The other day I got a promotional call from a bank that I don’t have an account with. The bank wanted to offer me a special promotion. We all get these unsolicited sales calls from time to time. I decided the best way to get rid of them is to ask if they would speak to me in English. There was a pause at the other end. The caller asked, “Are you a Chinese?” I wondered if this was a requirement to get the special promotion. But I simply repeated my request. The caller hung up.
“Are you a Chinese?” That’s an interesting question. Yes, I am a Chinese but…I am also an American and proud of it. In USA I am seen as a Chinese-American. In Hong Kong I am regarded as an ABC (American-born Chinese). I share this story because the issue of identity looms large for many Hong Kong Chinese. This is especially true of the generations born in Hong Kong starting from the 1950s. The soul searching began in earnest in the 70’s and 80’s as British Hong Kong prepared for the eventual return to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China in 1997.
An opinion poll conducted a few years ago by a local university concluded that more people identified themselves as “Hong Kong citizens” than “Chinese citizens” by 20 or 30 percent. Now, don’t be mistaken. Hong Kongers are proud of their Chinese heritage, tradition and language. No doubt about it. But when identified by default as being “from China,” the younger generation immediately clarifies by adding “Hong Kong.” For outsiders, this may be puzzling. Hong Kong is part of China, right? 94% of the population of 7 million is ethnic Chinese. Why make such a sharp distinction?
Admittedly, part of the reason is because many Hong Kongers have long regarded themselves as superior to Chinese in the mainland. With Hong Kong’s economic success, cosmopolitan society and bi-lingual ability, its residents take great pride in the city’s achievements and amazing transformation. Of course, the situation has changed somewhat with China’s fast becoming an economic powerhouse in its own right as well as a major player in many arenas internationally. Still, a distinct Hong Kong identity has emerged that views its residents as different from those anywhere else in China. Hong Kongers are eager to preserve that special history, culture and lifestyle of the place they call ‘home’ while taking advantage of the special freedoms that the city retains under the “one country, two systems” policy until at least 2047 (fifty years after the handover).
Besides being Hong Kongers and Chinese citizens, Christians in the city have a third identity – disciples of Jesus Christ. I remember the soul searching that the Church went through in the run-up to 1997, asking herself how best to serve the people and witness to God’s love and peace in uncertain times. There were many opinions but it was clear to everyone that Christian discipleship meant sacrifice and possibly suffering for the sake of the Gospel. By God’s grace, the Church in Hong Kong has been able to continue its ministry and mission without undue interference. But the question of how best to serve and witness in society is as pressing today as it was twenty years ago.
For Hong Kong Chinese Christians, perhaps the answer requires both courage and wisdom, both struggle and cooperation, both differentiation and reconciliation. It’s all a matter of timing and judgment, subject to God’s guidance. After all, when all is said and done, the most important thing for people to know is not about us, but about the One whose name we humbly bear and claim to follow. In the end, the most important question is not “Are you a Chinese?” or “Are you a Hong Konger?” The most important question is “Are you a Christian?” And ultimately the answer to that question is decided by others, not ourselves.
As we in Hong Kong, China seek to be faithful witnesses and servants of Jesus Christ, let me thank you for your support and prayers through Global Ministries. This partnership of East and West, North and South continues to bless our one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. May God bless you and keep you in His grace in the New Year 2015!
With all best wishes,
Judy Chan serves with the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is responsible for communications for the Council. She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church's Wider Mission, and your special gifts.