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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Civil Passions: Cultural Challenges of Public Spheres amidst National Identity Controversies in Hong Kong and Taiwan

  • Author(s): Lo, Ming-cheng M.
  • Bettinger, Christopher P.
  • et al.

This article studies how post-colonial public spheres struggle to take hold in the context of serious national identity controversies. Through an analysis of 376 political cartoons published in Hong Kong and Taiwan during the 1990s, we probe the extent to which different political camps manage to engage in civic communication. We find that within each of the two societies, multiple publics are divided by nationalistic stances without much interest for compromise. Nevertheless, in both cases, civic engagement is robust enough to sustain a shared cultural vocabulary across internal nationalistic tensions. Furthermore, our findings indicate that the unresolved national consolidation does limit the publics’ political imaginations. Hong Kong publics are conspicuously incapable of commenting on formal mechanisms between themselves and the state. Publics in Taiwan are severely limited in articulating their civic identities beyond narrowly equating themselves with the electorate. We also discuss how these limitations may be related to the contrasting strategies adopted by the Taiwanese and Hong Kong publics toward the national identity question. The paper dialogues theoretically with studies on the interactions of civil society and nationalism.

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