Remaking Citizenship in Hong Kong: Community, Nation and the Global City

By Lau, Raymond W. K. | The China Journal, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Remaking Citizenship in Hong Kong: Community, Nation and the Global City


Lau, Raymond W. K., The China Journal


Remaking Citizenship in Hong Kong: Community, Nation and the Global City, edited by Agnes S. Ku and Pun Ngai. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. xxvi + 261 pp. £65.00 (hardcover).

Citizenship is a highly political issue in today's globalized world, especially in Hong Kong, because of its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. This volume, part of RoutledgeCurzon's Asia's Transformations Series, contains twelve papers on the subject.

T. H. Marshall argued that modern citizenship consists of three sets of rights: civil, political and social (as built into the welfare state). Hence struggles over Keynesian welfare, especially under triumphant neo-liberalism, can be reformulated as struggles over citizenship. The merit of Marshall's view is that it adds a substantive dimension to the formal frame of the liberal notion of citizenship: a worker lacking either the means to hire a good lawyer or the social competences and conditions to participate in politics hardly enjoys the same citizenship rights as someone with both. But the danger is that citizenship may sometimes get conceptually undermined. For instance, to say that the subjects of a welfare authoritarian state possess social but not civil and political citizenship violates the concept of citizenship itself.

Some of the papers in the present book reflect this problem, and this is not helped by the fact that the volume arises from a conference. Chapter 2 ("Welfare good or colonial citizenship?"), for instance, argues that the start of colonial public housing in the mid-1950s was mainly motivated by the colonizers' "sanitary syndrome". I find this interesting, though vastly overworked, but have reservations about its relevance in this context. Similarly, Chapter 11 ("In search of a communal economic subject"), a well-written paper in itself, concerns a local version of LETS (local exchange trading system-see New Left Review, 232 [1998], pp. 91-111), whose pertinence to the theme of citizenship is, again, somewhat forced. The same applies, to a lesser degree, to some other chapters too.

Chapter 1 ("Citizenship as a form of governance") surveys how the colonial and post-1997 governments approach(ed) citizenship, reiterating the point previously made by others that in colonial Hong Kong local people were residents, not rights-bearing citizens. While rights have advanced considerably in recent years, the notion of citizenship has remained constitutionally absent since 1997. Chapter 3 ("Civic education and the making of deformed citizenry") explains the lack of civic education under colonialism, and the post-1997 government's attempt to construct a particular notion of citizenship through the promotion of civic education. Chapter 4 ("The making of the 'ideal citizen' in schooling processes") revisits the familiar production and reproduction of gender stereotypes in education, showing that the passive, obedient feminine subjectivities constituted in lower-class girls produce second-class adult citizens.

A large proportion of Hong Kong's population consists of migrants from mainland China. Providing a survey of this flow, Chapter 5 ("Politics of incorporation and exclusion") explains the different fates of migrants arriving at different times. Chapter 6 ("Hong Kong as a semi-ethnocracy") describes Hong Kong as being ruled in the interests of its citizens at the expense of "denizens" (foreigners enjoying permanent residency but without political rights) and "margizens" (foreign contract workers having few rights). Chapter 7 ("Lived citizenship and lower-class Chinese migrant women") examines the right of abode controversy (whether or not children of Hong Kong residents born in mainland China to mainlanders prior to their gaining of residency rights have the automatic right of abode in Hong Kong).

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Remaking Citizenship in Hong Kong: Community, Nation and the Global City
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