Huh?"
>Hong Kong is the city that Milton Friedman once proclaimed the most pure 
>experiment in liberal free-trade economics. It has 114,000 billionaires, 
>including the four richest men in Asia. Housing prices have doubled 
>since 2009. A fifth of the population lives below the poverty line 
>(calculated as 50% of median income). Hong Kong's Gini coefficient, 
>measuring the degree of inequality, stands currently at 0.537, around 
>six points higher than that of two very unequal societies which set 
>unfortunate benchmarks for the rest of the world: China (0.474) and the 
>United States (0.477).

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