birds flying

The recent history of Hong Kong might well be a manifestation of the ambiguities of borders. Decades before reverting to Chinese rule in 1997, the former British colony was molded, over time, by waves of immigrants from the impoverished mainland. They had crossed the border in search of a better life. Once settled in, the newly arrived often managed to support their extended families across the border by sending clothes, electronics, household appliances, and other gifts to them. The border connected the two worlds in a way that allowed them to remain different. The border separates and limits, but also preserves. Borders have the negative element of separating as well as the positive element of preserving.

As seen in the latest waves of emigration from Hong Kong, however, the border takes on a different meaning in the wake of the city’s social unrest. Hundreds of thousands already left their homeland in the past two years.[1] Some observers have understood the emigration waves as a result of people’s anxiety of losing various freedoms they thought they had once enjoyed. For them and those planning to leave soon, the border denotes a safety fuse between their eroding home and a new promised land. They yearn to seek refuge thousands of miles away where freedoms are protected within certain borders. Understandably, there are different voices that accuse these outgoing Hong Kongers of being unpatriotic and unappreciative of their ethnic identity. Society is divided.

With departures and loss of homegrown talents on such a scale, the impact on the metropolis is yet to be fully comprehended. On the other hand, there are other Hong Kongers who see the present situation in a completely different light, one that is overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. For churches in Hong Kong and the people who choose to stay, amidst waves of mourning and tensions between divided views, it is still an ongoing question to figure what is to come and what to do. Nonetheless, a new diasporic Hong Kong community is emerging around the world, out of the city’s geographical bounds.

Essentially, borders are not just geographical demarcations but material technologies of movement and division driven by “kinopolitics,” the political practices of expansion and expulsion. Rather than a derivative, (b)ordering practices constitute and produce societies and identities.[2] In this light, the work of (re)moving borders might take the form of critical scrutiny. As inspired and informed by the love of Christ for all humanity, we probe into the (b)ordering practices and discourses that are part of our existential reality. What are these practices doing to us? Who is being walled in, and who is outside? Whose interests are being protected, and whose denied? Such questions help bring to light the ambiguities of borders in order to inform what we should do with them.

While our identities preserve who we are in our unique historicity, they also articulate borders that separate and limit us. After all, a “borderless” land can only be an eschatological vision. But as the love of Christ urges us on (2 Cor. 5:14), we can go into the depth of borders, in the vertical direction of our existential limits, and act at the very border of ambiguities as our quest for unity calls us to.[3] What ultimately unites us is not the absence of borders nor any effectual homogenization. Rather, it is our shared commitment to the quest for unity that bring us together amidst differences and across borders.

As the “perfect imago Dei Migratoris” in Jesus Christ—a “migrant and border-crosser at the very roots of his being”[4]—reminds us, we can embody ways of reconciliation and unity even when in our earthly life borders are here to stay. By crossing borders of various divisions and limits, we long for and strive to create new lives of reconciliation in our own communities. As we gather at GETI 2022 and the WCC 11th Assembly, through Christ’s love, may new forms of solidarity across our different identities emerge as a beacon of hope and unity.


[1] Clara Ferreira Marques, “Hong Kong’s Exodus Is Real and Painful,” Bloomberg, July 13, 2021,….

[2] Thomas Nail, Theory of the Border (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[3] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), 109.

[4] Peter C. Phan, "Deus Migrator—God the Migrant: Migration of Theology and Theology of Migration," Theological Studies 77, no. 4 (2016): 862.

About the author :

Suk-Yi Pang is assistant executive secretary of church unity and ecumenical formation in the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is also an honorary researcher at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and executive committee member of the Asia Academy of Practical Theology (Hong Kong).


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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