The Chinese New Year of the “Dog” begins today and will last through until 4th February 2019. Traditionally this marks a period of 10 days of festivities, and is a time that Chinese families organise reunions and social gatherings.
The highlight of the celebrations in Brussels is a reception hosted by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Brussels on Monday 20th February.
In Hong Kong, the festivities are to be muted in deference to public sympathy for the victims of a serious road accident that occurred on Saturday 9th February. The city’s famous firework display has been canceled as a mark of respect.
So the Year of the Dog is getting under way quietly in Hong Kong, which is one of the few cultural centres in the world where confucianism and respect for traditional Chinese customs and beliefs are still preserved by society.
This is due in part to the unique history of Hong Kong, and the fact that when the British leased the New Territories of Hong Kong from China in 1899, a key condition in the treaty signed between the two countries was that Britain would respect the laws and customs of the indigenous inhabitants.
This provision effectively meant that the region escaped the upheaval of China’s civil war, the Communist Government take over of control in 1949, and the huge societal changes that followed including the Chinese cultural revolution of 1967.
As a young District Officer in the Yuen Long District of Hong Kong in the 1980s, part of my responsibilities still included jurisdiction on clan land matters and disputes relating to estate and inheritance issues which were administered in accordance with Chinese law and tradition. The Tang clan in Kam Tin, Yuen Long, one of the largest in Hong Kong, traced their ancestry back to the 10th century AD, and had a particularly strong cultural heritage with roots in the Sung Dynasty.
Britain and China signed a joint declaration on the future of Hong Kong in 1984 which led to the adoption of a “Basic Law” for Hong Kong, and the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997. A key element in this law related to the protection of rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief.
The unknown question for the “Year of the Dog” is whether these freedoms may be eroded under a resurgent China that will not tolerate any challenge to its authority.
Last month protesters marched through the streets of Hong Kong to express concerns about China’s politicisation of legal cases, such as the jailing of activist Joshua Wong. Complaining of an assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, the protesters held up banners and chanted “Protect Hong Kong”. A particular thorn of contention to them is a decision taken by the government to allocate a new high-speed rail terminal under construction in Hong Kong as Chinese territory governed by Chinese law.
Astrologists describe 2018 as a “Brown Earth Dog” year, and their predictions for this year are – as for many horoscopes – opaque and shrouded in obscurity, but one common theme is that they suggest that conservatism and the respect of convention are recommended for 2018.
Hong Kong’s highly regarded “fung shui” masters even visited the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, suggesting that their advice is taken seriously by the world’s business and political elite. They have stopped short of making predictions about what may transpire in respect of political demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2018, but the international community needs to remain aware of the need to protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and the cultural heritage of the people of Hong Kong.