The Rise of Localism and Civic Identity in HK


Just published: “The Rise of ‘Localism‘ and Civic Identity in Post-handover Hong Kong: Questioning the Chinese Nation-state.” The China Quarterly, Vol. 230, June 2017, pp. 323-347. DOI:
(image © Wikipedia user Prosperity Horizons CC BY-SA 4.0 license)

The very short version:
This article argues that the new “localist” discourse in Hong Kong is mainly based on a Hong Kong-centered civic identity. As such it still overlaps with the traditional pan-Chinese civic nationalism (as manifested in June Fourth vigils), but is increasingly in conflict with the ethnocultural nationalist discourse that has become more prevalent in mainland China in recent years.

While it was traditionally accepted that Hongkongers shared a form of pan-Chinese cultural identification that did not contradict their local distinctiveness, over the last decade Hong Kong has seen the rise of new types of local identity discourses. Most recently, “localists” have been a vocal presence. Hong Kong has – quite unexpectedly – developed a strong claim for self-determination. But how new is “localism” with respect to the more traditional “Hong Kong identity” that appeared in the 1970s? The present study takes a two-dimensional approach to study these discourses, examining not only their framework of identification (local versus pan-Chinese) but also their mode of identification (ethno-cultural versus civic). Using three case studies, the June Fourth vigil, the 2012 anti-National Education protest and the 2014 Umbrella movement, it distinguishes between groups advocating civic identification with the local community (Scholarism, HKFS) and others highlighting ethnic identification (Chin Wan). It argues that while local and national identification were traditionally not incompatible, the civic-based identification with a local democratic community, as advocated by most participants in recent movements, is becoming increasingly incompatible with the ethnic and cultural definition of the Chinese nation that is now being promoted by the Beijing government.


Slogans of HK’s Umbrella Movement

P1010891Just published: “Creating a Textual Public space. Slogans and Texts from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement,” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 75.3 (Aug. 2016).

In this article, using textual material collected on site, I identify the central claim of the Umbrella Movement as an assertion of agency by a community with fluid borders. This community is performed through a variety of cultural repertoires, varying from traditional Chinese philosophy to contemporary pop music, but, most importantly, it is also enacted in the space of a deliberative forum.

Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement (Sept-Dec 2014) represented a watershed in Hong Kong’s political culture and self-understanding. Based on a study of over 1000 slogans and other textual and visual material documented during the movement, this study provides an overview of claims, which are oriented towards an assertion of agency, articulated at different levels: in a universalistic mode (“democracy”), in relation with a political community (Hong Kong autonomy and decolonization) and through concrete policy aims. At the same time, slogans mobilize a diversity of cultural and historical repertoires which attest the hybrid quality of Hong Kong identity and underscore the diversity of sources of political legitimacy. Finally, it will be argued that by establishing a system of contending discourses within the occupied public spaces, the movement strived to act out a type of discursive democracy. Despite the challenges that this discursive space encountered in interacting with the authorities and the public at large, it represented an unfinished attempt to build a new civic culture among Hong Kong’s younger generation.

Lu Xun and Zhang Binglin

biographies-lu-xun-zhang-taiyan-179xmem-225x300Just published: “Lu Xun and Zhang Binglin: New Culture, Conservatism and Local Tradition”, Sixiangshi/Intellectual History [Unitas, Taipei], vol. 6 (2016), p. 151-193.

One way of qualifying the May Fourth break with tradition is to look at continuities with non-orthodox pre-modern traditions. While the connection between Lu Xun and Zhang Binglin is well understood, this essay proposes a more systematic investigation of how Zhang’s ideas inspired some of Lu Xun’s fiction. In particular, it focuses on how Lu Xun reworked the themes of local traditions as a form of “authentic” non-state culture, and the authenticity of individual morality as the foundation of political emancipation and equality. Lu Xun repeatedly returns to idealized childhood reminiscences of village life and local folklore (in contrast with socially critical portraits in other works), highlighting the subversive potential of local language and culture (for example in “Village Theatre”). He also points out the moral authenticity of interior resistance (for example in “The Loner”), which expresses itself in a uniquely “authentic” local expression. In this sense, Lu Xun’s fiction remains indebted to cultural nostalgia and heterodox traditionalism.