2020 Bernard H.K. Luk Memorial Lecture in Hong Kong Studies
with Dr. Margaret Ng (吳靄儀), politician, barrister, writer and columnist in Hong Kong
Friday, 23 October 2020 | 9h to 11h EST
Discussants: Dr. Rick Sin (School of Social Work, York University) and Dr. Susan Henders (Politics, York University)
The late Professor Bernard Luk and Dr. Margaret Ng were university students in Hong Kong during the stirring events of the 1967 riots in the aftermath of which extensive social reforms were introduced. The involvement in these events also brought a sharp awareness to their generation of their unique identity and the question of Hong Kong’s future beyond 1997. This started a long journey in search of a lasting solution.
By the 1970s, though a colony in name, Hong Kong already enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, particularly economically, as an international business centre serving the West as well as a still closed China. What it lacked was greater political autonomy: the recognition of the rights of the local people to participate meaningfully in government. The Sino-British talks, and their outcome—the Joint Declaration in 1985, which decided that Hong Kong would be returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” policy, was a major milestone in Hong Kong’s history. Thereafter, during the 13-year “transition period” and the early era of the HKSAR, the struggle for democracy focussed on the construction and strengthening of the foundational blocks of a new political order under the Basic Law, which will achieve the high degree of autonomy promised. The process was full of controversy, heartening events as well as setbacks and disappointment, ultimately culminating in the “Umbrella Revolution” in 2014.
It was a “revolution” in that it heralded a second generational change: new thinking and ways of struggle were ushered in, ousting the “old democrats”, now considered a spent force. But the aim of the struggle remained unchanged: respect for Hong Kong’s unique identity, and democracy under which Hong Kong people can exercise their right to choose their government. Although the Umbrella “Revolution” also ended with disappointment to its protagonists, the struggle did not die, but flared up even more forcefully in 2019—the “anti-extradition bill” protest movement which traversed the COVID-19 period, and brought about the National Security Law of June 2020: a national law of China that some believe threatens the ultimate dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
What lessons can one learn from this long struggle? Bernard was a passionate historian with a special interest in education in Hong Kong. He had worked tirelessly to create and preserve archives of Hong Kong’s unique culture. He looked always to the future. Meanwhile, to Bernard’s surprise, the speaker took up law as a belated vocation. The most fitting tribute to this distinguished scholar is to carry on his inquiry of a lifetime, and continue the struggle for autonomy, perhaps in another form.
Dr. Margaret Ng (吳靄儀) is a politician, barrister, writer and columnist in Hong Kong. She was an elected member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong representing the Legal Functional Constituency from 1995–1997 and 1998–2012, which spanned the periods of pre and post-sovereignty changeover in 1997.
Before entering legal practice, Dr. Ng held senior positions in journalism, reporting from the UK on the British parliamentary debates over Hong Kong and later serving as publisher and deputy editor-in-chief of the Ming Pao newspaper during the Sino-British negotiation over Hong Kong in the 1980s. Dr. Ng is also an accomplished author in the fields of philosophy and literature. She received her doctoral degree from Boston University and has written several volumes of critical studies on the martial arts novels of Jin Yong.
On 18 April 2020, Dr. Ng was arrested as one of 15 Hong Kong high-profile democracy figures, on suspicion of organizing, publicizing or taking part in several unauthorized assemblies between August and October 2019 in the course of the anti-extradition bill protests.
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