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Will Hong Kong march in step with mainland China?

10 May 2019

Paul Handley finds a Church on easy terms with the mainland

Anglican Archives/Neil Vigers

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, at the final ACC press conference last Saturday, flanked by the Bishop of Nairobi, the Rt Revd Joel Waweru, and the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, at the final ACC press conference last Saturday, flanked by the Bishop of Nairobi, the Rt Revd Joel Waweru...

IT IS hard to spend many hours in Hong Kong without becoming aware of “the China factor”: the uneasy relationship that the former British colony has with its near neighbour.

Hong Kong was given a considerable degree of independence as a Special Administrative Region in 1997, when the 99-year lease taken by Britain expired and the territory reverted to Chinese control. To this day, the region balances professions of loyalty to mainland China with a determined protection of its rights and traditions.

This balance is under constant scrutiny. For example, schools in Hong Kong have weekly patriotic flag-raising ceremonies. Last Saturday, at the centenary of the anti-imperialist May Fourth Movement (marked in Hong Kong only since 2006), some of the flag-bearing cadets marched with the Chinese goose-step for the first time rather than in the traditional British style. The organisers had suggested the change “to show respect to China”, although it was criticised in some quarters “for causing confusion”.

The biggest running story in the Hong Kong press at present — besides ever-increasing property prices — is an extradition Bill that the Hong Kong government is trying to push through. Although the catalyst is the case of a suspected murderer from Taiwan, the Bill for the first time allows extradition to mainland China. Opposition to the Bill a fortnight ago prompted one of the largest street demonstrations seen in the city.


THE Church in Hong Kong is not immune from these tensions, but, for the time being, appears to be on easy terms with the mainland. The Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH), founded in 1998, is protected under the 1997 treaty, and thus has not been absorbed into the officially sanctioned Three-Self Church in mainland China.

Church TimesYoyo Chaw, aged nine, and Maggie Ng, aged ten, pupils at SKH Kei Tak Primary School

Asked by journalists at a press conference last Saturday about crackdowns on Christians on the mainland, the Archbishop, Dr Paul Kwong, described these as anomalies. “As far as I know, these crackdowns are not stimulated by the central government, but are really happening at provincial level.”

He had spoken out against them, he said, and had met senior leaders responsible for religion in China to raise his concerns. “They have assured me that the central government still upheld the policy on freedom of religion, but they did admit that, in some places, there were some things happening — the demolition of crosses, the imprisonment of pastors.” He recounted worshipping at a packed church in Beijing in March, full of parents and children.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the same press conference, repeated his message that Christian churches in China were “a point of blessing. . . They will provide stability; they will provide harmony; they will strengthen families and households. They will care for the poor and the elderly. They will teach children properly, without indoctrinating them.”

Archbishop Welby was speaking after having spent time seeing the social work carried out by the HKSKH. Although a small Church, with fewer than 30,000 members, it runs 150 schools and about 400 social-service units, many of which care for elderly people.


THOSE attending the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting last week spent an afternoon touring various facilities, held up as examples of the intentional discipleship that many Provinces are promoting. At St John’s, Tseung Kwan O, in Eastern Kowloon diocese, we were given a tour of both its age-care centre and its primary school.

The age-care complex combined a day centre on the ground floor with three upper residential floors offering whole-life care. We met the oldest resident, who is more than 100, and were shown the gym, art displays, games, and high-tech equipment designed to keep the residents more active and engaged than most UK care homes seem to manage. The naming of the wards signified their purpose: “Lovingjoy Court”, “Joyful Court”, “Peaceful Court”, and “Harmonious Court”.

The school, emblazoned with Christian texts, encouraged its pupils to live up to the school motto, taken from St Matthew 20.28: “To serve but not to be served”. In each of the classrooms we visited, two pupils were on hand to explain their purpose, even down to the cupboards where the recorders were kept.

Church TimesChristian messages on the side of SKH Kei Tak Primary School, Tseung Kwan O, East Kowloon

Archbishop Kwong, speaking more privately, expressed a fear not of being persecuted but of being too comfortable. The generosity shown to the ACC during its stay demonstrated that the Church had wealthy and liberal members; but the parish visits also showed that they were committed to using that wealth to good effect. The cost of living on Hong Kong island exacerbated the contrasts between the rich there and the poor in the outer areas of Kowloon, Macau, and the New Territories. And, now that the government was encouraging the development of the Great Bay Area, the Church was seeing this as a mission challenge, a new area where it must establish itself.


SPEAKING earlier last week, Archbishop Welby pointed to the growth of the Church in mainland China, and remarked: “Let’s work with Chinese Christians to exchange ideas. I think we have some things to contribute in terms of training for clergy and laity. . .

“I think we could learn from them this passion for Christ in great simplicity. I think we learn from them how to be a blessing to the country you’re in. I’m utterly gripped and fascinated by that country.”

And he concluded: “Don’t just leave it to the big international traders and commerce companies to be interested in China. Of all the dumb things to do, that is about the dumbest thing I can think of. We want to bless China.”

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