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In defense of “Hong Kong”


By 余見

On July 20th, Andrew Yu posted on Twitter that he had received a suggestion to "also mention the Chinese name of 香港 'Xianggang'" (paraphrased), and that it was "not appropriate to only use the foreign name 'Hong Kong'". As a to-be student of Philosophy and Linguistics in university this October, the discussion surrounding "Hong Kong" is of course one I am deeply interested and invested in.

Hong Kong's anglicized name is itself a display, if not a celebration, of our diverse linguistic culture and history. The name "Hong Kong" is not, as many including myself may think, a corrupted transliteration of Cantonese "Heung Gong", but the pronunciation of our city's name as the British first heard it--from the "water peoples"(水上人). While a lot of us know that the Cantonese we speak today is not the native language of all indigenous peoples in Hong Kong, not enough of us acknowledge the significance of this linguistic diversity. The origin of the name "Hong Kong", however obscure it has become, is important proof and reminder of this diversity. To replace this name with other anglicizations would erase a large and significant part of Hong Kong's history already faded due to colonisation and rapid, uncaring modernizations of the city.

The fight to defend "Hong Kong" is also one for the rising use of Konglish, Hongkongers' own take on Cantonese romanization. Pro-democracy protesters' use of Konglish in "munsuen", or the posters used to advertise protests, highlighted how it was a romanization system for Hongkongers, by Hongkongers. The scholar who reviewed Mr. Yu's article's pushback against Hongkongers' own choice of romanization for our own language, be it "Hong Kong" to represent 香港 or "ho ah" to represent 好啊, is just another of many signs that our local identity is under attack. Furthermore, why is it colonization to replace 香港 with Hong Kong, but not when replacing Hong Kong with Xianggang? By definition, neither are Hong Kong's indigenous language.

Then why am I using English to write this? Because whether I like it or not, English is one of my mother tongues, and an official language of this place. Whether I like it or not, Hong Kong was once a colony, and the history of that left a mark on the words we use. Perhaps writing in English is just an ironic way to add humour to this piece, or a petty move to say, "ha, gotcha!", or even just so I can reach more people overseas who care. Either way, my use of English is as valid as my use of Cantonese. When Simon Shen was criticised by his guest on his show for using English, the comment section below defended him. Bilingualism, or even multilingualism, is a cornerstone of Hong Kong culture. From the strange translations in Cha Chaan Tengs to the English subs of 80s Hong Kong films, we cannot escape the fact that the interactions between English, Cantonese, and other indigenous languages here that define Hong Kong.

But yes, perhaps using "Xianggang" will decolonise how I think, and from that happy day on I will cast off the shadows of the English language. I speak Cantonese no more, the indigenous languages of "water peoples" forced into history long forgotten. The shackles of British imperialism are gone, replaced by something else.

Source for origin of the name "Hong Kong"


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