115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

From Expat to Nextpat: Restarting Circulation in Post-Post-Colonial Hong Kong

David Huddart, Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)

This paper focuses on dramatist Jingan Macpherson Young to understand changing cultural circulation in contemporary Hong Kong. Recently again rated the world's freest economy, Hong Kong's cultural economy remains mired in colonial oppositions between East and West. Young addresses the opposition through the identities of local and expat. Her characters explore experiences with implications for broader assumptions about circulations between East and West. This paper follows her plays to their counter-intuitive conclusions concerning East-West relations.


For a long time Hong Kong has been understood as a space in which East meets West, although that characterization has come under pressure due to political developments. But while East may have met West, however much economic circulation was enabled, the relationship was rarely one of cultural circulation. This lack is evident in terms of the colonial era expat, understandably dismissed for remaining cut off from local cultural life. However, the city’s longstanding  joke regarding FILTH (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) has been kept on life-support in the post-1997 city. This has been possible because assumptions regarding who is an expatriate have remained intact, along with assumptions about who is a local. However, in today's cosmopolitan Hong Kong such categories are in fact more fluid than they appear. Indeed, the presence of MCEs (Mainland Chinese Expatriates) and Mainland tourists (both the focus of widespread xenophobia), as well as the multiplicity of passports held by Hong Kongers (most obviously, American, Australian, British, and Canadian), contribute to a sense that it is becoming evermore difficult to disentangle East from West, particularly Chinese from non-Chinese (an ethnic distinction that is explicit in documentation and practice relating to Hong Kong permanent residency). There are also related questions concerning the residency rights of domestic helpers, or non-Chinese minorities groups with a presence that goes back to the colonial period. In such circumstances, literature (and literature in English in particular) has assumed unexpected importance, even if it remains read by a small audience. The choice of language itself becomes a political act, as it so often is, but as has perhaps by contrast with other former British colonies rarely seemed especially significant to Hong Kong. This paper will discuss two English language plays by Jingan MacPherson Young, forming the first two parts of her projected ‘Hong Kong trilogy’. The first, ‘FILTH’, was premiered at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, while ‘I’m Just Here to Buy Soy Sauce’ has been performed in various London venues. The two plays in part consider the shifting nature of the expatriate, specifically focused on the pivotal relationship between Hong Kong and London, with the second play engaging the troubling circulation of ‘black money’ in the British capital’s housing market. In fascinating ways, Young’s plays re-examine the East-West relationship, challenging and subverting ideas about both expat and local.