Published: October 11, 2013
When a young mainland Chinese women was hit by a truck in Hong Kong and died in hospital on Tuesday, the territory’s social media networks throbbed with messages not of sympathy, but with hatred of everything she represented.
Thousands of messages were posted on social media sites saying, with varying degrees of hatred and anger, that Liu Han, a 25-year-old graduate of Hong Kong University who worked in the financial industry, embodied all that is wrong with the way mainland Chinese and the Beijing government use the territory.
One of the more even-handed comments was that “compassion can’t make us ignore the fact that she came to Hong Kong to grab our education resources since she was not a permanent resident.”
A Facebook page, called “Refusing the mainlandisation of Hong Kong,” was set up the day after Liu was hit by a truck while crossing a street near Quarry Bay, and quickly attracted 9,000 followers.
“What the Chinese people did in Hong Kong made every Hongkonger angry,” said one post on the site.
Another comment was simply: “Truck driver, you’ve done a good job.”
The reaction to Liu’s death is the latest in increasingly frequent incidents that speak of a growing anger and contempt among Hongkongers for their overlords in Beijing.
That contempt is reciprocated by Beijing and its supporters. A feature of the confrontations is that they are increasingly violent, which is a disturbing development in a city long known to be one of the most safe and secure in Asia.
However, in its passion to suppress and intimidate dissenters in the territory, Beijing or its extremist supporters have loosed gangs of pro-communist thugs called the Hong Kong Youth Care Association.
These gangs regularly attack meetings of pro-democracy activists and of the quasi-Buddhist Falun Gong cult, which is outlawed in China.
A school teacher, Alpais Lam, leapt briefly into the headlines in August when she swore at Hong Kong police who were standing by as Youth Care Association thugs hassled and threatened Falun Gong members in the district of Mongkok.
The incident was the latest in a slew of reports of police making no attempt to intervene as the pro-Beijing gangs launch their attacks.
That it was a teacher who attempted to spur the police into action re-ignited the controversy surrounding Beijing’s plans to insist that Hong Kong schools teach what is called “Moral and National Education.”
In a recent newspaper column, Martin Lee, the former head of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, said this program is simply an attempt by Beijing to brainwash the territory’s children. It is, he said, aimed at insuring future generations of Hongkongers to follow only the Chinese Communist Party’s view of the world and its interpretation of history.
The rift between the seven million Hongkongers and the Chinese Communist Party has been steadily growing in intensity and animosity since the territory was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, after 150 years of British colonial rule.
The rift has both political and social dimensions. At the social level, Hongkongers’ dislike of mainlanders has grown, often to hatred, as more and more Chinese have been allowed tourist visas to the territory.
There has been a steady stream of complaints that these tourists are often imperious, arrogant and ill-mannered. They are also wealthy, and their greedy shopping sprees have led to them being called “locusts.”
Some behaviour by mainlanders, even the pro-Beijing administration of Hong Kong has been unable to ignore. Until recently there was regular stream of hundreds of mainland women in the last stages of pregnancy clogging Hong Kong’s hospitals. Not only were they seeking better medical care than is available on the mainland, babies born in Hong Kong automatically have the right to live in the territory, with all the rights and privileges that involves.
One result of these unhappy encounters with mainlanders is that an increasing number of people in the territory identify themselves simply as “Hongkongers,” or primarily Hongkongers and only secondarily Chinese. Only a small minority of people in Hong Kong identify themselves exclusively as Chinese.
At the political level, an overwhelming majority of Hongkongers believe Beijing is intent on reneging on its pledges, to allow the territory to have autonomy for at least 50 years and to hasten the introduction of full democracy in Hong Kong’s legislative elections.
For its part, Beijing is appalled at the lack of patriotic fervour among Hongkongers. It sees them as harbouring traitorous instincts that might infect the mainland, especially Hongkongers’ fellow ethnic Cantonese in neighbouring Guangdong province.
This conflict is heading for a collision as 2017 approaches. That’s when Beijing is supposed to allow Hong Kong voters to freely elect their governor, known as the Chief Executive. Free election of the members of the legislature is scheduled for 2020.
At the moment, Beijing dictates who can run in elections for the Chief Executive, and controls half the seats in the legislature.
There is little confidence in Hong Kong that Beijing will allow the introduction of a political system that is likely to produce a hostile administration in the territory.
But the way the wind is blowing will be seen well before 2017. In July next year on the anniversary of the handover of sovereignty, the pro-democracy movement plans a mass protest, by occupying Hong Kong’s Central business district in support of demands that the promised electoral reforms be honoured.
How the authorities react to that demonstration will give forewarning of whether or not a serious clash between Beijing and its troublesome colony is inevitable.
Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Manthorpe