China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The first Opium War (1840-1842) gave birth to a modern Hong Kong whose political, economic, and social development has been profoundly different from its neighboring mainland. Although Hong Kong studies, against this background, has evolved into an area studies with distinct themes and methodologies, it is still widely considered a subfield, if not a periphery, of Chinese studies.
This interdisciplinary panel explores the prospects of integrating Hong Kong studies and Chinese studies by discussing several theoretical approaches to the watery fringes in South China’s Pearl River Delta, where coastal strips and waters are scattered with isles, bays, and channels. Gary Luk traces Chinese urban settlements in British Hong Kong to the social ecology of the “littoral borderland” in the lower Pearl River Estuary since the first arrival of Westerners in the early sixteenth century. Based on his five-decade ethnographic and historical research, James Watson examines the economic practice of lineage-based farmers and waterborne itinerants in a Hong Kong frontier zone shaped by the multivariate ecosystem that characterizes the Pearl River Delta. Ho-fung Hung conceptualizes the Hong Kong region as a “Zomia on the shore” where people’s resistance to state control is traceable to the late twentieth century, thereby highlighting Hong Kong’s deep historical linkage with China before 1997. As a cultural critic, Nadine Attewell will reflect on what these papers have to tell us about the everyday practices of labor, encounter, and intimacy through which the Pearl River Delta has been made and remade as a borderland over time.