Decolonization of Hong Kong can start with the media, film industries

Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, during his meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu in Beijing on Sunday, remarked that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must stay on guard against potential national security risks. 

Recently, at a seminar on better understanding China’s Constitution, a senior official from the central government specifically urged the HKSAR to speed up its decolonization process, emphasizing that only when this process is completed can the concepts of the Constitution and “one country, two systems” be accurately, fully understood and accepted by Hong Kong residents, and that this should be a priority task of the HKSAR government.

It’s disappointing that more than 25 years after reunification, there are still people in Hong Kong who regard the British as their “masters” or role models. It’s so disgraceful that some residents raised the British colonial flag during protests a few years ago. It’s sad to say that there are still many things that need to be done to achieve thorough decolonization. In this, we can draw on the experiences of many former British colonies. Unquestionably, one of the most important aspects should be public education, which covers school education and media. School education would be a long process, but media education can have an immediate and substantial impact. Hence, prompt action should be taken to review the film industry and media sector on how they can take up their respective roles in decolonization.

Many of my generation would recall watching Hollywood cowboy movies in the ’50s and ’60s and would applaud whenever we watched the American-mounted soldiers or cowboys shooting down the “Red Indians”. We firmly believed at the time that the native Red Indians were the bad guys, but now we all know the truth is the complete opposite. In reality, the native American Indians were the exploited underdogs of the better-armed white Americans invading and expropriating their homeland. That’s the soft power of Hollywood, which can distort facts through its movies and brainwash its viewers.

Even to this day, Hollywood remains the active partner in marketing the totally unwarranted “American exceptionalism”. It has gotten to the point that a significant portion of its citizens actually subscribe to the infallibility of its government, not realizing that the US has initiated the most wars of aggression in history. And yet, there is an American website titled Hollywood’s Most Patriotic Movies, which lists more than 25 American films to watch, dating from 1939 to 2014. Most of these films are stories of US triumphs at war. Another similar US website lists “35 patriotic movies that will fill you with American pride”. Similarly, in the UK, if you visit the homepage of The Spectator, you can find information on “10 patriotic films to watch this weekend”.

We have witnessed how these Hollywood movies influenced our young rioters in the 2019 riots, with many of them carrying US flags while participating in anti-government protests, and some wearing the costume of Marvel superhero Captain America.

During the Lunar New Year holiday, the mainland witnessed a movie-going wave, with the box office hitting a record 6.76 billion yuan ($972.3 million); none of those movies was shown in Hong Kong theaters then.

Clearly, the SAR government has a lot of catching up to do on drumming up patriotism. We should think about how the local film industry can help. The government can sponsor films on the corrupt history of the British government in Hong Kong. For example, there is a juicy story to be told about the Daniel Caldwell scandal in the 1850s, soon after the British occupied Hong Kong. Caldwell was then the secretary of Chinese affairs. He was found to be involved in operating brothels and gambling dens in the Central district, as well as offering protection to an American pirate called Eli Boggs. He owned as many as 34 building sites in Central through dishonest gains. If his family still maintained those properties, they would undoubtedly be the wealthiest people in Hong Kong.

Many Hong Kong youngsters are fond of traveling to Japan for a holiday, even calling it their “home visit”. Do they know the darkest hours of Hong Kong were during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong for three years and eight months in the 1940s? Unfortunately, I have never seen any local movie depicting this most horrible period in Hong Kong’s history. The British Hong Kong government would not condone this, fearing it might jeopardize the British-Japanese relationship. But there is a need now for a proper accounting through a local film on the atrocities perpetrated by Japanese soldiers against local residents during their occupation of Hong Kong during World War II, and the bravery of local guerillas in the New Territories fighting the Japanese occupiers. It’s essential to educate our youngsters to give them a proper perspective of Hong Kong’s history.

Local theater owners should be encouraged or required to show more mainland-produced high-quality movies to stir up young people’s patriotism. Before reunification, there were at least two theaters dedicated to the screening of mainland movies, but for unknown reasons, they no longer exist.

An intelligent media readership and viewership should be worried and ask why a significant portion of local media outlets is always closely aligned with leading Western media and adopting their editorial line. Take, for example, the earth-shattering scoop by the world’s leading investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, that US operatives blew up the Nord Stream pipeline. His report was ignored by most leading Western media outlets and the local media except for China Daily and Ta Kung Pao. Then when the ridiculous story about Chinese balloons flying through US airspace broke, the local media obediently followed the Western media’s coverage, often concluding with a short rebuttal statement from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

The old perception that Western media is run by fair-minded people driven by the noble aspiration to keep the world informed about the actual state of affairs everywhere has proved to be fiction. Indeed, there is prima facie evidence that certain Western reporters and editors might have been coerced or induced not to tell the whole truth on certain important events. The same forces could have been applied to some of our local media practitioners. Many of them, knowingly or unknowingly, often serve as mouthpieces for Western governments. They often publish verbatim the remarks of Western government spokespersons in their criticism of China and, to give a semblance of balanced reporting, add a brief rebuttal from the China side toward the end. All you need to do to see how unbalanced their coverage has become is to count the words of the two sides. Over time, the repetitious anti-China refrain has been absorbed unwittingly by local media readers and viewers. The West’s soft power is thereby enhanced at China’s expense.

On Feb 25, I happened to listen to an RTHK radio program called Young Politician Training Course (my own English translation), which is supposedly aimed at cultivating young political talents to become future politicians. Yet on that particular program, which chose the new government budget as the subject for discussion by participants who are mostly university or secondary school students, none of the participants offered a positive comment. To encourage a more-balanced discussion, the program host should have ensured that opposing views were being presented. Instead, he praised the participants for their criticism. So this program, which has been going on for some years, continues to give the insurrectionists and political radicals a government media platform to vent their irrational hatred of the establishment. That this program can continue to brainwash our young minds is indeed mind-boggling!

The SAR government should consider setting up an agency specifically tasked with tackling local media’s widespread unbalanced and misguided news reports. Or at least the Communications Authority should play a more-proactive role as the media watchdog.

On the positive side, the recent familiarization visit organized by the Liaison Office of the Central Government in the HKSAR, inviting heads of the 18 major local media organizations to tour around the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to enable a deeper understanding of the region’s development, was a constructive move. More such visits for editors and reporters should be conducted. It will go a long way toward enhancing a more-balanced and comprehensive coverage of mainland affairs.

The recent announcement that all local free-to-air television and radio broadcasters are required to broadcast no less than 30 minutes of programs on national education, national identity and the National Security Law for Hong Kong per week is an excellent step in the right direction toward decolonization.

Local TV news broadcasts can learn from the CCTV’s daily news broadcast to have a one-minute aerial scenic view of different parts of the mainland as the conclusion to their news report. I always found it fascinating to watch and admire the dramatic developments and natural beauty of the mainland.

Sports is always regarded as a soft tool to enhance patriotism. The recent soccer World Cup is a typical example. Unfortunately, on local sports media, all we watch on local TV’s daily sports news are invariably the NBA of the US, the Premier League of English soccer, and the overseas tennis tournaments. When China won any hard-fought-out world championship in table tennis or badminton, they were largely ignored or only became a news item when they were defeated. This is quite different for CCTV, which always has live broadcasts of international games involving Chinese players, and often includes the prize presentation ceremonies. When the Chinese national flag was raised, it was a truly emotional moment of national pride. The SAR government should seriously consider how to inspire patriotism through sports. One option is for RTHK to have a dedicated sports channel featuring mainland and local sports. Such a dedicated sports channel can have a perfect start broadcasting the forthcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou in September, which would be warmly welcomed by the public and should be a golden opportunity to enhance the sense of national pride among local residents.

Finally, another step towards decolonization is for the local media to stop giving beautiful Chinese names to Western leaders, which had been a British colonial practice. For example, the local media translated the name of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Chinese as “Sun Wai-shing”, suggesting his surname is “Sun”, and that he is a great man with integrity, which is clearly far from the truth and an insult to the Sun families. On the mainland, his name in Chinese is simply the direct phonetic translation “Lixi Su’nake”, with no specific meaning. There is no reason, or obligation, for us to beautify, or glorify, the names of Western leaders.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He is an international anti-corruption consultant and former deputy commissioner of the ICAC.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.