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CHIU, Stephen W. K., and Kaxton Y. K. SIU. 2022. Hong Kong Society: High-definition Stories beyond the Spectacle of East-meets-West. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kent Wan and Gretta Huizhong Xia
p. 81-82

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1While Hong Kong has always garnered international attention, especially in recent years when protests seemingly paralysed the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Stephen W. K. Chiu and Kaxton Y. K. Siu assert that there are areas of the city’s history still left unexplored, as the usual “standard-definition” analyses include only “taken-for-granted stories, myths and representations of” the former British colony (p. x). Employing a “high-definition” method of scholarly examination, one whereby the authors analyse ten “popular visual imager[ies] of Hong Kong” in a “high degree of detail,” thus challenging the conventional narratives of the city by uncovering previously ignored historical facts, the monograph under review examines the “multiple layers of experiences from [all] walks of life of Hong Kong people,” how “global transformation[s]” impacted local lives, and the city’s “significance in the global system” (p. ix-x).

2Chapter One casts a critical eye over Hong Kong’s birth and argues that “colonial modernisation,” which privileged economic growth over democratic development, helped lay the foundation of Hong Kong’s rise as a global city (p. 29). Chapter Two deepens readers’ understanding of Hong Kong’s economic rise by highlighting how local merchants helped establish the city’s trade relations with jurisdictions in Southeast Asia, and cemented the then-British colony’s economic ties with the United States and other western countries during the Cold War. Chapter Three pierces Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan facade as a haven for migrants by noting that only those capable of economic contributions were welcomed with open arms. Chapter Four challenges the stereotype depicting Hong Kong Chinese as politically apathetic by delineating the development of identity politics that had dominated the city since the postwar period. Chapter Five reveals that Hong Kong’s industrial rise was the by-product of constant government interventions. Chapter Six concentrates on the decline of the local movie industry and argues that the decisions of local movie producers to seek new opportunities through collaboration with mainland companies gradually led to the decline of Hong Kong cinema. In Chapter Seven, Chiu and Siu conclude that the city had never been a land of opportunity, as the local economic and academic systems privileged men and women from relatively affluent backgrounds, and it was difficult for those from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum to move up in the class ladder. Chapter Eight parts ways with popular interpretations attributing lack of housing to the shortage of land and asserts that the city’s persistent housing crisis was due to the absence of a cohesive and decisive governmental strategy from the 1960s onward. Chapter Nine states the city’s perpetually low crime rate was not due to the efficiency of its police force, but could instead be attributed to the fact that private security forces had embedded themselves in malls all over Hong Kong. Chapter Ten shows that the city’s civil society had been less robust than expected due to a partially democratic system that prevented dissidents from articulating their demands through institutional channels, meaning that protests on the streets became the sole means by which residents could vent their frustrations.

3A focus of the authors’ scrutiny of Hong Kong is the citywide protests that periodically erupted and created a lingering sense of mistrust between the local population and its rulers. The book is strengthened by analyses of local responses to the 1989 tragedy in Beijing, the 2003 mass protest against the attempt to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law deemed to be damaging to local political rights, the Umbrella Movement in 2014 to support universal suffrage, and the political crisis triggered by the extradition law proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in 2019, especially since the authors argue that a determination to uphold the interests of the city when it was under threat and participation in massive protest marches were two vital elements in the formation of a Hong Kong identity, and these factors were highly present in popular mobilisations before and after 1997 (p. 110, p. 123-4, p. 343-60). It was a determination to protect their way of life, the core values of which included an aspiration towards democratic governance, that propelled the protestors, especially those who had joined the anti-extradition law protests, to participate in popular movements (p. 365). The fact that even Beijing claimed that it was solely economic discontent that drove so many Hong Kong Chinese to the street demonstrates that there existed stereotypical (or standard-definition) conceptions of the city and its inhabitants, such as the HKSAR being populated by citizens whose sole interest in life was moneymaking. These are stereotypes that the authors have successfully overturned using their high-definition method of inquiry (p. 9-10, p. 364).

4Of course, Beijing was not wrong to claim that there existed serious socioeconomic problems in Hong Kong, something that Chiu and Siu acknowledge in several chapters of their monograph, thus demonstrating that the city, in spite of its outward vibrancy, is beset by a variety of social, economic, and political ailments that require acknowledgment and attention. Hong Kong therefore merits scholarly investigation, and the authors should be praised because rather than presenting a series of instant snapshots of the city, an approach that would have rendered this book quickly out of date due to the escalating pace of change that has engulfed the HKSAR, their work investigates how the city’s problems and tribulations first arose by employing a historical approach. This shows that their high-definition method encompasses an in-depth understanding of Hong Kong’s highly complicated past that would prevent analysts from misdiagnosing the root causes of the HKSAR’s ongoing afflictions. It is nevertheless worth noting that the reference sections of this monograph include mostly works by other Hong Kong scholars. While the authors ably synthetise the works of leading Hong Kong scholars, a criticism could be made that there is an absence of primary research in their monograph.

5In the postscript, the authors mention that they are witnessing a revival of Hong Kong studies, an outcome to which they have tried their best to contribute by successfully demonstrating that Hong Kong is indeed deserving of serious academic scrutiny. Regardless of whether Hong Kong studies is experiencing a renaissance, Chiu and Siu have produced a thought-provoking work on one of the most important cities in China. China specialists should thank them for their willingness to publish a monograph that could be seen as controversial in these highly unusual times.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Kent Wan and Gretta Huizhong Xia, « CHIU, Stephen W. K., and Kaxton Y. K. SIU. 2022. Hong Kong Society: High-definition Stories beyond the Spectacle of East-meets-West. London: Palgrave Macmillan. », China Perspectives,  | -1, 81-82.

Electronic reference

Kent Wan and Gretta Huizhong Xia, « CHIU, Stephen W. K., and Kaxton Y. K. SIU. 2022. Hong Kong Society: High-definition Stories beyond the Spectacle of East-meets-West. London: Palgrave Macmillan. », China Perspectives [Online],  | 2022, Online since 01 September 2022, connection on 05 October 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/13995 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.13995

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About the authors

Kent Wan

Kent Wan is a lecturer at Nanjing University’s Research Centre for the History of the Republic of China, 163 Xianlin Avenue, Qixia district, Nanjing, 210023 (wanpakkin@hotmail.com).

Gretta Huizhong Xia

Gretta Huizhong Xia is a MA student at the University of British Columbia’s Department of History, Buchanan Tower, Room 1297, 1873 East Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z1 (xiahzh@student.ubc.ca).

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