Englishization and the New Hong Kong Cultural Identity
Kwok-kan Tam (Open University of Hong Kong)
In this paper, I propose to examine the effects English has brought to the culture of Hong Kong, particularly in terms of the relation between language and identity. I will examine the construction of identity in two English-language plays from Hong Kong, Face by Veronica Needa (1997) and Back to the Wall (1997) by Teresa Norton and Nurry Vittachi. Both plays are written by Eurasians living in Hong Kong and are about the experience of how Eurasians (re)define themselves when they have to face the issue of Hong Kong’s return of sovereignty to China after 1997. Racially and culturally they are hybrid and are both Chinese and Western. However, in terms of nationality they are not accepted as Chinese. When they live in a Western country, such as the UK, they are also not recognized as British. What are they then? In the book Colonial Desire, Robert Young argues that the recognition of hybridity is recognition and acceptance of difference. Apparently, the difficulties the Eurasians face in Hong Kong or the UK are non-recognition and non-acceptance of their transnational, transcultural and transracial identity.
Both plays are autobiographical in style. The characters tell stories about themselves and how they face the non-recognition of their transcultural and transnational selves. Ironically the problem of non-recognition is made in the form of praise, for example, about the characters who look like Westerners but speak fluent Chinese. Behind the praise is the non-recognition that the characters find frustrating when they need recognition. In the two plays, the characters voice out their problems by performing them, both as inner voice and outer speech. At some moments, the characters are engaged in their unconscious, while at others they are conscious of their performance. In Face, the protagonist is actually the author who engages herself in a dialogue with the audience in probing her identity. Slides are shown on stage to illustrate the various faces behind her identity. In Back to the Wall, all characters deliver their minds in monologic voice. Such style of performance, which is auto-ethnographic, is common to both plays, and marks the new theatricality of autobiographical performance in the English-language theatre in Hong Kong.
In this paper I will place a particular focus on the rise of a new identity in Hong Kong as a result of language change which is effected by the process of Englishization.