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Speech by Secretary for Home Affairs in Toronto


Following is a speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Ho, at the Royal Ontario Museum Gala Dinner in Toronto today (May 7, Eastern Time, Canada)(English only):

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join you for this gala dinner. I was thrilled to see the Hong Kong Ballet put on such a fantastic show tonight, and to receive an extremely warm reception here in Toronto. Without doubt, all of those involved with the production are great cultural ambassadors for Hong Kong. I am very proud of what the Ballet has achieved and the excellent standards they adhere to. They are without doubt an integral part of making sure that Hong Kong lives up to its positioning not only as 'Asia's world city' but 'Asia's Cultural City'.

We are also happy to be able to play a part in the Renaissance ROM China initiative. I totally agree with the ROM's vision to invest in culture, to engage the various communities that make up society, to celebrate diversity and, by so doing, improve the quality of life for everyone in the city. Indeed, the 21st century is an era where the concept and content of competitiveness is given new meanings. With the advent of globalization, the power and influence of a city hinges not entirely on its military might or economic strength in its traditional sense. The defining force has shifted gradually to cultural depth that a city is able to generate. In the absence of a strong culture, what we have achieved in economic terms would be ephemeral, fragile and vulnerable, lacking the depth and breadth to weather the storms and uncertainties that are part and parcel of a highly globalized world. We need to build a community that is creative, cohesive and resilient through arts and culture, through preservation of our heritage and through articulation of our historicity, so as to provide us constant source of inspiration to propel our society to thrive and advance in the face of fierce competition from different parts of the world. Indeed, one could argue that this should be a universal goal - that governments around the world should recognise the great benefits and importance of developing a cultural agenda that not only reflects the society in which we live, but also acts as a draw card for people of different countries and cultures to experience all that we have to offer.

Tonight, I'd like to talk a little bit about the global influence and spread of Chinese culture, in very broad terms, just to provide some food for thought to accompany our splendid meal. It is a subject about which millions of words have already been written but is nonetheless still a fascinating topic, and one of particular interest now that China is playing a more prominent role in global economic and political affairs.

Chinese culture is one of the oldest on earth. Although an ancient culture, it is also one that has had to evolve to survive and flourish over thousands of years. It is a culture that has given the world exquisite works of art and beauty - porcelains, jade, furniture and silks that today command prices in the millions. It was a culture at the cutting edge of technology - responsible for the four 'great inventions' of paper, printing, gunpowder and the magnetic compass. It was a culture that, at various stages of its history, extended its reach on the trading routes of Asia and Eurasia; and yet it was also a culture that closed itself to the world. However, in the past two decades, China has again opened its doors and embarked on rapid and massive development to emerge as a manufacturing powerhouse. And of course, it is a culture whose cuisine has spread throughout the world - and this, for many people, remains their only brush with China or the Orient.

Then we have the Chinese diaspora, the personal and human element of Chinese culture, the 60-odd million people of Chinese heritage who have settled in other countries - mostly in Asia but also here in Canada, in the US, in Australia and New Zealand, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, South America and Africa. Merchants and traders have always been a major force behind the spread of Wah Yan beyond their home villages. In the 1800s coolies and indentured labourers ventured to the gold fields of North America and Australia, hoping to strike it rich for their families back home; many thousands worked on railway projects here in Canada and in the US. In recent decades, professionals, entrepreneurs and business people have fuelled another wave of migration, while tens of thousands of Chinese from the Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia have been educated abroad.

These people have taken their culture with them to enrich and broaden the cultural fabric of their new homes. At the same time, they have been influenced by, and absorbed, the culture of their adopted countries. All of this adds a new dimension, not just to those personally involved but also to their relatives and friends, providing them with new perspectives and outlooks. It adds a new dynamism to Chinese culture, helping it to evolve, move forward and survive. It is, in a way, akin to the globalisation of a race of people.

In Hong Kong, we have been in a unique position to witness this evolution, mainly because we are still part of it. We ourselves are a city of migrants - mostly from adjoining Guangdong but also with sizeable groups from Fujian and Shanghai. And we ourselves are a city of emigrants - I am sure there are one or two people here tonight who have traded the stifling summer humidity in Hong Kong for the freezing winter storms of Toronto. Give me the summer heat any day!

At the same time, we are China's most cosmopolitan city - indeed, Asia's most cosmopolitan city - home to more than 500,000 expatriates from all over the world - from other parts of Asia, from North America, Oceania and Europe. And of course, these expats bring their own cultural influences to bear in our society, which in turn helps shape a distinctly Hong Kong Chinese culture.

Among these expatriates there is a rather interesting group - the sons and daughters, or grandchildren, of emigrants who were born, raised and educated outside of Hong Kong but who have returned to the city. And there are also many thousands of returnees, Hong Kong people who emigrated, obtained citizenship in another country such as Canada, and then came back to Hong Kong full-time, or spend half their time in Hong Kong, and half their time in their adopted home. So when we talk about Hong Kong being a cosmopolitan city, we don't just mean that there are many people of different nationalities in Hong Kong - which is certainly true - but also large groups of Chinese people whose upbringing and way of life have been strongly influenced by other Asian culture or by Western culture of various shades. And this is what makes Hong Kong such a fascinating, dynamic and creative city.

The Ballet performance tonight is a classic example of what I mean - the world's first, full-length ballet accompanied by Chinese music. A performing art rooted in West culture, but which has been given a distinctly Oriental flavour. A ballet company with a cross-section of Asian and European artistes, as well as an Artistic Director who is none other than a former principal dancer for the National Ballet of Canada. And they are here in Toronto for a world premiere. Now, we also have our actors and directors stamping their mark in Hollywood, bringing their unique and quirky style to the global stage. But not just them - our animators and special effects artists are also winning acclaim in the film industry. Talk about a fusion of talent, ideas and drive.

The more I examine Chinese culture and the Chinese diaspora, the more I realise how complex and multi-layered it is, how far its reach has extended, how much it has evolved and how much it continues to draw on its history and tradition. Even within our own country, there are a great variety of cultures and dialects, each with its own special characteristics and traditions, and each adding to the complexity and richness of Chinese culture. This is what makes the Chinese culture so enigmatic.

I hope that our presence here tonight can help to build even stronger bridges between our two communities and cultures. I applaud the ROM's vision to develop and nurture a 'living museum' for the people of Toronto and Canada.

There is nothing that I would like more than to see you come to visit us in Hong Kong, which is itself a 'living museum' of the blend between East and West - a looking glass into a modern Chinese city that has survived and thrived on interaction with the global village. An open, free and stable society that welcomes people from all corners of the globe to live and work and visit. A progressive society that has engaged the world, and cast its vision long and wide in the ongoing quest for improvement. A city of opportunity and unparalleled economic freedom, that is the pre-eminent platform for trade and investment in the Mainland and Asia's major international business hub. And a city where quality is premium. A city, we believe, is Asia's world city.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not want to hold you up too long tonight. Once again, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you and to help further the already strong links between our two communities. I would like to offer my sincerest wishes for a successful Renaissance at the ROM - I will be keeping a keen eagle eye on your progress through our office here in Toronto, and of course by clicking on the Internet in my own office when I'm back in Hong Kong.

Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, May 8, 2004


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