Language Education Policy Studies
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Language and Identity of Hong Kong

Language often plays a central role in the construction of national identity. In the colonial period, the British government established the supremacy of English education over vernacular education with the focus of providing English for the elite. This measure along with the better employment and education opportunities for those who had a good mastery of English enhanced the dominant position of English in Hong Kong. The over-emphasized ancient Chinese history and classic literature before the end of Qing Dynasty and deliberately neglected modern history and literature of China, especially the period after 1949, formed a history deprivation of for Hong Kong People. The separation of Hong Kong from the mainland of China made it be depicted as a politically apathetic place. In sum, during most of the colonial period Hong Kong people did not have an identity as a member of Chinese, due to the desensitization involving English hegemony, historical deprivation, deculturation and depoliticization.


In the 1960s, some important events such as Protecting Diaoyu Island aroused Hong Kong people’s political awareness. The British government adopted some measures to form a sense of belonging with the attempt to cultivate local culture. And in the 1970s, China’s increasingly powerful politics aroused Hong Kong people’s awareness of their Chinese identity and their sense of national pride. At the same time “Chinese as an official language movement” was launched, resulting in the establishment of the Chinese Language Committee and the higher status of Chinese. Since the 1960s Hong Kong had been enjoying rapid economic development. The Hongkonger’s image of well-educated, quick-witted, smart, pragmatic, cosmopolitan and bilingual in Chinese and English was formed with increasing patriotism to constitute a belonging sense to the motherland China. The hybrid identity of Hong Kong emerged as “Hong Kong Chinese” that consists of a unique Hong Kong identity and Chinese identity.


After 1997, the HKSAR government adopted a new language policy as “biliteracy and trilingualism” that both English and Chinese are the official written languages, and English, Cantonese, and Putonghua(Mandarin)the official spoken language. In 1998, Putonghua was formally introduced into the school curriculum, and it gradually became the instruction language in schools with 25% of schools in Hong Kong using English as the medium language. The rapid increasing use of Putonghua makes some Hongkongers who preserve the unique Hong Kong identity feel threatend to lose their identity that includes Cantonese and English, which differentiates them from the mainland of China and Macao. However, this so called “erosion” of identity would not stop because of the reduced economic gaps between Hong Kong and mainland China and political force and action.




RTHK The Pulse: Hong Kong's English Language Media, 17.7.15


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Jing Zhu. (2018). Language and Identity of Hong Kong. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved at: (insert link) 

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