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The Dualities of Home: Hong Kong Citizens in a Mobile World



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Tse, Lee-Shan 


Hong Kong’s long-standing situation of escalating accommodation costs has been widely characterised as one of the most severe housing crises in the world. This is a study of how the Fuzhou members of one of Hong Kong’s long-term citizen populations from Fujian province experience home in its dual sense of home: what and where home is for my interlocutors. The first meaning of home is a physical and material site of residence, rented or owned, that runs in parallel with a second meaning of home, where home is perceived as a geographical and affective location, whether this is Hong Kong or the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or an in-between space either bridging or navigating between the two. Its key concern is how my interlocutors make and are being made by homes in a global city that was once imagined by its residents, its government and my interlocutors as a city of futuristic modernity and is now experienced as a deteriorating city in crisis. I conducted multi-sited fieldwork in three key locations: Hong Kong, their long-term place of residence; Fuzhou, their ancestral place of origin and return; and the Greater Bay, a new ‘Silicon Valley’ that actively incorporates Hong Kong into South China. Originating from Fuzhou, my interlocutors arrived in Hong Kong in the 1970s and the 1980s, when the PRC was still a strictly closed socialist economy. I document their remarkable trajectory from very poor low-skill earners to comparatively advantaged participants in the Hong Kong boom economy, using their residential sites and spaces as a key means of making real, though always volatile gains. How they inhabit, deal with, buy, rent out, and transform their flats, and other residential sites and properties is central to the material I present. Their distinctiveness lies in their flexibility in both location and identity: as self-identified Huaqiao (‘Overseas Chinese’), they move between the two Chinese worlds, without an exclusive, place-based identity. Each ethnographic chapter documents a different aspect of home: home either as a strategy, residential site, a business, an investment, or a fictive place of return. I develop an analytical framework wherein each chapter follows the central framework of a mirage: the mirage is the traversing of space as one seeks to reach a tantalising desirable object that has appeared in the distance. However, as the viewer comes closer, the tantalising object disappears - and subsequently appears anew elsewhere. For my interlocutors, homes take on multiple appearances, meanings, uses and locations. The home, in its dual sense changes over time due to the unprecedented border changes of Hong Kong and the PRC. This study seeks to contribute to four key areas of anthropological research: the anthropology of homes, diaspora, global city, and crisis. Important aspects of home include notions of temporality, materiality, urban change, and affect. In light of the current crises, which started as a housing crisis and subsequently deteriorated into a political crisis with city-wide protests, this dissertation contributes to a more nuanced understanding of homes in a mobile world.





Bayly, Susan


crisis, diaspora, future, Fuzhou, global city, Greater Bay, home, Hong Kong, housing, migration, South China


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge