Hello! I’m Iverson, a Junior Research Fellow at Tallinn University. As my research focuses on how a network of Sino-Hong Kong borders has changed since 2020, I visited the UK to observe how the Hong Kong diaspora community has shaped the public discourse on Hong Kong.
Studies about borders can stretch beyond physical limitations. In mid-March, I had a 5-day visit to the UK for the first time since the 2019 Hong Kong protests broke out. As the Chinese-imposed, extraterritorial Hong Kong National Security Law1 came into effect in June 2020, there have been over 144,000 Hongkongers moving to the UK2. As such, the Hong Kong diaspora community in the UK has been a key stakeholder when it comes to keeping Hong Kong’s identity alive from afar. During the visit, I have attended the Hong Kong protest outside Downing Street No. 10 as an observer, listened to ‘Hong Kong Surrealism’ Art Talk as part of the UK-wide ‘Hong Kong March’ festival, as well as enjoyed good food from the Hong Kong Bingsutt (Hong Kong cold drinking house).
Hong Kong protest outside Downing Street No.10
One of the highlights of my trip was about the Hong Kong protest outside Downing Street No. 10, which is the official residence of the British Prime Minister. With a few dozens of participants attending the event, there were also a few speeches delivered by the representatives of diaspora group ‘Hongkongers in Britain’, advocacy group ‘Hong Kong Watch’, cultural festival organizer ‘Hong Kong March’ as well as an independent activist. As an observer, it was interesting to see that there were a number of Hong Kong flags being raised– the popular ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’3 protest flag, ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag, the old Hong Kong flag being used during the British colonial rule, as well as the blue-and-white flag advocated online Hong Kong groups.
The presence of different versions of Hong Kong flags is an illustration of political pluralism among the Hong Kong diaspora in the UK. It highlighted the complexities of the question of Hong Kong’s autonomy, its changing political status as well as aspiration of Hongkongers to become independent from mainland China. Given the limited number of Hong Kong groups present within the EU, this is a good case in point to materialize the Sino-Hong Kong social border, even though some Chinese political dissidents were included in the protest.
‘Hong Kong Surrealism’ Art Talk
Apart from the protest on the ground, I also attended a thought-provoking artistic event entitled ‘Hong Kong Surrealism’ hosted by Hongkongers in Britain. The talented artist duo ‘Lumli Lumlong’ have shared their inspirations from Hong Kong and demonstrated their artistic works, highlighting how Hong Kong food has become the symbol of Hong Kong identity. More important, they have shared the thought of post-protest trauma experienced not only by them, but other like-minded Hongkongers.
At the end of the talk, they also discussed some notions shared by some Hongkongers who decided to stay in Hong Kong–whether Hongkongers abroad should keep the 2019 memories alive. From my observation, the public discourse on Hongkongers’ fight for freedom in 2019 has shaped the evolving identity of ‘becoming Hongkonger’: on the one hand, the 2019 protests have effectively drawn a line of separation between ‘Hongkonger’ and ‘Chinese’; on the other hand, Hongkongers seem to perceive the reality of 2019 as a distant past, and many of them decide to move on with their lives without protests as the new normal. Such paradigm shift resonates with some scholars’ theories on ‘Temporal Othering’.
Vintage style Hong Kong café
The discursive struggle on ‘Hong Kong-China’ dichotomy was even more physically visible during my visit to an event organized by Hong Kong March. For the first time, I was educated further about the history of Bingsutt, a vintage-style Hong Kong café which has a mix of legacies between Cantonese heritage (in southern China), Hong Kong’s post-World War legacy as well as British influence due to Hong Kong’s colonial past. For Cheongsam, Hong Kong’s traditional clothing, it is influenced by the Shanghainese way of clothing style and was often misunderstood by outsiders that Hong Kong’s clothing is identical as the Shanghainese ones.
It was indeed a delightful experience to have a taste of curry ‘fishballs’ during the event, as well as seeing Hongkongers dress up with traditional Hong Kong clothes. However, from my experience, it often appears that there is a blurred cultural boundary between Hong Kong and Cantonese-speaking region in China, owing to the geographical and linguistic proximities. Unlike the Sino-Hong Kong institutional borders, the cultural borders are soft in nature and subject to discursive changes.
Overall, my work trip to London in connection with my research on Border Studies on Hong Kong and China has enriched my firsthand experience in understanding the complexity of Sino-Hong Kong borders. It was a trip that motivated me to return to Britain again for further studies on the Hong Kong diaspora in the territory and deepened my understanding on how such borders are discursively constructed by Hongkongers in public discourses.