China / Great Britain / Hong Kong / Politics

Return of the Gweilo

Return of the Gweilo

I lived in Hong Kong in the years leading up to July 1, 1997 when the territory was returned to China from Great Britain.  During those days it was common to see gweilos (a vaguely pejorative term given to Caucasians meaning at worst “foreign devil” and at best “pale ghost”) holding political office alongside Chinese counterparts.  During that time members of the Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s version of parliament) were just as apt to have a last name like MacGreggor as they were to be a Lee or a Chan

With resumption of sovereignty by China in 1997, any smattering of diversity, at least in the politcal arena, disappeared almost overnight.  The International flavor of Hong Kong was still visable in other city sectors however.  Business, religious, and  entertainment sectors to name but a few, still mixed the majority Chinese population with many other ethnic minority Hong Kongers to create a vibrant cosmopolitan fabric.  But in the political sector, save a few civil service positions, the ethnicity became quite homogenous.  (I recently saw a “gweilo” police officer and was surprised to be told there were still a few around)

Recently though a couple items hit the news here in Hong Kong that raised a few eyebrows. The first was that in an election last September, Paul Zimmerman, became the first non-Chinese elected to political office as a District Councillor when he was voted in by 60% of the Pok Fu Lam residents.  Zimmerman, who admits his Cantonese is poor, still saw a large portion of the local Chinese population of that district tick a gweilo’s name in the ballot box.

This is followed by a recent South China Morning Post article that details British born, but long time Hong Kong resident, Andrew Brown’s trials since winning a village election by a single vote in 2003.  Seems Brown has had trouble with one of the long time ruling families to the point where he has not even been allowed into the village office he is supposed to work from.
But “foreigners” winning elections in post-Handover Hong Kong??  I can almost see the movie poster now:
                                           “Return of the Gweilo”
      starring Joaquin Phoenix as Paul Zimmerman and Hugh Grant as Andrew Brown. 
An Oscar contender for sure 🙂

4 comments

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  • Given you political background, Steve, maybe you should make a run for office yourself?????

  • I need to be a permanent resident. When I lived here before I was 6 months shy of getting it before I left. Its 7 years living here to qualify now and I had to start all over again when I moved back. So 5 3/4 years to go.

    Thanks for commenting Bob…I haven’t got many comments lately. I find this tuff interesting but maybe no one else does 🙂

  • I find your accounts of life in Hong Kong immensely interesting and you tell it so well.

    I am curious by nature . . . I have even investigated your Congressional race in CO! (I’m not stalking, I promise). What a learning experience that must have been. Were there enough conservatives in Boulder for a golf foursome????!!!

    Blessings —

  • Boulder Republicans are a rare breed. The 2nd District is large (Heads out toward Vail) and covers some conservative areas but Boulder is the anchor and the decider in that district. I have the “blessing” of preferring areas where “liberals” tend to live (cities & college towns). Republicans dominate in the suburbs often…and I’m not a suburban kinda guy. Although I had a great childhood growing up in the suburbs…just another inconsistency 🙂

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