HKU & CEFC Interdisciplinary Workshop-The Boundaries of Democracy


 The University of Hong Kong, Social Sciences Chamber, 11/F, Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus

Hong Kong and Taiwan-Mainland China Relations

One-day workshop in Mandarin and English (no translation)

Click here to find out how to get to HKU.

Organizing Committee:

Richard W.X. Hu (HKU), Sebastian Veg (CEFC), Samson Yuen (Oxford, CEFC).

Full programme available here


Over the past months many commentators have once again been comparing Hong Kong and Taiwan’s relations and connections with China. Often highlighted similarities are the budding social movements in both territories that seem to target mainland influence (i.e. the Anti-National Education campaign and the Sunflower Movement), the consequences of closer economic ties of each territory with China, and the undermining of democratic institutions in the two territories by political interest groups.

These comparisons raise important questions about the relation between democratic institutions and the framework of the nation-state, and also about the possibility for democratic (or democratizing) territories to coexist with authoritarian states. Historically, democracy has developed successfully within the framework of clearly defined nation-states with a shared language and history, which function as a shared cultural frame of reference (an “imagined community”). However, the case of China, which emerged as a self-defined nation-state while retaining its imperial borders, has raised further questions. While China’s democratization seems indefinitely postponed, both Hong Kong and Taiwan, two former colonies, have gradually democratized on its margins. However, as China – a rising global power – becomes more proactive in safeguarding national sovereignty and asserting territorial interests, whether democratic territories on its periphery, on which China either owns or claims sovereignty, can keep their systems intact hence emerges as an important inquiry.

Most prominently in Taiwan, the development of democratic institutions has been coterminous with the redefinition of a Taiwanese nation-state. Yet, after a decade of post-colonial social movements advocating democracy, Hong Kong has also witnessed the reinvention and politicization of a “local identity” (bentu) discourse, which arguably attempts to define a set of shared cultural references setting Hong Kong apart from China (although these remain in dispute within Hong Kong society). The assertion of a political difference thus gives rise to a discourse on cultural identity that takes on its own dynamics. Social movements seem to have played a role in this shift between political and cultural identity, but how exactly do they articulate the connection? Did they play a similar role in Taiwan during the 1980s?

In the economic area, Beijing has used economic exchanges to link the two territories to China (with the CEPA and ECFA arrangements). In both territories, however, this economic strategy has generated growing contestation, in the name of democratic control. The reassertion of a democratic framework (usually of the nation-state) against “undemocratic” transnational forces (MNEs) have recently developed around the world: are Taiwan and Hong Kong specific cases in this respect? Can a territory with limited sovereignty like Hong Kong, or with limited international recognition like Taiwan, regain democratic control over economic agreements with China?

Finally, in the area of politics, Beijing has often resorted to specific institutional arrangements to deal with the two territories. The “associations” dealing with Cross-straits relations in China and Taiwan, the KMT-CCP Forum, or the groups of NPC and CPPCC members in Hong Kong are all examples of such specific political quasi-institutions that escape democratic oversight. This again raises the question of how to subordinate these relations to democratic control and accountability. Finally, can these evolutions be related to discourses within China that are critical of state control of civil society and collusion between political and economic elites?


There has been a spate of recent scholarship devoted to the complex connections between China and the two territories, but not much comparative discussion. The proposed format for this workshop is therefore to bring together a group of scholars who have recently published or conducted research on one of the aspects mentioned in the proposal, to advance a comparative perspective. Presentations will be short and the focus will be on interdisciplinary discussion, methodology and comparison, as well as identifying an overall conceptual framework to compare Hong Kong and Taiwan.


1) Business migrations

2) Economic Cooperation

3) Pan-Chinese nationalism and cultural identity discourse 

4) Institutions

5) Social movements