IMG_2621_2I have always identified myself as a Chinese-American: “Chinese” as a reference to the ethnicity of my ancestors, and “American” as a reference to the country of which I am proud to be a citizen. However, it is difficult to identify as “Chinese” nowadays.

My parents were born and raised in Hong Kong, but when they came to America for college, the differences between the Hong Kongese and Chinese seemed negligible in the face of the larger Western culture shocks. In Hong Kong and China, the divide remains. I once tutored a Chinese Hong Kong University student who bitterly told me that he wanted to improve his English because the native Hong Kong students at HKU spoke perfect English and mocked him and the other mainland Chinese for their lack of fluency, and by extension, their perceived provinciality. Though its population is ethnically the same as and shares cultural customs with China, Hong Kong Westernized politically, economically, and culturally under British sovereignty.

Now, Hong Kong is fighting for its rights to democratic elections. When sovereignty over Hong Kong transferred from the British to the Chinese government in 1997, China promised democratic elections. What China is now offering Hong Kong is not democracy – it is competitive authoritarianism. In competitive authoritarianism, political competition exists, but is unfair. China, in vetting the potential candidates to limit choices to pro-Chinese options, is manipulating the election and undermining the democratic nature of elections in Hong Kong.

China may no longer be truly Communist (as communism is technically an economic concept, not a governmental one, and China’s economy is increasingly market-driven), but its government still maintains authoritarian control over the mainland populace, enforcing censorship and cracking down harshly on dissent, as demonstrated by Tiananmen Square, and more recently, Uyghur unrest in Xinjiang. Now, the question is how the Chinese government will react to Hong Kong, and the implications for a populace accustomed to social rights.

It is also increasingly difficult to identify as “American” in light of events on Hong Kong. Early settlers strived to appear as a “city upon a hill,” a beacon of morality. JFK, Reagan, and other American leaders referenced the image to describe America as a symbol of freedom and democracy. The American government committed to encouraging and protecting democracy around the world, especially during the Cold War. However, the American government only weakly censured Russian aggression in Ukraine and has not taken any official stance on the protests in Hong Kong.

While I understand that the United States cannot unilaterally make decisions on the international stage, there is a difference between compromising with other nations on market access for pork and beef, and compromising the beliefs on which the United States was founded to maintain trade relations.

The Hong Kong protesters have been referred to as the politest protestors, regularly picking up trash and even sorting recycling, and forming channels for emergency vehicles to pass through. However, their civility does not belie a lack of conviction. What they ask for is legitimate. They ask for a promise to be kept. As the final symbol of British subjugation of the peoples of Asia, Hong Kong learned about but could never fully access the rights and freedoms of the West. They deserve better than continued oppression under authoritarian rule.

Cambodian-Style Lemongrass-Ginger Ribs (adapted from Saveur)

2 racks baby back ribs
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce, divided
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp canola oil
14 peeled cloves garlic, divided (10 whole, 4 minced)
4 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 4-in piece ginger, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp lime juice (~1.5 limes)
3 fresh Thai chiles, sliced
1/2 cup carrots, julienned (optional)

Blend together brown sugar, 3 tbsp fish sauce, soy sauce, oil, whole garlic cloves, lemongrass, shallots, and ginger until smooth. Rub paste over ribs and place ribs in a gallon plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 200F. Wrap ribs in tin foil and bake them for 3 1/2 – 4 hours.

In a 1-quart sauce pan, heat minced garlic over medium heat until aromatic, then add remaining fish sauce, granulated sugar, lime juice, and 1 cup water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, then remove sauce from the heat and stir in chiles and carrots. Let cool.

Heat a grill to low heat, scrape the most of the paste off the ribs, then grill 7-10 minutes, flipping the ribs over once or twice. Rest ribs 20 minutes; slice into individual ribs. Serve with sauce.


2 thoughts on “Heritage

  1. I love the last sentence in your commentary piece. It’s so true, the people in HK deserve better. Oh, and the recipe looks delicious, will be trying soon!

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