Exploring Identity

Identity is malleable, ever changing, and adaptable. Identity is something which people hold on dearly to. People are proud of who they are. They celebrate together because of similarities. They fight against each other because of differences. But at the end of the day does it really matter? I think therefore I am. If I believe that I am someone of a particular identity then that is who I am. It does not matter how others perceive you. ……simplistic outlook……….clearly it does matter.

As an individual born in Canada I was raised with Canadian values. Being Canadian to me means rallying behind the core values found in our constitution, the rule of law, and the fair treatment of each and every individual (eh I won’t forget about hockey). A form of civic nationalism you could say. When I visit another country I say I’m from Canada. When I visit another province in Canada I say I’m from Ontario. When I visit another city within Ontario I say I’m from Ottawa.

Aside from being Canadian I am also Chinese. My grandparents hail from Guangdong and both my parents from Macau. Although my parents were both from Macau my mom was born in Cambodia and my dad was born in India. I use to joke that I was Indian, but that isn’t how it works. Although I live in Canada my parents have brought their Chinese traditions along with them, now infused with Canadian elements. I celebrate Chinese New Year, Tomb-Sweeping, Winter solstice and many other festivals.

I am Canadian, yet the same time I am not. When I’m in China I might not be Chinese enough because of my limited ability in speaking. I am Chinese-Canadian, an identity distinct from being just Canadian or just being Chinese.

Exploring Hong Kong

In recent years civic nationalism has been on the rise in Hong Kong demonstrated by a series of protest, the Umbrella Movement, and the extradition treaty being one of the latest examples. The results of these protests were driven by the regions desire for more autonomy/universal suffrage and more encroachment by the Beijing government unto the democratic rights entrenched Hong Kong’s basic law.

Hong Kong’s fight for democracy has created tensions between them and Mainland China, resulting in growing nationalism within the region, distaste for the ‘other’, and a growing sense of Hong Kong identity.

How Hong Kong people see themselves. A Historical look.

The formation of Hong Kong identity could be roughly traced to the 1970’s. For the citizens of Hong Kong there was no nationalistic imperative that one should belong to a nation. During this period of time, China was undergoing a series of cultural and social reform. Under colonial rule much of the political happenings occurring in China were prevented from entering China. The isolation of Hong Kong has developed their own culture bounded by a set of collective values, often consisting of British imposed value intermingling with Chinese values. During this time Hong Kong was also going through rapid industrialization. There was also a demographic shift where locally born citizens outnumbered immigrants.

us vs them….the beginning

  • China was considered a backwards country contrasted by a modern Hong Kong who was economically sound through rapid industrialization.
  • Popular media played a role in constructing the popular images of a Modern Hong and backwards China.

Hong Kong’s return to China

Self-proclaimed Cultural Identity of Interviewees. From “Negotiating Local and National Identifications: Hong Kong Identity Surveys 1993-2006, by Fung, A, et al.

The decade after the handover of Hong Kong to China it can be seen that individuals are claiming a mixed identity, being both a “HongKonger” and Chinese. As Hong Kong is now part of China and individuals have more direct with individuals from mainland China, the previous dominant mainland China Hong Kong dichotomy perpetuated by the media can no longer accommodate the complex differentiation and assimilation

  • Constant interactions between China and Hong Kong has altered individual perceptions of their ‘self’ and ‘other’
  • Mediated reality no longer influenced them as strongly

As the years progressed the economic gap between China and Hong Kong closed as China has overtaken Hong Kong. The distinction that was once there in terms of economic value has been reduced.

Second Decade of Handover

Resistance towards China intensified during the second decade of the handover. Interactions from an upsurge of mainland tourists, often being painted by a broad brush for public indecency, and China exerting tighter control over the region has caused more animosity.

As seen from the chart below during the first decade of handover ‘HongKonger’s’ identifying as Chinese increased, during the second decade it started to decline.

Education in Hong Kong before handover

Prior to the handover, a rising purposeless was seen in the youths of Hong Kong. The British colony decided to build a sense of civic belonging by launching a series of reform to provide youths direction in their life. The reforms had no reference to national sentiments and placed an emphasis on academic achievements in order to get a well paying job. Although nationalist sentiments were not taught, Chinese values in personal and social education were put in place to build friendly relationships who had to accept the rule of non-Chinese entity, as well to distance the Hong Kong people from the nationalist sentiments occurring in China.

They were encouraged to be Chinese in every way, except in the political or nationalist sense

Education was depoliticized.

Education Reform after handover

  • Civic education underwent revision proposed by the Chinese government.
  • Nationalist sentiment to promote the awareness of Chinese sovereignty were added and its relation to ethnic identity.
  • Flag raising, singing of national anthem.
  • Purpose to prioritize national identity rather than Hong Kong identity.

The preservation of two identities in Hong Kong’s education system from learning about both China and Hong Kong has led to an ambiguous understanding of identity for students. Although individuals of Hong Kong are learning aspects of China, freedom, democracy, and human rights are still prevalent in their values, and these values are seen to mobilize individuals into partaking in local social movements. Even if Chinese elements are taught students will be able to differentiate the values they learn from their interactions in day to day life. This difference in understanding may lead into a furthering away from China.

Call for universal suffrage

  • The ability to choose the chief executive of Hong Kong.
  • The reformation of LegCo to truly reflect the people.

Why Macau does not reflect the same ambitions as Hong Kong.

Macau being similar to Hong Kong is within China’s one country two system approach. The difference Macau was a former colony of Portugal not Britain. Macau has led to a relatively smooth integration with China and does not experience the same type of nationalist sentiments as experienced in Hong Kong. Why is that? The chart proposes that Macau citizens see themselves as both a citizen of Macau and PRC to a high degree.

  • Portugal did not develop Macau to the extent of what Hong Kong experienced with rapid industrialization.
  • Macau government pushed the narrative of economic nationalism focusing on the benefits of reintegration.
  • Macau’s growth occurred during reintegration
  • Macau’s economy is heavily depended on gambling and tourism, a lot of customers coming from the Mainland.
  • Public involvement in local politics increased trust towards local governance.
  • During Portugal’s rule they promoted a peaceful coexistence between the two cultures. Individuals are more accepting of perceiving others.
  • Macau has a much weaker civil society than Hong Kong.


The different origins between Hong Kong and Macau have led them to diverging paths in their relationship with China. Hong Kong having a shaky relationship with China. Macau with an amicable relationship with China. It makes one wonder what will Hong Kong’s relationship with China be like once the one country two systems agreement expires.

Identity is something which is subject to change based on our lived experience.

Regionalism in South Korea

South Korea is considered to be one of the world’s most homogeneous countries. Nationalist sentiments run high throughout the entire country. Despite the commonalities between one another, South Korea is still plagued by intense regionalism. “Regionalism refers to political antagonisms among regions primarily manifested as confrontational regionalist voting in which voters cast their votes for candidates or parties only because they are based from their own regions.”

  • Political parties are split on geographical lines not on political differences.
  • Political ideologies are merely a front for their regional politics.
  • Political parties tend to split and merge time and time again.
  • One’s region of birth is a powerful predictor of voting behavior.

Of course I’m not saying there are not any political differences, but that they are secondary in nature.

Examining History

To begin the emergence of regionalism may be traced back to pre-modern South Korea.

During the period of 57 BC to 668 AD, Korea was divided into three main kingdoms, Baekje, Gorguryeo and Silla. The kingdoms in turn reflected earlier clan or ethnic loyalties. These kingdoms would fight for control over the peninsula with Silla eventually winning and unifying Korea. In Contemporary times the kingdom of Baekje is known as the province of Joella, and the region where Silla is located is now known as Gyeongsang province.

The province of Joella has expressed the most intense regionalism contested mostly against Gyeongsang province. Discriminatory policies which favoured Gyeonsang province has created negative sentiments between the two provinces. Unlike Joella, Gyeongsang province monopolized the fruits of economic development, dominated the administration, military, and business.

1971 Presidential Election

The prevalence of regionalism was first observed in the 1971 presidential election when Park Chung-Hee from Gyeongsang went against Kim Dae-Jung from Joella. Both the candidates won an overwhelming victory in their home regions and lost by a big margin in the region of their opposition. This is depicted by the amount of votes they received, Park with 66.9% in Southern Gyeongsang and 78% in Northern Gyeongsang and Kim with 62.8% in South Joella and 61.5% in North Joella.

Regionalism was evoked as part of both Park Chung Hee and Kim Dae Jung’s campaign strategy in order to mobilize individuals by raising regional consciousness.

  • Most of modern Korean history has been dominated by leaders from the Gyeongsang region.

2002 Presidential Election

From this image we could see the regional divide between the left Democratic Party (yellow) and the conservative Grand National Party (blue). Roh-Moo who was born in Southern Gyeongsang managed to garner votes in Joella. This may be due to the fact that he aligned with a left leaning party who traditionally got support from the southwestern province.

  • Roh-Moo won in his city of birth in Gimhae which is located in Gyeongsang province.

It is possible that the race between Roh-Moo and Lee-Hoi was perceived by some Gimhae voters as a race between a Grand National Party nominee who was not of Gimhae origin and a Democratic Party nominee who was of Gimhae origin.

2007 Presidential Election

In this image Youngnam is Gyeongsang province and Honam is Joella province. Throughout all three elections spanning from 1997 to 2007, the provinces of Gyeongsang and Joella tend to vote for their regional parties. Their devotion towards the parties is significantly higher than the average level of support nationwide.

2017 Presidential Election

The regional divide is still prevalent with the eastern regions voting for conservatives and the western regions voting for left leaning parties. Moon Jae-In was also the first president to take both the southwestern city of of Gwangju as well as the southeastern port city of Busan. He also took Ulsan which is north of Busan. One reason why he might have won the southeastern cities in the Gyeongsang province is that he was born there.

Final Thoughts

Regionalism is an overwhelming issue in South Korea. Regionalism found in the country could be attributed to several factors, one being the historical aspect of the three kingdoms, economic disparities between regions due to policies which favored a specific region, and constructed regionally territoriality basis conducted by political parties by contrasting regions to garner support.

While all politics are somewhat influenced by having a hometown advantage, regionalism in South Korea has been quite excessive. Political parties are seen to shift time and time again, with alternating titles, as either merger or splinter groups. Korean politics has experienced the weak institutionalization of political parties. Because of this Korean presidential election campaigns place more of a focus on the candidate rather than the party. Politicians are seen to focus on regional issues and are loyal to individuals from their region.

As a result of regionalism South Korea’s democracy has been limited. In the future we may see the younger generation vote based on what is best for the country rather than who is from their region.