The article “Bates Perspective on Hong Kong” (which I will refer to as “Perspective”), featured in the last issue of The Bates Student, raises critical concerns about objectivity and integrity through biased rhetoric which overgeneralized, misinformed, and misrepresented its subject matter. By assuming to constitute a single perspective, the title “Bates Perspective” already initiates a power hierarchy. This framework should be examined by critical thinking that seeks further explanation on issues such as: is the Bates perspective an institutional, authoritative, and inclusive consensus? Whom does the Bates perspective represent, and who has the power to forge it? Whose perspective is it really?
Born and raised in China, I feel excluded and misrepresented in this discourse. Four years ago, I applied to Bates with faith in its mission statement, “we engage the transformative power of our differences.” This resonated with me as I hoped to contribute to the Bates community with my perspective through my lived experience. However, I discovered this statement might not apply to my identity as a non-white, international student who has to constantly struggle with invisibility, bias, and discrimination.
According to “Perspective,” the Bates perspective on Hong Kong is Western-centric, interventionist, and colonialist. It is facilitated via the selection bias that acknowledges the voices of three Bates interviewees: a British student, a Canadian student, and an American professor. Indeed, the two students have lived in Hong Kong, and the professor teaches about China.
However, if such conditions legitimize their candidacy in constituting the Bates perspective, then how about the 30-plus Chinese students, many of whom also have lived in Hong Kong, and the Chinese professors that teach about China at Bates? How would they feel about being represented by a Western-centric narrative?
A risk for “Perspective” in introducing a Chinese perspective is that it prevents the article from promoting its pro-democracy, separatist agenda. “Perspective” endorses the protests as its interviewees are “avid supporters of the movement,” and the British interviewee asserts a Western-centric view. “I am not really fazed by protests… I think it’s something that Americans don’t do enough.”
“Perspective” downplays the destruction caused by the protests via the two Bates students who suggest “the protests have had little effect on daily life.” The early protests over the Extradition Bill were indeed legal and peaceful but escalated violently with signs of terrorism leveraging chaos and vandalism. The protesters damaged key infrastructures like highways, subways, and the airport—so much so that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam said that protests have harmed the economy more than the 2008 financial crisis. A Hong Kong government press release quantifies such impacts: the city’s hotel occupancy rate dropped 5 percent, and retail sales dropped 13 percent between July and the same month last year.
In August, protests at the airport grounded flights for two days, during which a mainland citizen suspected of being a police officer, and a Chinese journalist, were both attacked and abused by the protesters for hours. Within two days, over 580 flights were canceled after protesters occupied the terminal, incurring losses of more than $76 million USD in the aviation industry. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong International Airport revealed a year-over-year drop of 12.4 percent (851,000) in monthly travelers—its biggest decline in a decade.
Such a crisis may generate greater externalities for the predominantly service-based economy of Hong Kong. The Four Key Industries in Hong Kong, including finance, tourism, trade, and professional services, have been fundamental to Hong Kong’s economic growth. The contribution of the Four Key Industries to Hong Kong’s GDP was 57.1 percent in 2017 while the contribution to total employment was only 46.6 percent. As tourism took a hit, offices vandalized, and professional services disturbed, Hong Kong’s image as an Asian business hub has been challenged. One can argue Hong Kong is especially dependent on mainland China to alleviate the employment vacuum for many young people who cannot squeeze into the saturated service industries nor compete for basic jobs.
That is simply one perspective built on facts. In comparison, the “Perspective” advocates a colonialist, interventionist opinion in reference to a visiting professor of history at Bates. “There’s not necessarily the need of Hong Kong to rejoin China, quite the opposite,” the professor said. “It’s been 150 years of success story that’s happened, precisely because they were not a part of the other story…what made Hong Kong so successful through the Pacific world, exactly none of that happened on the mainland.”
First, let’s take a look at the history of Hong Kong. In the late 18th century, the British began illegally smuggling opium to China. By 1833, the opium trafficked into China had resulted in 10-12 million addicts. In 1839, China seized the opium supply in Canton, a city near Hong Kong. A year later, the British government declared the Opium War to demand reparations for the losses of the British illegal traders and to guarantee security for smugglers.
The war was concluded with an unequal treaty that forced China to cede Hong Kong to Britain, thus the beginning of British colonization in Hong Kong for 156 years. The British monarch could appoint the Governor of Hong Kong as the representative of the Crown in the colony, wielding executive power in both legislation and government for white people. For decades, the revenue from the opium trade was a main source of government funds, in addition to Hong Kong being the gateway for British trading in China. Despite large businesses operated by the expats, Chinese laborers provided most of the manpower in building and sustaining the infrastructure for this port city. In 1997, Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to China with the condition that, again, forced China to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” in Hong Kong for 50 years, until 2047.
Now, we can better comprehend what this Bates history professor implies when he says “150 years of success story:” a prime model of colonization that legalizes and profits from drugs that gives rise to its economic prosperity, rejects democracy, oppresses and exploits its colonized subjects, and celebrates white supremacy. And now, you might ask, whose perspective is this Bates perspective?