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Postmodernism and Hong Kong Cinema

As Hong Kongs anti-climactic 1997 decolonization came and went, the British
(post)colony experienced a tumultuous decadeit was discovered by the international
media, by Hollywood, and finally by the post-modernists. Maybe the question put by a
contemporary academic Sepulveda to a latter-day Bartholomew de Las Casas should be:
Are they True post-modernists? or Are they True post-colonialists? If there is any
doubt that the project of Enlightenment, or secular Rationalism, is still very much with
us, the burgeoning publications of postmodern studies of developing countries and
Third-World cultures testifies to the universalizing Western intellects mandate to name
and classify. As we enter the new century, the knowledge-power regimes in which Hong
Kong and China seem already to be enmeshed are apparently as inescapable and
indispensable as the cyberculture.
The modernist zeitgeist, according to Jurgen Habermas, is marked by the passage of
utopian thought into historical consciousness. Since the French Revolution, Western
utopian thinking is no longer mere pie-in-the-sky, but is armed with methodology and
aligned with history. Utopia has become a legitimate medium for depicting alternative
life possibilities that are seen as inherent in the historical process.... [A] utopian
perspective is inscribed within politically active historical consciousness itself
(Habermas 50). In a succinct formulation, Immanuel Wallerstein described the
Enlightenment as constitut[ing] a belief in the identity of the modernity of technology
and the modernity of liberation (129).
We can see how Enlightenment beliefs, through the imperialist expansion of the West, get
translated into the parlance of the May Fourth Movement that erupted in China in 1919.
Apparently the pursuit of the first generation of Chinese intellectuals in the last century is
still haunting China at the beginning of the present one. The May Fourth crowd was
looking for guidance from Mr. D (democracythe modernity of liberation) and Mr. S
(sciencethe modernity of technology). However, even at the time of the French
Revolution, the parting of ways between Mr. D and Mr. S became inevitable in terms of
realpolitik. The ruling class quickly noticed that Mr. D and Mr. S dont really share an
agenda. Those who embraced Mr. S were often appalled by Mr. D and had the means to

restrain him. The inevitably mixed results of this venture as regards Chinese civilizations
can be charted today in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Singapore.
Whatever merits a theory of postmodernism may have, to declare the total bankruptcy of
the Enlightenment project, of which the idea of universal human emancipation is a key
component, seems a bit of a joke for Hong Kong and China. We have seen powerful
arguments developed by the Frankfurt School and then by Foucault that unmask the
unfreedom of men in the post-Enlightenment West. We can certainly appreciate the
inadequacy of formal freedom when economic inequalities and other tricky micropolitics
are built into the everyday life of civil society. However, Hong Kong is a place where the
promise of democracy has been deferred again and againfrom its colonial era to the
post-colonial present, where the persistent official myth is that Hongkongers are simply
moneymaking machines who are antipathetic to politics. Yet, in May of 1989, a quarter of
its 6.5 million-person population took to the streets in support of the demonstrating
students in Tiananmen Square; and in May of 1998, about the same number of people
showed up at the first post-colonial polls to cast their votes for the window-dressing seats
(twenty out of sixty) that are open to direct elections. It is hard not to agree with
Habermas that modernityas a set of emancipatory premisesremains an unfinished
project here!
The past decade also witnessed a periodic bruising battle over the US renewal of Chinas
Most Favoured Nation status. Undoubtedly there are racist undertones in the American
Rights pounding of the human rights situation in China, given their silence on, say,
Israel. Still it would be easier for the two-thousand-plus prisoners of conscience in China
to accept US foreign policy as pragmatic and calculating than to swallow the theory...