Political orientations in Hong Kong: a socio-psychological approach


Shively, Stan

TitlePolitical orientations in Hong Kong: a socio-psychological approach
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateMay, 1972
Keywords:Political sociologyPolitical psychology


Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:Hong Kong is quite a different city from the capitals of the world. London, Paris, Rome, New York, as examples, are all highly sophisticated cultural centers, whereas Hong Kong is strictly a center for commerce and industry. This fact, along with its singular geographical and political setting, has placed Hong Kong in the unique position of the “geo-between" with respect to East and West relations. It is one pocket in the World where Eastern ways of living are colliding with the Western way of life. The consequent shock is resulting in an increment of change. At one level the change is tangible and can be seen everywhere. At another level the changes are non-empirical and more convert. They are found in the changes in the cognitive structure of the people.

Slowly the traditional Chinese culture is being eroded away. Changes in value orientations are taking place. These changes are not random -- they are programmed in certain ways. The trend is for the better educated to exhibit greater change in values (Chi-square = 67.60, degrees of freedom = 4, statistically significant well beyond the .001 level). The same trend can be seen among the younger people (Chi-square = 53018, degrees of freedom = 2, statistically significant well beyond the .001 level). Those who speak more than one language or dialect (Chi-square = 18.41, degrees of freedom = 4, statistically significant beyond the .01 level), and those who speak English as well as Cantonese (Chi-square = 23.73, degrees of freedom = 2, statistically significant well beyond the .001 level) also exhibit greater change away from traditional Chinese values.

Other manifestations of the cognitive changes are a movement away from the traditional preoccupation with thinking in terms of the past and toward the more modern approach of thinking-in terms of the future. Hand in hand with time orientation changes comes a broadening of spacial horizons (Chi-square relationship between time horizon, Version A, and spacial horizon types) 16.75, degrees of freedom = 4, statistically significant beyond the .01 level; Chi-square relationship between time horizon types, Version B, and spacial horizon types = 21,91, degrees of freedom = 6, statistically significant beyond the .01 level).

In a similar way, the people of Hong Kong are starting to think less in terms of their lot in life being determined by fate and more in terms that they, themselves, can control what will happen to them. This is to say they are becoming more efficacious. A broad and more complex cognitive apparatus, as expressed by time and space horizons, departure from traditional Chinese values, and higher efficacy, are similarly related in a positive way with such sociological factors as higher education, younger age, speaking English, and sex (in the Kwun Tong study men are found to have broader cognitive structures than women).

In this paper a study has been made of the relationship between the cognitive, or psychological, world a person lives in and the level of his political development. Since in Colonial Hong Kong it would be near impossible to study political participation, other dimensions of political orientation been explored. The extent to which one’s cognitive structure has been developed has been found to be strongly related in a positive way to the extent to which one feels public affairs are important, his ability to anticipate into the future with respect to political matters in the world, the frequency with which he follows public and government affairs, whether or not he feels he can effectively do something about an unjust government regulation, and, to a lesser extent, to the extent to which he feels free to discuss public affairs. In short, levels of cognitive development have been found to be strongly relate to the level of development of a person's political orientations.

The practical implications of these findings for Hong Kong are rather obvious. As compulsory school attendance at the primary and secondary levels becomes instituted, and as educational improvements continue, cognition levels in the population will rise. Along with the cognitive development one can expect increased politicalization. Increase in Westernization can be expected to result in further changes in cognition and increases in levels of political orientations. More highly developed political orientations with no institutionalized avenue of political participation is most apt to result in frustration. These forces, especially when there is a gap between what people want and what they get, logically lead toward more radical political thinking and behavior. Based both on the findings of this study and on recent Hong Kong history, increases in political radicalism can be most expected among the young and the higher educated.

The theoretical implications of these findings should not be overlooked. “Social scientists,” writes McClosky, "aim to develop general theories of human behavior that will account for as many relevant facts as possible with the smallest number of assumptions and explanatory variables. So far, no general theory of participation even approaches this ideal.” An attempt has been made in this paper to provide just such a theoretical framework in which political behavior can be better understood. The empirical findings have been encouraging. Cognition variables have been found to explain political orientations. Sociological variables are found to relate to levels of political orientation. And sociological variables are related to cognitive variables. Of all the sociological factors studies, and as one would expect, education is most consistently and most strongly related, not only to political orientations, but to cognitive worlds. Education, in fact, may well be treated as an indicator of cognitive development.

It is felt that further exploration into the relationship between cognitive structure and political behavior would be both desirable and profitable. Certainly the importance of the conceptualization of “cognitive world” is not limited solely to the study of politicalization. Well developed, or culturally enriched, cognitive worlds are generally found in greater numbers in well developed, modern societies. Under-developed cognitive structures are found in greater numbers in under-developed societies. What is meant by "modern", in fact, is not only a healthy gross-national-product, but also a composite of cognitively sophisticated people who are cognitively equipped to master and enjoy the complexities they find about them. The people of Hong Kong appear to be headed in this direction.

NoteIncludes bibliographical references
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