How Special is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region? A Classic Example of the Interface between Language and Politics

In: Bandung

Language is never just an instrument of communication, but also a political symbol. Translators, interpreters, and other language professionals working for governments and international organizations often have to take their personal preference out of the equation while taking into account the legal and political connotations in choosing the most appropriate words and expressions when handling official documents relating to international relations, public administration, and law. The case of Hong Kong is probably one of the best examples illustrating the interface between language and politics. Of particular note is the equal status enjoyed by the Chinese and English languages. Translators and interpreters working for the Hong Kong government both before and after 1997 have to consider legal and political factors in performing their duties. Translation or interpretation is no longer just a matter of language and communication, but also serves legal and political purpose. With reference to the political discourse relating to the change in Hong Kong’s political status from a British dependent territory to a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, what then are the legal and political connotations of words and expressions that translators and interpreters of the Hong Kong government have to consider? To answer this question, the author is writing this paper with at least two identities: a practitioner and a researcher. As a practitioner, the author has been a translator and conference interpreter serving at high-level meetings between the Hong Kong government and the authorities of the Mainland of China for more than ten years. As a researcher, the author is developing a theoretical framework by having dialogues with the relevant political discourse that he himself has participated in producing. The author has integrated discourse analysis with his first-hand experience as a translator and conference interpreter, borrowing concepts from such disciplines as international relations, politics, law, and translation.

  • Abu‐Lughod Lila (1988) Fieldwork of a dutiful daughter. In: Altorki S. & Fawzi El-Solh C. (eds.) Arab Women in the Field: Studying Your Own Society. New York, Syracuse University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (2017) aiib Welcomes New Prospective Members: Bank approves 13 new applicants; Expands membership to 70. Available at: <https://www.aiib.org/en/news-events/news/2017/20170323_001.html> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Austin J.L. (1962) How to Do Things with Words . Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

  • Bahadir S. (2004) Moving-In-Between: The Interpreter as Ethnographer and the Interpreting-Researcher as Anthropologist. Meta, 49(4), 805–821. Available at: [Accessed 1 January 2019].

    • Export Citation
  • bbc (2017) 香港主權移交20年:電影中的「一九九七」. Available at: <http://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/trad/hong-kong-review-40413946> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boase-Beier J. (2014) Stylistic Approaches to Translation. Routledge.

  • Cambridge University Press (1932) The Legal Position and Functions of Consuls. The American Journal of International Law. 26(1), 193–449.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chen A. (1985) 1997: The Language of the Law in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Law Journal. 15(1), 19–47.

  • Cheung A.B.L. (2000) New Interventionism in the Making: Interpreting state interventions in Hong Kong after the change of sovereignty. Journal of Contemporary China. 9:24, 291–308.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cheung T.Y. (2012) The Changing Relations between Hong Kong and the Mainland since 2003. In: Lam W.M. , Lui L.T. & Wong W. (eds.) Contemporary Hong Kong Government and Politics: Expanded Second Edition . Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 325–348.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chilton P. (1985) Words, Discourse and Metaphors: The Meanings of Deter, Deterrent and Deterrence. In: Chilton P. (ed.) Language and the Nuclear Arms Debate: Nukespeak Today . London, Printer, 103–127.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chilton P. (1988) Orwellian language and the media . London, Pluto Press.

  • Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (2017a) International intergovernmental organisations not limited to states. Available at: <http://www.cmab.gov.hk/en/issues/external2.htm> [Accessed 4 June 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (2017b) International intergovernmental organisations limited to states. Available at: <http://www.cmab.gov.hk/en/issues/external1.htm> [Accessed 4 June 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Department of Justice (2017) Arrangements with the Mainland and the Macao sar. Available at: <https://www.doj.gov.hk/eng/mainland/intracountry.html> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dykes P. (2018) Speech by Mr. Philip Dykes, Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club luncheon on 5 March 2018.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fang J. , Song Z.W. & Wu C.Z. (2008) Systemic Functional Linguistics in Use. Odense Working Papers in Language and Communication. 29, 283–306.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Flowerdew J. (2004) Identity politics and Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty: Analysing the discourse of Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive. Journal of Pragmatics. Volume 36, Issue 9, September 2004, 1551–1578.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Flowerdew J. and Leong S. (2007) Metaphors in the discursive construction of patriotism: the case of Hong Kong’s constitutional reform debate. Discourse & Society. Vol 18, Issue 3, 273–294.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Geis M.L. (1987) The Language of Politics . New York, Springer.

  • Ghai Y. (2000) Litigating the Basic Law: Jurisdiction, Interpretation and Procedure. In: Chan M.M. , Fu H.L. & Ghai Y. (eds.) Hong Kong’s Constitutional: Conflict Over Interpretation . Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 3–52.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holliday I. , Ma N , & Yep R. (2002) A High Degree of Autonomy? Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 1997–2002. The Political Quarterly. 73(4), 455–464.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hughes C.R. (2006) Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era. New York: Routledge.

  • Irvine J.T. (1989) When Talk Isn’t Cheap: Language and Political Economy. American Ethnologist. 16(2), 248–267.

  • Lansing R. (1907) Notes on Sovereignty in a State. The American Journal of International Law. 1(2), 297–320.

  • Leung C.Y. (2013) Speech by the Chief Executive, Mr. C.Y. Leung at National Day Reception in celebration of the 64th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China . Available at: < https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201310/01/P201309300520.htm> [Accessed 4 June 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Leung C.Y. (2015) Meeting with Hong Kong University Students in Beijing. Available at: [Accessed 4 June 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Leung C.Y. (2016) The 2016 Policy Address: Innovate for the Economy Improve Livelihood Foster Harmony Share Prosperity.

  • MacWhinney E. (1991) Judicial Settlement of Disputes: Jurisdiction and Justiciability. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

  • Malanczuk P. (1997) Akehurst’s Modern Introduction to International Law. (7th edn.) London, Routledge.

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (1997) 江泽民主席在中英两国政府举行的香港交接仪式上的讲话. Available at: <http://www.mfa.gov.cn/chn//gxh/zlb/ldzyjh/t23927.htm> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

  • Murphy C.N. & Augelli E. (1993) International Institutions, Decolonization, and Development. International Political Science Review. 14, 71.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mushkat R. (1997) Hong Kong’s Status in International Law. In: One Country, Two International Legal Personalities Book Subtitle: The Case of Hong Kong. Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 1–42.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Naffine N. (2003) Who Are Law’s Persons? From Cheshire Cats to Responsible Subjects. The Modern Law Review. 66(3), 346–367.

  • Nicholson S.S. (1994) Professional Ethics for Court and Community Interpreters. In: Hammond, D.L. (ed.) (1994) Professional Issues for Translators and Interpreters. American Translators Association Scholarly Monograph Series, Vol vii. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins, 79–97.

  • Oppenheim L. (1912) International Law: A Treatise (2nd edn.) Vol. 1 (Peace), 19.

  • Ralph B. (1995) Tricks, friends and lovers: Erotic encounters in the field. In: D. Kulick, D. & Wilson, M. (eds.), Taboo: sex, identity, and erotic subjectivity in anthropological fieldwork. New York: Routledge, 140–167.

  • Ramos F.P. (2014) International and supranational law in translation: from multilingual lawmaking to adjudication. The Translator. 20(3), 313–331.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shuwen W. (ed.) (2000) Introduction to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Beijing, Law Press China.

  • St. Petersburgische Zeitung (1867) Reprinted in (1895) Fürst Bismarck: neue Tischgespräche und Interviews. 1, 248.

  • State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China (2016) Hong Kong Chief Executive highlights Belt & Road. Available at: <http://www.scio.gov.cn/m/32618/Document/1461926/1461926.htm> [Accessed 4 June 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2014) White Paper on “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. Available at: <http://www.fmcoprc.gov.hk/eng/xwdt/gsxw/t1164057.htm> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sullivan S. (2004) ‘We are heartbroken and furious!’ Rethinking violence and the (anti-)globalisation movements (#2), csgr Working Paper no. 133/04. Available at: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/csgr/research/abstracts/13304/> [Accessed 6 January 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Trade and Industry Department (2017) Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (cepa). Available at: <https://www.tid.gov.hk/english/cepa/legaltext/cepa11.html> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tsang D. (2005) Speech by the Chief Executive, Mr. Donald Tsang at the Inauguration Session of the 6th wto Ministerial Conference. Available at: <http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200512/13/P200512130155.htm> [Accessed 10 Mar 2018].

  • UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (2019) China and the Rules-based International System. Available at: < https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmfaff/612/61202.htm> [Accessed 4 June 2019].

  • United Nations (1972). Resolution 2908 Implementation of the Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Available at: <http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/27/ares27.htm> [Accessed 23 April 2018].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • U.S. Department of State (1997) Hong Kong Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – East Asia and the Pacific. Hong Kong Annual Human Rights Reports Submitted to Congress by the U.S. Department of State. 22, 742–754.

  • van Dijk T.A. (1998) What is Political Discourse Analysis? Available at: [Accessed 6 January 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wang J.L. (2016) Unequal Treaties and China (Volume 2) . Enrich Professional Publishing, Inc.

  • Wilson J. (1990) Politically speaking . Cambridge, Blackwell.

  • Wooffitt R. (2005) Conversation analysis and discourse analysis: a comparative and critical introduction . Sage, 147.

  • Xinhua News Agency (2017) Xi Jinping’s Report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on October 18, 2017. Available at: <http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/special/2017-11/03/c_136725942.htm> [Accessed 4 June 2019].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Xu X.B. & Wilson G.D. (2000) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as a Model of Regional External Autonomy. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law. 32, 1.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 101 101 7
Full Text Views 2 2 0
PDF Downloads 2 2 0