Perspectives chinoises has been officially recognized by the French Agency for the evaluation of scientific research (AERES) as an authoritative academic journal in both political sciences and sociology/demography.
20/F Wanchai Central Building
CEFC - Taipei branch
Room B111, Research Center For
Lau Siu-Kai ed., Social Development and Political Change in Hong Kong
In this new book, sociologist S.K. Lau has reproduced, with minor revisions, 12 Occasional Papers previously published by his Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies (HKIAPS). The papers were chosen to provide a comprehensive review of the social and political changes in Hong Kong in the 1990s (p. viii). This is a lofty objective, and the book fulfils it rather unevenly.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part IClass and MobilityThomas W.P. Wong and Lui Tai-lok compare polling data from their 1989-90 social mobility survey with time-series data from the biennial HKIAPS social indicators project to highlight continuity and change in the class structure, morality, perceptions and value orientations of Hong Kong people. One of their key findings is that under the influence of Hong Kong's traditional ideology of individualistic capitalism, Hong Kong people tend to be remarkably fatalistic about their own personal successes and failures. Most of the respondents, they note, place the blame for failures not on the government or its policies, but on the individuals themselves (p. 19). This attitude carried over to politics as well: Political failures are treated like social failures; momentary curiosity and sympathy perhaps; but quickly forgotten. One must get on to something new (p. 23). The overall picture presented is that of a pragmatic and generally amoral attitude toward success and failure, hopes and frustrations (p. 25).
In a companion chapter on the nature of Hong Kong's entrepreneurial ethos, Wong and Lui note that entrepreneurialism in Hong Kong is typically more of a strategy than an ideology, more an instrumental choice than a cultural or moral one. Competing with bureaucratic and managerial strategies for upward mobility, the entrepreneurial spirit works as a tool kit and is called upon for selecting the line of economic action, rather than defining ends and objectives (p. 56).
In Part IISocial Group and Conflictfive chapters explore the changing nature and structure of group conflict in Hong Kong. Anthony Cheung and Kin-sheun Louie examine the socio-political impact of rapid economic growth and increasing popular dependency upon government in the 12 years from 1975 to 1986. Suggesting that S.K. Lau's classic 1982 model of Hong Kong as a minimally integrated social-political system is no longer as relevant as it once was, Cheung and Louie argue that government has become steadily more relevant in the lives of ordinary Hong Kong people, and that government has consequently increasingly become a target for social demands as well as being cast into a role of expected solver of people's conflicts and problems (p. 65). To demonstrate this point, they undertake a content analysis of group conflicts and demands upon government as reported in two major Hong Kong daily newspapers. They find that the number of conflicts rose almost four-fold from 1975 to 1986. Based on these data, the authors conclude that Hong Kong has undergone a significant shift from a subject political culture towards a more participant one: Since the 1980s people in Hong Kong have become more socially aware, rights-conscious, and increasingly involved in organized articulation of their wants and demands (p. 110).
Picking up where Cheung and Louie's examination of frequencies of social conflict left off, in 1986, Lau Siu-kai and Wan Po-san present a quantitative analysis of trends in social conflict from 1987 to 1995. Unlike Cheung and Louie, Lau and Wan find that with the exception of 1989 (the year of the June Fourth incident), and 1992 (the year of controversial British Governor Chris Patten's arrival in Hong Kong), the number of social conflicts per year did not rise dramatically. Moreover, in the first half of the 1990s, the overall pattern of social conflicts showed a downward trend (p. 121). The explanation for this ostensible anomaly lies in the generally decreasing salience, after 1990, of symbolic political conflicts pitting the civil rights of Hong Kong citizens against the policies of the Chinese government. Notwithstanding this downward trend, however, Lau and Wan agree with Cheung and Louie that Hong Kong's decolonisation and partial democratisation since the early 1980s have brought about some changes in people's perception of and propensity to participate in social conflicts (p. 164).
In a study of social workers as a political interest group, Wong Chack-kie notes that throughout the 1970s and 1980s Hong Kong's social workers displayed strong activist tendencies in confronting the colonial establishment on behalf of poor and disadvantaged members of society. Based on survey research conducted in 1992, Wong sharply contrasts the values and attitudes of Hong Kong's social workers, who tend to believe in a greatly expanded societal/governmental welfare obligation, with the dominant ideology of family-based welfare in capitalist Hong Kong, which views public welfare as a last resort to be invoked only when the family fails its primary obligation to support its own members. The self-defined public advocacy role of social workers on behalf of their disadvantaged clients marks them as one of Hong Kong's most radical occupational groups.
Stephen W.K. Chiu and Hung Ho-fung next examine the social bases of political stability in Hong Kong's rural areas. Borrowing S.K. Lau and H.C. Kuan's notion of a paradox of stability, Chiu and Hung note that an administrative absorption of politics took place in the rural New Territories under the British colonial regime. That is, local leaders with mobilizing capabilities were co-opted into and under the influence of the state (p. 216). Consequently, even in the midst of rapid urbanization and economic development in the late colonial period, no large-scale, sustained conflicts broke out in the New Territories. Rural communities were not free of group grievances and demands, of course; but contentious local elites were basically bought off by the government (p. 245).
In the final chapter of Part II, Lau Siu-kai tackles the perplexing question of self-identity among Hong Kong Chinese. Since the mid-1980s, opinion polls have regularly asked Hong Kong residents how they identify themselvesas Chinese, as Hongkongese, both or neither. While the poll results over time revealed no clear-cut trends in one direction or the other((1), Lau found that there were interesting modal demographic differences between the two main reference groups. For example, females tended to identify more frequently as Hongkongese, while males were more inclined to identify themselves as Chinese. Lau suggests that this is because females were troubled less by colonial rule, had more negative feelings about China, and were less enamoured with China's achievements (p. 259). Similarly, more educated respondents and those with higher incomes were generally more inclined to call themselves Hongkongese. Notwithstanding such modal differences, Lau finds that both the Hongkongese and the Chinese are ethnically and culturally Chinese [M]any of those who claimed a Hong Kong identity were also imbued with ethnic and cultural pride (p. 263). Still, there were significant differences of political attitude between self-styled Hongkongese and Chinese. Hongkongese, for example, were more likely to protest China's actions in the June Fourth incident of 1989 and to welcome Chris Patten's subsequent democratic reforms.
In Part IIIPolitical Attitudes in a Changing ContextKuan Hsin-chi and Lau Siu-kai examine changes in political attitudes in Hong Kong from 1985 to the early 1990s. Based on survey data, they note increasing popular support for greater governmental intervention in society and the economy, e.g., to redress the gap between rich and poor. They also note a significant decline in popular opposition to the establishment of political partiesdown from 50% in 1988 to 29% in 1992((2). Still, most Hong Kong people continue to have an imperfect understanding of democracy. Thus, they have been far more likely to define democracy as a government that is willing to consult public opinion (39% in 1992) than as a popularly elected government (22% in 1992) (p. 293). Kuan and Lau attribute this conceptual confusion to the pragmatism of the Hong Kong people: To them, it is the output of government that matters, not the form of government (p. 293).
Thomas Wong and Lui Tai-lok next examine three contending modes of analysis of Hong Kong's late-colonial polityJohn Rear's one brand of politics (1971); S.K. Lau's minimally integrated social-political system (1982); and Ian Scott's legitimacy crisis (1989)and they find all three wanting on both conceptual and empirical counts (p. 310). Their main objection is that each of the three modes embodies a non-structural approach to social structure. To remedy this common deficiency, Wong and Lui recommend an approach grounded in Hong Kong's class structure. It is only on the basis of this class-differentiated structure...that the specific issue of political behaviour and political culture can be addressed and resolved (p. 329).
In an essay on the state of political leadership in Hong Kong, Lau Siu-kai bemoans the dearth of trusted political elites. In a pessimistic mode, he notes that Hong Kong people generally speaking do not trust political leaders, and as they suffer from political cynicism and apathy, the natural outcome is a gloomy view of democratisation (pp. 370-371). His pessimism is rooted in a 1995 survey which showed, among other things, that only 11% of respondents felt their political influence had increased as a result of the advent of local elections in Hong Kong. By the same token, only 13% expressed interest in debates on political issues; and only 19% were concerned about improprieties committed by political leaders. A minority of respondents (45%) expressed the belief that Hong Kong had been governed better since the advent of elections; and almost half (49%) believed that the chances of success for democracy in Hong Kong were poor. Armed with such sobering data, Lau concludes that the dearth of political leaders impedes the democratic process in Hong Kong, for it inhibits the formation of political and psychological ties to attach the public to democratisation (p. 371).
Examining evolving patterns of elite-mass relations in Hong Kong, Chui Wing-tak attempts to map the role perceptions of local political elites. Based on questionnaires administered to members of Hong Kong's District Boards, Municipal Councils, and Legislative Council, Chui reports that approximately two-thirds of Hong Kong's politicians had an elitist orientation both with respect to their own roles and in their assessment of the masses' lack of political competence. Moreover, the elites were generally found to be inefficacious in working with government officials (p. 399). While finding some cause for optimism in the fact that the local citizenry has increasingly become aware of their civic rights in holding political representatives more accountable (p. 406), Chui bemoans the slow pace of democratic construction in Hong Kong.
In a concluding chapter on public attitudes toward political parties, Lau Siu-kai uses data from a 1990 survey to highlight popular ambivalence toward party development in Hong Kong. He argues that prior to the late 1980s, Hong Kong's political culture generally resembled that of other pre-modern societies insofar as it failed to provide a hospitable milieu for the emergence of political parties, which were seen to smack of self-seekingness, harm to the common weal, factional strife, and social disharmony (p. 421). By the late 1980s, however, the impending take-over by China, coupled with increasing public suspicion of the motives and intentions of the Hong Kong and British governments, led the people to receive with more favour organized political forces to represent local interests (p. 422). After the 1989 Tiananmen incident, increasing public support for political parties was linked to strong popular discontent with the actions of the Chinese government((3). Once local fears over Beijing's heavy handedness began to subside, however, confidence in government rose, with the consequence that the subjective political space available for party development was [once again] quite constricted (p. 441).
This is an ambitious volume, and it constitutes a welcome addition to the literature on social and political change in Hong Kong during the decolonisation period. However, its 12 chapters are uneven in quality, and there is a good deal of overlap and redundancy among them. Moreover, they were evidently written at different points in timesome early in the 1990s, some considerably later((4). And while there was an attempt to update several chapters with an epilogue or postscript, the effort was half-hearted at best. Consequently, the volume is largely asynchronousi.e., the reader cannot be sure when each individual chapter was written and thus cannot know the author's temporal perspective. Despite such shortcomings, this book will be a useful reference work for scholars and graduate students interested in the socio-political effects of Hong Kong's decolonisation process.
1. In the years from 1985 to 1995, 50% to 60% of Hong Kong residents identified themselves as Hongkongese, while 25% to 35% identified themselves as Chinese.
2. Much of this decline can be attributed to popular revulsion at the June Fourth incident, and to the rise of pro-democratic political activism that followed.
3. Curiously, despite this evidently profound shift in the foundations and strength of public support for political parties after the spring of 1989, Lau barely alludes to the June Fourth incident or its impact on politics in Hong Kong.
4. Unfortunately, the editor does not provide original publication data for each of the chapters, making it difficult to ascertain when they were written.