Historical nihilism

The Hong Kong government is sneakily rectifying its websites, deleting common and loosely worded references to the July 1, 1997 handover and replacing them with ‘correct’ ones.

This follows a similar episode over school textbooks. Local officials have gone into pre-emptive panic mode in fear that the old wording might anger their Beijing masters. They are acting surreptitiously mainly in the hope that grim Mainland ideological enforcers won’t notice, but inevitably it looks as if they are trying to hide the revisions from the local populace – so another bemusing bureaucratic bicker-fest blunder begins.

The issue of the ‘correct’ wording is mind-numbingly tedious: Beijing has always insisted that 1997 marked the ‘resumption of the exercise of sovereignty’ over Hong Kong, whatever historical, constitutional or linguistic pedants may think. The South China Morning Post story points out that several years back the local protocol style-masters decreed that ‘return to China/the motherland’ was also acceptable for official use. But the slangy ‘handover’ or ‘take back’ are not. (Comrade Priscilla thinks ‘ordinary people’ – guess she means the proletariat – can be forgiven for being inaccurate).

To Hong Kong bureaucrats tweaking copy on websites, this is about mandatory official use of specific clunky or corny phrases to appease Beijing. But why should Beijing care?

This is not about whether people think China (in Qing, republican or PRC form) technically kept or didn’t keep sovereignty (however defined) over Hong Kong (in part or whole) between (all or some of) 1842-1997. It is about how people perceive the whole past.

In the years immediately straddling the handover, Beijing stressed the importance and grandness of reunification. Twenty years later, people in Hong Kong (and the world beyond) still think in terms of pre-1997 and post-1997 – thus dwelling on contrasts in constitutional status or living conditions. The time has come to downplay the ‘before and after’ and leave instead an implied vague continuum stretching back to/from 1949, 1911, the first Qin emperor, or whatever. So eventually the colonial period never, or barely, happened.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in seeking truth from facts, China bans defamation of the Communist Party’s official heroes, Cantonese is not a mother tongue, and Peppa Pig joins Winnie the Pooh as a threat to national security.


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10 Responses to Historical nihilism

  1. Does the law against defaming the CCP’s official heroes include the fictional heroes held up for admiration during the Maoist era? Or only real ones? I think we should be told.

  2. Big Al says:

    Defame Lei Feng and see what happens …

  3. Leek Eater says:

    Its not just in the glorious motherland that Peppa Pig is in trouble. From Wales Online:

    A North Wales pub which played the theme tune to children’s TV show Peppa Pig when police officers visited in October has had it’s licensed reviewed.

    Officers were also subjected to snorting noises when they entered Cooney’s bar on Upper Mostyn Street in Llandudno .

    Owners Joanne Cooney and her husband Michael have now been handed a formal warning by Conwy Council’s licensing committee.

    Any further transgression of licence conditions in the next six months will see the couple hauled back before the committee.

  4. Knownot says:

    There are two questions. Are ‘handover’ and ‘taking back sovereignty’ correct ways of referring to what occurred? What is the significance, that changes are being required now? I am interested in the first question.

    Alvin Lum, the author of the SCMP article ‘Chinese History Being Rewittten …’, seems to have done a bit of good research into the use of the word and phrase by HK and PRC officials. The article is worth reading.

    Similarly, there is work for a serious researcher, to trace the use of ‘handover’ in British English. I have always thought of it as a breezy, useful colloquialism, which is not really correct. I suspect it might have started in the popular press – perhaps the same papers that later spoke of a ‘Chinese takeaway’.

    So far, China has lost the contest in the use of ‘handover’, which the British, and others, are unlikely to drop. But in the use of an even more important breezy, useful colloquialism, China has undoubtedly won: ‘Opium War’.

  5. Joe Blow says:

    Looks like Chugani lost his tenure at the Alibaba China Daily.

  6. Ook says:

    We can learn from China.
    Let’s declare English to be the mother tongue of Europe, North and South America (we can call it “Standard Speech Language”), and then we can say it follows that French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish are not “mother tongues” as they are just dialects of “Standard Speech Language”.

  7. I am waiting curiously for China’s explanation of why Tibetan is not a mother tongue.

  8. LRE says:

    Everything’s coming up Orwell today —

    Historical Dematerialisation (website edition):
    “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

    No Country for questioning old heroes:
    “He tried to remember in what year he had first heard mention of Big Brother. He thought it must have been at some time in the sixties, but it was impossible to be certain. In the Party histories, of course, Big Brother figured as the leader and guardian of the Revolution since its very earliest days. His exploits had been gradually pushed backwards in time until already they extended into the fabulous world of the forties and the thirties, when the capitalists in their strange cylindrical hats still rode through the streets of London in great gleaming motor-cars or horse carriages with glass sides. There was no knowing how much of this legend was true and how much invented. Winston could not even remember at what date the Party itself had come into existence.”

    The Cartoon Character Vanishes: The ousting of Comrade Snowball Peppa:
    Four Two legs good, two four legs bad!”

    Cantonese is not a language:
    “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

    Overall future of Hong Kong:
    “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

    @ Joe Blow: How so? Shoeshini was in there as usual yesterday.

  9. Joe Blow says:

    LRE: Today Shoeshini was also in there, but at the bottom of his column (some drivel about Trump and the Nobel Prize) it read: Mr Shoeshini is a HK based journalist and TV Host.

    That’s not how a paper refers to its in-house columnists.

  10. Tamey Tame says:

    Chuggers has never been an in-house columnist, he’s always freelanced … but he’s not doing the weekly ’10 minute hate’ that he used to do

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