Kumbukumbu yangu ya Hong Kong

Mji mkuu wa Kenya, Nairobi una sifa ya kuwa kati ya miji michangamfu sana duniani na baada ya kukaa hapa kwa muda, nimepatana na watu aina mbali mbali ambao wameonyesha hamu ya kuelewa hali na maisha ya nitokako. Hata hivyo hivi karibuni, wengi wamekuwa na maswali chungu nzima kuhusu matukio yanayoangaziwa sana huko Hong Kong. Kinachonishangaza mno kama raia wa jamuhuri ya Uchina ni taswira moja tu potovu kama dola jekundu na la kimla. Taswira hii ni ya kutatanisha kwasababu haitilii maanani muktadha wa historia ya Hong Kong na maeneo mengineo kwa uwiano wa Uchina.

Usiangae kwani makala hii kwa ukamilivu imeandika kwa lugha ya Kiingereza. Siku nyingine ningeandika kuanzia Kiswahili.


After staying in the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi, one of the most vibrant cities in the world (probably the only one on this site of globe) for some time, I’ve been asked questions about Hong Kong by the cosmopolitan Nairobians again and again just recently. The reason may lie on the common histories among the old generations of intellectuals here who occasional remind themselves of a nostalgic memories of British way of lives. As for a person who originates from the mainland China, I find it awkwardly amusing, when the perception of China, a unified political entity as a red, communist, technocratic and authoritarian state, disproportionally outsizes the story telling of the place called Hong Kong itself, and of its relation to the other parts of China.

We start from my insisted use of mainland China because this term is already very strange to many of my colleges in East Africa. But before I could explain the term, we have to dive into history a little. The modern history of China is intertwined with the global histories of expansionist ideas of colonialism and imperialism, her up-to-today territories represents the outputs of both world wars. My Kenyan colleagues always ask me whether China was colonized. I could not give an answer because unlike Kenya colonized by Briton, China was the obviously to be one colony. When I went to the high school, the history book coined some ridiculous term of ‘half-colonized and half feudalism’ which means despite the central government being defeated by several colonial powers (Britain, France, Portugal, Russia and Germany) and the internals dispute and competition about spheres of influences forced them still keep the ancient dynasty alive – at least for a while. Then the first war broke up, the dynasty also broke up due to internal revolt, followed by the second, and then civil war, bloody wars one after another, that’s how children played with a domino.

In short, the term mainland China was a product of (half-) colonial legacies, with claims that some regions by the sea are yet to be included under a unified term of “China-ness”. Speaking of the political and diplomatic reality, mainland China denotes the communist ruled China, as conceived 1949 under the name of People’s Republic of China, while recognizing the ideological differences with other parts of China arising from varies historical causes colonial legacy as one of them, namely Hong Kong (British ruled), Macau (Portuguese ruled) and Taiwan (Republic of China which deserves a separate article). And I am afraid that disputed places are not only these three giving into considering how chaotic the government organization was back then. After all the idea of mainland China is not only a manifesto of accepting the fait accompli of different political organizations but also an expression of its willingness to solve those historical problems in a possibly peaceful way, once the counterparty also acknowledge the existence of a unified Chinese-ness.

For the case of Hong Kong, the history of this island can be traced to the so called Opium war (1839-1842), a war the last Chinese dynasty sought for the ban of British controlled opium business in China but failed. Though banned in Britain and having devastating addictive effect to human health, the British Empire simply could not let its Opium business go because it was the only profitable product that could counter the disastrous trade deficit against Chinese. Starting from a rather small area of Hong Kong Island (80.4 km2, Treaty of Nanking, 1842), Briton, alongside other colonial powers’ engagement in China, excised Kowloon (47 km2, Convention of Peking, 1860) and then leased the New Territories rent-free for 99 years (953 km2, The Second Convention of Peking, 1898). These are the areas form the current state of Hong Kong which Britain developed into her administrative center in East Asia and also a major trade hub targeting mainly the mainland China market.

After the 2nd world war, when Britain lost all its colonies in Africa and elsewhere, and unable to extend lease contract of New Territories with Chinese government, the remained area sized less than a fifth of Nairobi, could not viably survive on its own, so the both parties signed a treaty 1984 in which Hong Kong would transferred to China in 1997. The guiding policy on the Chinese side during the negotiation was the so called One Country Two Systems which ensures that Hong Kong shall have its own no political system and life styles for at least 50 years unchanged. “Hong Kong People ruling/managing/runing/administering Hong Kong”, another political slogan and commitement during the negotiation, so prevailing to China mainlanders, has no English wikipedia page. I wonder why no well-informed wikipedia  users ever have bothered themselves to provide a translation.

That is the official narration of this world event, I do not know much beyond that and I think I am not supposed to know beyond that. For one, I only stayed twice in the post-1997-Hong Kong for holiday reasons and more importantly, the news about Hong Kong no longer dominates large places of news media column of politics in mainland China as it was before 1997. I found this tendency of reduced media exposure even logical because mainland China was not supposed to affect Hong Kong in any form. The Hong Kong people are to organize their own affairs. For this reason, I don’t believe that it is appropriates to have any opinion one way or the other as a person with no obvious bounds to Hong Kong in the first place.

But personally, I’ll be very upset if they could not develop themselves into a better place in the post 1997 era. From East Africa, Kenyans as previous subjects of British Empire view Hong Kong as an economically stable metropolitan city and many wish to live there partly because of the development hardship experienced by most Kenyans in the last centuries. It is not surprising that a few Kenyans still express their willingness for British to come back since Kenya still view their 1960s as a golden period of economic growth. Back then, the British were just about to leave; the gross domestic production was high; the oil crisis was yet to visit; there are no so called Asian Tigers. In fact, it was Kenya in 1968 who gave 6 million USD to the Malaysian government as condition free domination. The same Malaysian nowadays has her income per capita more than six times to Kenyans.

However, selecting these one-sided anecdotes may also blind people from depicturing different sides of these “successes”. As a nation, Kenya from 1960s may be the most turbulent political entity with extremely high degrees of exclusiveness and economic inequality. Weaving dreams based on these “figures and facts”, though not knowing whether they could have been considered as beneficial in the histories stays purely as speculation. But again, the frustration and worry of the young generation about their prospects may be very real. It was the same young people in Hong Kong who went on the street demonstrating their disbelief of the government and required the political establishment be re-engineered in their favor. In Kenya, a censor project is just about to start. The same generation of young people having closely monitored the assignment of government jobs: they all the same desperately seek for a better chance in their economic future.

It reminds me of a famous Swahili saying, mtoto akililia wembe mpe (if a kid cries for a razor, you may just give him). The proverb sounds too harsh and also way authoritarian, but I wish I would understand the full-fledged context more and also the good wishes from my companions before engaging in destructives. And at the end of the day, who is not an inexperienced kid to our history anyway.