Posts tagged ‘immigration’


Twenty years on, the Hong Kong handover reminds us how impotent Britain proved to be

01.07.2017


Hong Kong’s skyline in 2008, photographed by Scrolllock.

Has it been 20 years since Dad and I sat in front of the telly to watch both Britannia sail out of the harbour and China set off a magnificent fireworks’ display to celebrate getting Hong Kong becoming one of her possessions again?
   Following some of the 20th anniversary commemorations through the media, notably the BBC World Service which followed them keenly, I had very mixed feelings.
   Having been born British in the then-colony (whilst cheering the All Blacks today, natch) I have some nostalgia for the Hong Kong of old. If it weren’t for some aspects of colonialism, my mother wouldn’t have secured a decent job at Wellington Hospital (viz. an English and Welsh qualification) and I probably would never have learned English before the age of three. It all helped.
   It was the spectre of 1997, specifically the fear of what the Communists would do after July 1, 1997, that prompted my parents to make plans to emigrate as early as the 1970s.
   Of course, history as shown that largely those fears have not come to pass, although the Umbrella Revolution highlights that universal suffrage is not a reality in the city.
   In a post-Brexit (or at least a post-Brexit vote) era, these past two decades also highlight that British nationalism is meaningless and little more than a tool for politicians to yield for propaganda.
   You can fairly argue that that is what nationalism always has been. It could also equally be argued that nationalism is founded on some rose-coloured-glasses past, painting a picture that actually never existed.
   American nostalgia looks back at a 1950s’ economic boom while ignoring segregation while British nostalgia shows a child pushing his bike up a hill to Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
   Brexiters, rightly or wrongly, want to reassert a British self-determination founded on a British national character.
   Most Britons I talked to, regardless of their politics, agree that if you are Hong Kong British, then you are British. That should be some solace to the families of those HKers who lost their lives fighting under the Crown in both World War II and the Falklands.
   Yet there is no reality to this claim when it comes to government. Fearful of an influx of Hong Kong British emigrating to the UK, the British National (Overseas) category was invented in 1985, to replace our previous status as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It didn’t do the wealthy any harm, mind: a lot went to Canada and Australia and took their money there. Others stayed and invested in China, and helped fuel the growth of Shenzhen as a technological powerhouse. The Hong Kong Chinese person is generally industrious, many having descended from refugees from China in 1949 who decided to make the most of the freedoms in the colony. That work ethic was certainly nothing any Briton in the UK needed to fear, yet somehow we were classed as Johnny Foreigner.
   When I went to the UK in 2001 with that BN(O) passport, I had terrible trouble at immigration, denied entry when queued up with other British subjects. I wound up at the back of the queue with some white South Africans, who were less than impressed and said, ‘But that’s apartheid.’ Correspondence to the High Commission, Foreign Secretary, and Shadow Foreign Secretary went unanswered, though I did get a response from the PM.
   In other words, the fears within Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech held more sway in Blair’s Britain than any sacrifice in the Falklands (even if, I should point out, Powell was not addressing immigration per se). Today, I wonder if they still do.
   The Tiber was greater than the Atlantic.
   Labour were quick to point out how wrong the Tories were with BN(O) back in the 1980s, but in 2001, Labour wasn’t working.
   Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said at the time of the handover in 1997 that Britain would ‘walk with you’, that Britain had won assurances that elections in Hong Kong would be free and fair, and that if China ever failed to live up to this pledge, Britain would take the matter to the United Nations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
   In 20 years, Britain has not lifted a finger.
   We might get lucky like the Gurkhas one of these days if Joanna Lumley wants to come to our aid. But we certainly can’t rely on any politician.
   Being British (I retained my nationality and applied before the deadline to be a BN(O)), you can see how the pro-Brexit position was hard to stomach to me. The likes of Nigel Farage and the “other” New York-born politician with funny hair, Boris Johnson, seemed to revel in some idea of British unity, but anyone from Hong Kong will tell you that in politics, that is an empty concept.
   Only one of my friends who was pro-Brexit voted based on the idea of an independent Britain being more efficient when freed from the whims of Brussels, and I respect him for it; most of what I saw was aimed against immigration. The current PM’s belief in safeguarding the interests of British subjects should be cold comfort to those affected: if they couldn’t defend our interests, will others fare any better, especially with a minority government in a Conservative Party that actually remains as divided as ever?
   Not that I am championing the People’s Republic of China for its handling of relations between mainlanders and Hong Kongers; it has equally been exclusive of us and our unique culture. I have already gone into the Umbrella Revolution elsewhere (even if the TV One website omitted my televised comments about Wikileaks’ reporting of US State Department interference as this goes against the western narrative), and this doesn’t need exploring again. The disappearance of publishers critical of Beijing should sound alarm bells—I note that one of them was a British subject, but the best the UK could muster was an expression of concern. I cannot help but wonder if this is the fate that awaits Britons on the Continent should something happen to them.
   Some negatives aside, I am happy that when I visited a “Chinese” Hong Kong in 2006, I found a city whose character was intact, and I remarked at how unchanged that was. In subsequent visits in 2008, 2010 and 2012, that core remained. Given all the paranoia before 1997, ‘One country, two systems’ has certainly not been as bad as many of us—including those of us who moved our entire lives abroad because of those fears—predicted. I wish all HKers well on this 20th anniversary.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, politics, UK | No Comments »


I had perfect scores but no “tiger parents”

15.05.2011

Now I see 60 Minutes New Zealand is on the act: how there’s supposedly something “different” about ‘Asians’. (God, I hate that term—I am neither Japanese, Sri Lankan or Kazakh. Prior to Winston Peters being on the scene, I thought I was Chinese, or a Chinese New Zealander.) The report surmised that it’s all about the pressure we got as kids from our parents.
   I wonder if there’s a Chinese edition of the programme investigating why Caucasians are physically stronger than we are, if we’re to buy in to a stereotype.
   I don’t dispute that the report had merit, and that there was some statistical basis for it. It made people think, and, as with Wesley Yang’s article in New York, it prompts a response. Creating dialogue is a good thing. It would be nicer to see a follow-up along Wesley’s lines, on how many ‘Asians’ wind up in leadership positions.
   But as I watched the programme, I kept wondering if somehow, the household I grew up in was anomalous, or whether TV3’s sample of three is representative enough of all ‘Asians’.
   One mother paused for a long time before she said that it was her pushing her daughter. But was the question loaded? Could we have asked a mother from any other race in this country, whose daughter is excelling at school, to see what her answer would be? I’m willing to bet that there is an above-average level of parental involvement in most academically gifted children.
   I had a pretty decent academic career. Like the kids on 60 Minutes, I came over as a child. English is my second language. I was Dux at St Mark’s Church School and Proxime Accessit at Scots College. I had the highest grades in my honours year for my BCA (Hons.) at Victoria University. (I didn’t do quite as well at law school, other than my intellectual property and jurisprudence papers, which gives you a hint of where my interests lay.) Getting 100 over a range of subjects is not unknown to me.
   But this whole idea about tiger parenting, of parents pushing their children to excel, just seems foreign. Didn’t happen to me. (I was encouraged to have literacy and numeracy skills from a young age, but the reason for that is explained elsewhere. And it certainly wasn’t extreme as 60 Minutes wishes to make out—it was enough to nudge things in the right direction in the place I lived in.)
   Everything I got in to, I got in to through dialogue. I didn’t learn the piano till I was 16. I picked up playing by ear in a couple of lessons. But I could have begun learning at five, because we moved into a flat whose previous tenant left her piano behind. My parents were willing to negotiate with our former neighbour to purchase it. I said I wasn’t interested. I was never forced into it. The movers came and Dad put his stereo and I put my toy cars where the piano used to be.
   Similarly, I was never forced to attend Sunday school, the only place in which one could learn Chinese literacy in those days. It was suggested to me, on more than one occasion, but I declined. I wound up learning French.
   I could draw in three dimensions when I was four years old because my father saw I had a love of doodling, and began drawing things at different angles. I copied him and the rest was left to me to develop. (I’m still reasonably good though the cars I draw tend to be stuck in the Life on Mars–Ashes to Ashes era.) My parents respected my interests and allowed them to flourish.
   Despite coming first constantly, and despite an offer from St Mark’s to put me up a grade, my parents said, ‘We’d still be proud of you and we’d still love you even if you came second.’ I never did while there.
   You know, I simply chose to score 100s because I reckoned I could. And took up stuff when I was good and ready. I like to think I turned out all right.
   Having Confucian values is one thing, which the report hinted at, but that’s nothing to do with having pushy parents.
   So for all those ‘Kiwi’ parents (the term was used on telly in a way that made me think: so, were my parents not Kiwis? Am I not a Kiwi? Why were we excluded?) watching the story and wondering if a hyper-competitive environment is right for their kids, stop that thinking now.
   You now have a story with a sample of three, and the testament of one other. My recollection is that nurturing and conversation worked. Kids have an amazing ability to reason and work things out for themselves. And that’s how I got my good grades at school.

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Posted in China, culture, interests, New Zealand, TV | 4 Comments »