Scholars who write about early 20th century Hong Kong seem to be fascinated with nationalism in Hong Kong. A few examples include John Carroll, Jung-Fang Tsai, and Ming K. Chan, to name a few. These three scholars in particular all write about protests in the early 20th century in Hong Kong. Chan was one of the first to write labor history in southern China, so his approach to Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong is more reserved (simply because he does not draw as large a distinction; his focus is on the Pearl River Delta). John Carroll's Edge of Empires talks about the growth of Hong Kong due to contributions Chinese businessmen and collaborators.
Of the three, Tsai seems to be most concerned with Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong. According to his work, we see a strong Chinese nationalist movements among laborers in the 1913 boycott of the tram in Hong Kong, in solidarity and support of the 1911 revolution, and even earlier, in anti-foreign and anti-French protests in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
Reading these works, I'm slightly suspicious of the term "nationalism" here. Tsai defines nationalism as "a sense of collective identity with and loyalty to China as a sovereign nation-state.” The problem I see is that, while we certainly see cultural solidarity for reform and revolution in the mainland among Hong Kong Chinese, there is no discussion as to where Hong Kong fits in. The emotional fervor in Hong Kong both in support of mainland China and against foreign invaders never included a tangible place for Hong Kong. Hong Kong was placed in a nebulous space between empires, never fully belonging to either.
It could be the case that protesters and laborers in Hong Kong felt no need to define Hong Kong's place in China: it was already part of this newly imagined Chinese nation. There is, from the books I've read, no evidence to the contrary. The one person who spoke prolifically about Hong Kong, China, and colonialism was Sir Ho Kai Ho. An important Hong Kong businessman and Chinese reformer (a teacher of Sun Yat Sen) Ho argued ardently for republican reform in China, but cited as an example colonial Hong Kong. Carroll argues that Ho represents the complexity of identity in Hong Kong: being both loyal to a nation and loyal to a city.
But it seems to me that as much as Carroll tries to layer this sense of identity, there is a real schism here. How can Hong Kongers seem themselves as citizens of a separate nation when they live under colonial rule in a separate space? Space becomes a crucial issue here: where is the divide, and how does that divide correspond to internal and psychological borders of identity and place?
My personal opinion (based, currently, on no research of my own but only interpretations of secondary texts) that this support of the Chinese nation through protests and symbolic gestures has more in common with Chinese-American support for the Beijing Olympics a couple of years ago. Certainly there were strong emotional ties to a common identity, but was it nationalism? Would cultural solidarity be a more correct term?
This is something I would like to explore more. But this question keeps coming back into my mind. If this is nationalism, where did that sense of belonging to the Chinese nation go after 1949? Did it disappear? I would argue it holds little presence in the minds of Hong Kongers now. So what happened?