What was Hong Kong Actually?


©Terry Boardman March 1997   This article first appeared in Info3 magazine 1997
“I sometimes imagine Britannia standing on the Peak and looking down with an emotion of great pride upon the great Babylon which her sons have built”.
– Rev. James Legge, Sinologue, resident in Hong Kong from the 1840s till the 1870s.

When the abducted youngster Hong Kong is returned to Mother China in June this year, we can expect that the media run by its abducting father Britain will indulge in a wave of self-congratulation at the successful education of his vigorous if rather neurotic daughter. Legions of writers  will praise Hong Kong’s “human vitality”, her flexibility, her dynamic business sense, grit in adversity, her colourful contradictions. With barely a nod to the circumstances of her birth, and largely ignoring the demons in her subconscious, they will focus on her sexy sensuality, the sheer beauty and drive of her zest for life, her will to succeed. And indeed, all this is true, but we are still entitled to ask: what is Hong Kong actually? What has it been in history? What spirit lives within this city? What spirit united with its conception?

“If you want to judge the yield of the Opium War you must look at it as a whole. Then you will see that what has grown out of those millions – after all, this has been going on for a century -is something that is preparing to rule the world, to overrun the world; this is what may be found in what was won at that time!” (1)  Was Rudolf Steiner merely referring to international capitalism when he said the above, or to something deeper? He pointed out that both comets and peoples have their different spiritual tasks to fulfil in cosmic and human evolution. Halley’s comet, for instance, he said, has always brought a certain impulse towards materialism in its wake. That comet appeared 4 years before the Opium War (1839-42) which led to the establishment of Hong Kong (1842). We can ask whether cities also have such specific tasks. With hindsight, we can see how Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, and many other cities have made certain specific contributions to human development. It is pointless to take up a moral judgmental stance with regard to those contributions; in each case they were required at those times.

Hong Kong and the Opium of the Merchants

Hong Kong  – the name means Perfumed Port  – was born out of the world’s first major drugs trade; it was an artificial creation, required by British merchants to facilitate their illegal opium shipments into China. Since 1898, when Britain forced China to lease the peninsula facing Hong Kong Island, the colony has consisted of the New Territories peninsula and 235 islands and has a 22-mile long border with China. Located at 22°N just across the Pearl River estuary from the Portuguese colony of Macao – since the 16th cent a stronghold of the Jesuits – it was created to service the city of Canton which lies further up the Pearl River at 23°N on the Tropic of Cancer. (2)  Hong Kong was born in the 1840s of the 19th century -  a time, according to Rudolf Steiner, when materialism reached a certain peak in human evolution. It served as the base for military operations against China thereafter, notably in the Second Opium War of 1860 which culminated in the truly barbaric destruction and pillaging of the Beijing Summer Palace (largely designed by Jesuit priests in the 18th cent.) by Anglo-French forces. By 1880 there were 100 million opium smokers and 15 million addicts in China. (3) Revenue from opium accounted for nearly half of Hong Kong government income in the 1890s.

The business techniques of the opium merchants “educated” the Chinese into modern commercial and financial realities. Through Hong Kong steampower and electricity entered China. Hong Kong bankers and merchants played the leading role in developing China’s first Industrial Revolution as well as stimulating western greed for the enormous potential profits to be made from the Chinese market. British Premier Lord Salisbury said in 1885 that “the Power that can establish the best footing in China will have the best part of the trade of the world.” (4) This remains the dominant view in the west a hundred years later, as a new scramble for China opened in the 1980s. Jardine’s (one of the original opium merchants) and the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (founded in 1864 in Hong Kong) financed and developed most of the Chinese railway system. The Bank went on to become one of the major forces in the Chinese Republic after 1911. When China went off the silver standard in 1935, all silver handed over to the government was deposited with the Bank. “Hong Kong became less like an itchy parasite than like a wasp, buzzing and stinging the lethargic giant into awareness”  (5) Vast investments went into China via Hong Kong; Chinese warlords turned to the colony for finance during the chaotic 1920s and 30s, and some 70% of China’s war requirements in its titanic struggle against Japan in the 1930s came via Hong Kong.(5)

Nevertheless, during the first half of the 20th century, Hong Kong was still by no means the “vast emporium of commerce and wealth” predicted by its first Governor Sir Henry Pottinger. In 1924 a quarter of the Chinese population of Hong Kong smoked opium, poverty was chronic, housing appalling, and needless to say, there was no democracy. Hong Kong banking and shipping interests translated to Shanghai which by the 1920s had eclipsed Hong Kong as China’s preeminent international commercial centre.(6)

Opium was not made illegal by the British authorities in the colony until 1946; by then there was hardly a family in China which had not suffered from opium addiction in some way. By the 1860s this was already having bizarre effects. Rudolf Steiner has indicated how far-reaching aims were achieved by this undermining of the Chinese physical base by opium. It led to many souls who would otherwise have incarnated into Chinese bodies turning away from opium-raddled genetic streams and seeking incarnations in Europe, where astute observers such as the Russian Alexander Herzen, and John Stuart Mill among others noticed a certain “Chinesification” of European humanity already in the mid-19th century. By this they meant the increasing uniformity of bourgeois life would suppress all individuality and reduce it to a monotonous sameness, a ‘conglomerated mediocrity’ as Mill put it (7).    “Seen in this way, that Opium War meant the switching of a soul element from a part of the earth to which it belonged – and where it might have been of use, because it would have been united with bodies into which it would have fitted  – to another part of the earth where it could become a tool for forces whose designs are by no means necessarily beneficial  for mankind.”

This led in Europe to many people feeling a disharmony betweeen their souls and their bodies, a disharmony which predisposed them to be susceptible to errors and untruths of propagandists. And before anyone takes this as evidence of Steiner being a racist, it should be made clear that he is not here advocating anything like barriers to immigration from other countries, but is pointing to the creation of a disturbance in the karma of many many people.  If certain souls need, through their karma to incarnate in Chinese society, they should indeed be able to incarnate there. If they are forced to go elsewhere, then their karmic destiny is being interfered with. To say that some individualities ought by rights to be in China is not to be racist. There are always individuals in every culture whose karma leads them to loosen their ties to that culture by means of emigration. This is not the case here; some souls who wished to spend an incarnation in Chinese culture were actually prevented from doing so. Meanwhile in China itself “by bringing about the opiumising of Chinese bodies and causing generations to come into being under the influence of opium’s forces, it was possible to condemn the Chinese to take in…some very immature substandard souls…”  Many of these souls no doubt found their way into the innumerable Triad secret societies which sprang up all over China in the 19th century, and which, since 1945, mostly based in Hong Kong, have been responsible for an astonishing wave of crime and drug smuggling that has reached international epidemic proportions. (of this more later)

Hong Kong and the Opium of the Masses

In 1949, as the victorious Communist armies  swept south and took Canton, they could easily have gone on to reclaim Hong Kong, the original site and symbol of China’s national shame. China’s new leaders chose not to do so, for reasons they have have never clearly stated since. However, in 1980 Zhao Guanji, a Chinese State Council official, said that Hong Kong had been China’s “lifeline”. Premier Zhou Enlai had put together a kind of modus vivendi over Hong Kong with the British Governor of the Colony in 1955 during an ‘unoffical’ three hour visit, and in 1959 Mao himself had said: “It is better to keep Hong Kong the way it is; we are in no hurry to take it back; it is useful to us right now.” (8)  The following year the Central Committee of the Communist party directed that the resources of Hong Kong and Macao be “fully utilised in the interests of long-term planning.” Zhou Enlai encouraged provincial governors to cooperate with the two capitalist colonies.

In 1975 Zhou Enlai announced the Four Modernisations Programme which was intended to turn China into a world-beating economy by the year 2000.  Zhou, already fatally ill, had begun to groom his protege Deng Xiaoping for leadership of the post-Mao era. Zhou and Deng had been allies since the time they had spent together in France in the early 1920s. Both became radical Marxists as a result of their experiences in France, and 60 years later, Deng told the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci that he regarded Zhou as his elder brother. In Chinese, this is a great compliment, and implies that Deng regarded himself as Zhou’s disciple and Zhou with great affection and respect. (9) During the Cultural Revolution, Zhou had protected the “revisionist” Deng from the wrath of the Red Guards, and until his own death earlier this year Deng faithfully sought to carry out his mentor’s Four Modernisations.

The planners of Deng’s Open Door policy envisaged Hong Kong acting as the conduit through which the ‘positive’ aspects of capitalism would be funneled into the eastern coastal regions (Special Economic Zones, or SEZs) and from there, to the rest of China. From 1980 to 1992 China’s GNP grew at an annual average of 8.9%, and the value of China’s foreign trade rose from US$38 billion in 1980 to US$115 billion in 1990. (10) A massive 58.8% (US$78.3 billion) of all foreign direct investment 1979-95 originated in the tiny colonial enclaves of Hong Kong and Macao, the lion’s share in Hong Kong. (11)  (Almost 80% of Macao’s yearly income comes from the Hong Kong Triad-controlled US$1 billion-a-year gambling monopoly). Fully a third of China’s overseas earnings come from goods that pass through Hong Kong. This colonial capitalist city has become communist China’s main export centre and moneyspinner. Hong Kong determines much in China’s national life today, from the design of fashion accessories and pop music to business techniques and transport technologies. Indeed, although a million Hong Kong citizens overcame their usual political apathy to demonstrate against the killings in Tiananmen Square in 1989, it can be said that in deregulating the economy while denying political freedom, the Chinese communist rulers have effectively “Hong Kongified” their country; it is only in the last few years after all that the British authorities allowed any measure of “real democracy” to the hardworking people of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong and the Opium of Youth

Throughout its life then, and especially since Deng’s assumption of power in 1979, British Hong Kong has served as a conduit of “modernity” and materialism from the West into China. What has passed through it in the opposite direction, from China into the world? A very great deal, especially of low-cost goods, seems to be “Made in China” these days, and most of it has been exported via Hong Kong, but since the early 1970s Hong Kong has also been the conduit through which some Chinese cultural phenomena of a very different sort have spread throughout the world, namely, kung fu and Triad crime, notably heroin trafficking. The films of Hong Kong kung fu stars Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan amongst others have fuelled the martial arts craze in western society; it is a common sight in the streets of Europe and America to see children and youths from six to sixteen practising their kung fu kicks.

British Hong Kong was created by the demands of an international opium trade and is ending its life against the backdrop of a similar scenario: an international trade in the opium derivative heroin (or “China White”). Since the Chinese mafia, the Triads, began to muscle into international heroin smuggling in the early 1970s, this “trade” has assumed colossal proportions. The poisoning of western society by heroin addiction is not yet on a scale comparable to the poisoning of China by the West in the last century, but it is getting there, especially now that the Triads have moved into other drugs than heroin. Police authorities throughout the West are agreed that the Triads with their esoterically-based fanaticism, ingenious flexibility, and sheer ferociousness “make the Sicilian Mafia look like a bunch of Sunday-school kids.” (12) The vast bulk of heroin from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia is now trafficked by Hong Kong-based Triads. In 1983 that heroin accounted for 3% of the New York market…By 1988 China White had jumped to almost 70%.” (13) Since Tiananmen Square the numbers of Hong Kong Chinese seeking to get out before 1997 has mushroomed. The Triads, knowing that the Chinese authorities’ traditional methods of dealing with drug dealers have not changed since the summary executions of pre-Opium War days, have joined the exodus and fastened onto Chinatown communities throughout the world, causing major headaches for police forces everywhere. 17 senior Triad leaders applied for emigration to Canada in 1992, for example, and another 14 the following year; all were barred (14)

Meanwhile, Hong Kong continues to be a central laundering base for their drug profits. It has always been a great port for smuggling, but just as banking secrecy laws were tightened and business was deregulated even further in the 1970s, the heroin traffickers brought in profits previously unimaginable. Property prices quadrupled between 1978 and 1981; banks were bursting with money. It was just at this time that Deng Xiaoping came to power and announced the Open Door policy.

The Yield of the Opium War

At the beginning of this article two questions were posed: what is Hong Kong for China and the world?  and what might Rudolf Steiner have been referring to when he spoke of something, connected to the Opium War, that was “preparing to rule the world”? Hong Kong was built on and has lived on drug addiction and moneymaking. “As you sow, so shall you reap” goes the saying. The “sowing” of Hong Kong’s dragon teeth was the result of one of the first earthly reflections of Ahriman’s War in Heaven against Michael – the First Opium War. From Rudolf Steiner’s research – and this is something we can certainly verify from studies of mythology and history – human evolution since the third millenium BC has been profoundly and incisively affected by the incarnation onto the physical plane of three mighty spiritual beings. The first was that of Lucifer, in China at the beginning of the third millenium BC.  This was to determine the major direction, especially of Chinese, but also of all Asian, cultural development until the second great incarnation, that of Christ, in Palestine two thousand years ago. The power of the intellect, the gnosis of Asia, the beauty of Asian and Greek high art – all this, according to Rudolf Steiner, stemmed ultimately from the impulses given by the incarnation of Lucifer in China. (15) The cultural effects of Christ’s incarnation were felt especially in  Europe. The third incarnation, that of Ahriman, “before only a part of the third millenium” has elapsed” (15), will have effects that spread out predominantly from the Atlantic-American cultural realm.

In his many lectures and writings about the incarnation of Christ, Rudolf Steiner described from various points of view the long complex process of preparation that was needed before the Mystery of Golgotha could occur. The history of the Hebrew-Jewish people, as described in the Bible, is at the centre of that process. It was a process that was to be insignificant in the worldly sense in that Jesus was no great monarch of a mighty world-spanning empire, but rather a modest man in a humbled little province in the Middle East, whose life and death passed unremarked by millions the world over; his earthly life was not one of power, force, and seduction, but of love, inspiration and free moral example.

With Ahriman it will be different; he will seek to enmesh the entire globe and all its peoples in a worldwide web of supermaterialism; he will wish them all to feel his power, his temptation. “It would undoubtedly be of the greatest benefit to Ahriman if he could succeed in preventing the vast majority of people (emphasis TMB) from perceiving what would make for their true well-being.” (15) For unlike Christ 2000 years ago in Palestine, he is coming at a time when humanity as a whole has become more or less self-aware -it is a time of instant global consciousness, which Ahriman himself, through the technology he has inspired, has done much to bring about. However, by the time of the French Revolution in 1789, an enormous section of the world’s population still barely recognised him and remained ensconced in the ancient Luciferic wisdom that reached ultimately back to Lucifer’s incarnation in China in the third millenium BC and even beyond, to Atlantis. (15) This was the Celestial Empire of China, which with typical Luciferic hauteur regarded itself as the centre of the world and all other peoples as barbarians, worthy only of paying tribute to the Son of Heaven. Ahriman’s incarnation could not proceed satisfactorily if it was disregarded by so large a group of humanity. What to do? A way had to be found to inject his spirit of materialism into Chinese culture.

The British sought in three ways, first by diplomatic missions (1793,1816), then by clandestine opium smuggling (to 1839), and finally by war, to open China up to free trade and the other benefits of “modern civilisation”. Hong Kong was the main product of Britain’s efforts, but  a major consequence of the western, and later Japanese, assaults on China as well as China’s pride-bound  refusal to meet the challenge effectively was her takeover by the forces of Marxism, seen by so many at the time in both East and West as a progressive force in evolution. Mao’s communists initiated China into a philosophical and social materialism with great violence: “It would undoubtedly be of the greatest benefitto Ahriman if…the vast majority of people were to regard these preparations for the Ahriman incarnation as progressive and good for evolution.” (15)

A Bee of Mars?

We may ask: has not Hong Kong been the hypodermic needle for the massive injection of modern materialism that followed its founding in 1842, and especially since the communist victory in 1949? Has this not been Hong Kong’s role in history  – to be a key citadel of Mammon/Ahriman, a restless wasp stinging China into a painful Ahrimanic awareness – a bee of Mars? The Sino-British Declaration on Hong Kong of 1984 which provided for the transfer of power to China stated that Hong Kong’s capitalist way of life would not be interfered with for 50 years after 1997. Assuming that China does not break up again into civil disorder, by 2047 the injection will be more than complete. Hong Kong, the very symbol of China’s national humiliation at the hands of the “foreign devils”, will no longer be necessary. No doubt Shanghai and other Chinese cities (Tianjin, Suzhou?) will take Hong Kong’s place, and the Chinese authorities, whose view of history is even longer than that of the Vatican, may then just make the Perfumed Port shrink back into the obscurity which was its lot before 1842.

NOTES (n.b. GA = ref. no. for the collected works of Rudolf Steiner)

    (1) Lecture of 31.12.1916 Dornach, Switzerland
    (2) Cancer is the sign attributed by Rudolf Steiner to the philosphical stance of materialism. See Human and Cosmic Thought Jan. 20-23 1914. The 23 degree Tropic of Cancer line also passes through Taiwan which was to play a similar role to Hong Kong after 1979, in “servicing” China.
    (3) “War Lords of Crime – Chinese Secret Societies: The New Mafia” Gerald L.Posner London 1988 Macdonald Queen Anne Press p63
    (4) “British Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Policy: From Crimean War to First World War” ed. K.M.Wilson London 1987, Croom Helm p4
    (5) “Hong Kong Xianggang” Jan Morris, London 1988, Viking Press, p268-9
    (6) Morris, p195-6
    (7) GA 172 19.11.1916
    (8) “The End of Hong Kong – The Secret Diplomacy of Imperial Retreat” R.Cottrell, London 1993, John Murray Press, p27
    (9) “Deng Xiaoping and the Making of Modern China” R. Evans, London 1993, Penguin p18.
    (10) Evans p316
    (11) The Economist 8.3.97
    (12) Posner p261
    (13) Posner p252
    (14) “The Laundrymen – Inside The World’s Third Largest Business”, J.Robinson, London 1994, Pocket Books p212.
    (15) GA 191, 1.11.1919

    © Terry Boardman

    This page was first uploaded Dec 1999.  Last updated 1.7.2012