14 September 2013

Book Review: Gender and Change in Hong Kong

Eliza W.Y. Lee is a Professor and Chair of the Department Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong. She edited the volume and wrote the chapter on women in the legal profession in Hong Kong.

I have to admit that I was again looking, in a futile attempt, for some real meaty substance on sexuality in a gender/women studies book. First time shame on you, second time shame on me! Haha. Anyways, there were parts, that I found dreadfully boring. I like drama and contention in my social science narrative and sometimes some of the more traditional analyses can get as dry as a biscuit.

The three chapters that I found most interesting (although even they at times seemed to waver in their commitment to suspense and drama in historical analysis) were the women in the legal profession, the development of anti-discrimination law, and the legal and political consequences of Hong Kong citizenship laws with respect to hetero/sexualities that did not respect national boundaries.

The chapter on the shift to cheap, female, Mainland labor from Hong Kong as it moved from export manufacturing to services was very dry. The chapter on the history of women's movements in modern Hong Kong was boring. I didn't know any of the people she mentioned and the historical references were too far and between to keep my attention. Finally, the chapter on gender identity and religion got off on the wrong foot with sweeping generalizations about Christianity that even I couldn't ignore as it cascaded from page to page.

So what I found the most interesting was the issue of sexuality and  citizenship. I consider any legal system that differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate children to be hopelessly feudal. While a government may have a rational basis to distinguish between lawfully married spouses and a mistress, the government has no such basis to distinguish between the children that arise from those two types of relationships. Children are not merely extension or objects of the mother and so their legal status before the law or legal relationship to each of their parents cannot be rationally derived to their parents legal relationship to each other.

 I was not keenly aware that this has been a long simmering issue in Hong Kong. I recall once a person from Hong Kong telling me derisively about wealthy mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to have their babies to obtain residency (I assume under the jus soli principle and it somehow being extended to the parents of a child born in Hong Kong). But I didn't know that Hong Kong people were having children in the Mainland with each other and through extra marital affairs. The chapter focuses on the time in 1997 when a large number of persons on the Mainland entitled, under the jus sanguinis provision of the Basic Law, applied for residency in Hong Kong.

The popular discourse at the time was that these were the children of concubines (banned as a lawful practice in Hong Kong only in 1971) and that the law itself was intended for middle and upper class professional expatriates abroad. In reality, as to the first point, most of the people applying for residency were more likely the products of lawful marriages. This issue brought up just about every conceivable political, moral and legal issue one can think of as it relates to compulsory heterosexuality and patriarchy.

I also found the chapter on the development of anti-discrimination law in Hong Kong to be well written. I was kept interested in an area that can easily become incredibly boring. It also makes me think of all the ways in which the law both legislative and juridical continues to reinforce patriarchy time and time again through seemingly innocent, gender neutral applications of sexist, patriarchical laws.

The version I read was a 224 paperback published by the University of British Columbia Press (August, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0774809948. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

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