restricted access 6. Southwards and Outwards: Representing Chineseness in New Locations in Hong Kong Films

From: China Abroad

Hong Kong University Press, HKU colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I With the year 1997 approaching, images of outward-bound migrants leaving Hong Kong before the return of the colony to the mainland began to emerge with regularity in both commercial and art-house Hong Kong cinema.1 Comrades: Almost a Love Story/Tian Mimi, released to critical and commercial success in 1996, is very much in this tradition as its protagonists, by the film’s end, find themselves settled outside Hong Kong in New York. Yet the film, despite the predictability of its ending, does capture an important but muchsidelined migratory movement in its narrative. In the focus on leaving Hong Kong, an earlier move of entering Hong Kong from the mainland has often been elided, especially in more recent films about the Hong Kong diaspora. Comrades recalls this by showing both Liqiao and Xiaojun arriving in Hong Kong as new migrants from the mainland and, in doing so, reminds us that Hong Kong has been both a place of refuge and new hope for mainland refugees, exiles, and migrants and a source of its own exiles and migrants to the rest of the world. In Comrades, it is interestingly the first act of border-crossing that requires the most adjustments, especially for Xiaojun. Though Hong Kong is a British colony, its Chineseness should have guaranteed a degree of familiarity, and yet Xiaojun struggles manfully and comically with Hong Kong’s difference from the mainland, linguistically and culturally. The film thus implies that being in Hong Kong is as good as being in a foreign land and this necessitates a negotiation with the category of Chineseness. The innocent Mandarinspeaking Xiaojun has to learn a whole new way of being Chinese. In this new place, he has to learn how to be a Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong 6 Southwards and Outwards: Representing Chineseness in New Locations in Hong Kong Films Wendy Gan 106 Wendy Gan Chinese, capitalistic, upwardly mobile, and financially shrewd. As Ien Ang has pointed out, Chineseness, far from being “fixed and pre-given,” is “constantly renegotiated and rearticulated, both inside and outside China” (Ang, “To Be or Not to Be Chinese” 5). The move across a border in particular has the ability to trigger new formations of Chineseness, a process driven by the presence of a new context. As Allen Chun has cogently argued, shifts in place and context are far more crucial to identities than the categories of ethnicity or culture: Rather than viewing the substance of one’s ethnicity or culture as a natural point of departure, more importantly it is necessary to see how context invokes the relevance of culture, as a function of strategic choice, to the processes of identifying. (Chun, “Diasporas of the Mind” 106) A new location thus necessarily requires a new way of identifying—and identifying with—Chineseness. Though Hong Kong has long been a place attractive to new migrants and also a springboard for emigrants to elsewhere in the world, there are two key periods when the pressure and lure of new locations were particularly pertinent. The first was in the 1950s when the victory of the Communist Party on the mainland in 1949 resulted in the mass exodus of Nationalist loyalists to Hong Kong. This displacement can in some ways be seen as a continuation of a movement of refugees from the mainland to Hong Kong that began in the late 1930s at the outset of the Sino-Japanese war. Yet the situation in the 1950s was markedly different in one crucial aspect. Where the refugees from the turmoil of the Sino-Japanese war and the later Civil War of the 1940s had the potential option of one day returning home on the return of peace, for the political refugees and migrants of the 1950s, returning to the mainland was impossible except in the case of the collapse of the Communist Party.2 A new location was thus imposed on these refugees and, with it, a forced negotiation with Chineseness in a new context. The second key moment for Hong Kong was in the run-up to 1997. With the fear accompanying the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, the lure of new locations was difficult to resist and, in adopting a new home, questions of Chineseness and identity were once again raised. In this chapter, I examine films that represent these two moments when a concern with relocation and thus new locations pressed upon the inhabitants of Hong Kong hence opening up a discussion about...


pdf