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July 22, 2017

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Taiwan, HK shouldn't quit roles as China culture shapers

Public sentiments in Taiwan and Hong Kong have recently been boiling in anti-China localism. In Taiwan, the worry of mainland Chinese influence has been the main rallying point in the student-led Sunflower Movement. The warning "Let not Taiwan become another Hong Kong" can be heard in the Sunflower protests, referencing the loss of the "authentic" Hong Kong to the influence of mainland Chinese politics, capital and tourists.

In Hong Kong, a row over a mainland child urinating in public during his family's visit to the city recently escalated the already simmering local discontent against some unruly Chinese tourists into a divisive open conflict between Hong Kongers and mainlanders. It happened months after some Hong Kong protesters confronted a group of mainland tourists outside a luxury store, calling them "locusts" and "Shina" (a term used by the Japanese to describe Chinese people during the World War II occupation).

While there are genuine causes of grievance and concern in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, their strong reactions underline their sense of insecurity and fear for their culture under an increasingly assertive mainland China. In this context, the localist — and protectionist — sentiments in both places are signs not of strength but of their lack of confidence. The urge to distance Taiwan and Hong Kong from China has become a mainstay in recent protests.

Such drive for de-sinification, however, is misplaced because both regions underestimate their own cultural and political significance in the global Chinese consciousness. Taiwan and Hong Kong, which have been leading the trend of Chinese culture for the past decades, should not just give up their say in all matters Chinese to the mainland.

While many see Chinese history as the story of the Middle Kingdom, modern China has always been influenced by people living outside the mainland. It was true from the very beginning. The Republic of China was founded by revolutionists led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who studied and practiced medicine in Hong Kong and Macau before becoming an expat in the U.S.

That trend has become even more obvious in the past decades. One of the biggest Chinese icons in recent history is Bruce Lee, who was born in the U.S. and made his name in Hong Kong. In fact, the whole Chinese kung fu movie genre was invented by the late Hong Kong film mogul Run Run Shaw.

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