Me when someone asks about what has changed in Hong Kong over the past 20 years since its return to China in 1997 and the departure of the British, I usually respond that it is now possible to see many waving red flags (mainly the flags of Hong Kong, not China) and that the red boxes Royal mail was repainted in green Mail of Hong Kong. This may seem rather frivolous, but, in fact, outwardly, not much has changed. Trams still driving the streets named after colonial governors. The statue of Queen Victoria, serenely gazing down on the mountain, is still in the Park named after her. Lawyers are still appealing to the red judges (this is due to the color of their clothes, not their political beliefs), call them “your grace.”
This does not mean that absolutely no change, even on a superficial level. Who today remembers that in October, many parts of Hong Kong were decorated with red-and-blue flags of the Republic of China? Today, placing a de facto flags of Taiwan will be perceived at least as a political incorrectness.
I see other signs of change when I know that the restaurant Jimmy’s Kitchen is a company of colonial time — sold to a Chinese owner. If we talk about this sale, you may recall that back in 2002 the restaurant owner Neil McKenzie (Neil Mackenzie) said, “Hong Kong has changed a lot over the last four or five years,” not specifying exactly what has changed, except that he has ceased to be a British colony.
When Hong Kong and China look 20 years have passed since the transition under the sovereignty of Beijing, the two sides come to the conclusion that their worst fears have proved unfounded, and the best hopes remained unfulfilled. Hong Kong people are perhaps reluctant to recognize that Beijing does not share their freedoms. However, they are disappointed because their hopes for the promised — as they thought — full democracy remain unfulfilled.
Beijing, for its part, needs to be satisfied that Hong Kong has become a base for foreign Subversion against the Central government. However, a source of deep disappointment is the fact that the great love of the Chinese leadership have not received. Hong Kong people still consider themselves primarily Hong Kongers, and only then, with a considerable interval, by Chinese citizens (i.e., the state which is called people’s Republic of China). No exchange programmes or information-gathering missions under the slogan “Love China, love Hong Kong” or army open days, apparently, the situation will not change.
The proximity did not improve the relationship between Hong Kong people and thousands of immigrants from mainland China who came to the area after China eased restrictions on movement — this step was considered as support of Hong Kong during the Asian financial crisis. Some incidents, trivial enough in themselves, acquire an exaggerated importance. When the Italian high-fashion company Dolce & Gabbana has opened a stylish shop on bustling Canton Road in Solune, she had a problem. His managers tried to stop locals and visitors from the mainland, to photograph shop Windows. More than 1,000 people gathered in front of this store to Express their protest.
According to reports, about 40% of real estate transactions have on buyers from mainland China that generates income homeowners, but it displaces from the market of the indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong. Once again there are talks about “sandwich class” (we are talking about people who are too wealthy to have public housing, but too poor to buy an apartment in the property). Local residents can see how close their favorite eateries that served noodles, and in their place there are shops selling imported watches for Chinese tourists.
And in a leading newspaper in Hong Kong, Apple Daily, coming into the Chinese language have been published is in the form of locusts. The entire strip is a giant locust perched on the top overlooking Hong Kong’s mountains and greedily looked down. And there was heard the battle cry: “to the People of Hong Kong were all tired”. Locusts, as you can guess, was supposed to represent the Chinese living in mainland China and visiting Hong Kong.
Hong Kong residents use condescending in its essence a term that was borrowed from one uncouth hero of the television series. Some time it was used to denote the flow of tourists from mainland China, and it sounds like this: Ah Choon. It was one of the expressions of the people of Hong Kong to the neglect of his countrymen in the North in the years that preceded the transition under the control of China. Many Hong Kongers are still considered residents of mainland China uncouth village bumpkins, yokels only from a rich country.
From one crisis to another
In Hong Kong over the past 20 years there were three main Chinese Minister for Administration, but none of them managed to win the hearts of its inhabitants. The first Dong Jianhua was considered as a pleasant simpleton, a decent man, but not possessed of the necessary qualities. Dun very quickly showed that he has no political skills or charisma to govern such a territory like Hong Kong. Second, the chief Minister Donald Tsang initially seemed like the complete opposite of Tung. This self-proclaimed “typical guy from Hong Kong” was born in Hong Kong (unlike Tung, born in Shanghai), and made a career in public service in Hong Kong, becoming the first Finance Minister and then chief Minister. His Golden time came in 1998 when he was appointed Minister of Finance in the midst of the Asian financial crisis was unexpectedly abandoned the principles of non-interference and has spent billions of public money to buy shares to support the Hong Kong dollar.
These actions saved the Hong Kong dollar, and also brought the government a good income when the shares were subsequently sold. However, during his second term ended in 2012, Tsang was embroiled in several scandals — he was accused that he accepted gifts from tycoons in the form of trips on luxury yachts and private jets. In February of that year he was sentenced to 20 months in prison, and thus he was the most senior prisoner in the history of Hong Kong.
It seemed that the third chief Minister of Administration of Hong Kong Liang Jenin — around the world it is known as si (CY) — will always be under the scrutiny of a highly politicized population of Hong Kong. He got his place after the home and supported by the Beijing candidate Henry Tang, former chief Minister, was accused of building an illegal extension to his house. Throughout his career he was pursued by accusations that he is primarily loyal to Beijing, not Hong Kong. Some people accuse him that he actually is a Communist party member, but hiding it (funny that it is still illegal in Hong Kong). Liang tried to mitigate some of the things that brought trouble to the people of Hong Kong, including the rampant rise in property prices. His attempt to stop this process through taxes on buyers from the continental part of the country, but also ban pregnant women from entering Hong Kong to give birth to those “anchor children” is not a great success. And none of his undertakings are not allowed to increase his extremely low popularity rating.
Hong Kong has experienced three major crisis within 20 years after its transfer under the control of China. The first was a mass protest in July 2003 regarding the article 23 of the Basic law, a kind of mini-Constitution of this city. This bomb requires Hong Kong to enact laws aimed at suppressing “subversive activities” and protect “state secrets” which are quite widely interpreted in China. This article was seen as sorely and was considered potentially so dangerous to “confidence” in the future of this territory that the government only five years later decided to introduce it in action. By this time, as did the Chinese authorities, Hong Kong people will feel more comfortable about China and its intentions. This calculation was incorrect.
About 500 thousand people — a significant portion of the total population of Hong Kong — went on a massive demonstration against article 23 and the Tung Administration in General. It was a hot and Sunny day, which created a festive feeling. People came with their children, even with children in strollers, and they walked from Victoria Park to government buildings at Lower albert street (Lower Albert Road). Shooting from the air, looked at the TV screen like a human tsunami.
20 years after the handover of Hong Kong under Chinese control article 23 — it’s already a dead issue, and neither the government nor Beijing do not show any intention as to what they are going to revisit this topic. Held protests became an impressive display of people’s power and ended with his victory. In addition, they are convinced that Hong Kong residents that future protests could also end in their favor. However, these hopes were dispelled ten years later, during a larger conflict.
Cause a second crisis that occurred in 2012, were attempts by the government to contribute to the agenda of raising the level of patriotism (this means the support of China). New materials included the program of “Chinese model”, which was designed to represent the Chinese Communist party as progressive, selfless and United organization with a multi-party system criticized as cruel and aimed at the division. This decision was the result of growing anger in Beijing about the fact that schools in Hong Kong conducted insufficiently active work aimed at strengthening patriotism and love of country.
The protests against Patriotic education distinguished by the fact that for the first time the demonstrators were carrying British colonial flags. I almost fell off my chair when I first saw a photo of this flag in the hands of some of the protesters — it was printed on the front page of the New York Times. It is hard to imagine any other thing that would cause more irritation among Chinese leaders, the appeal of the people of Hong Kong to the symbols of colonialism. This flag has become even more pronounced during further demonstrations.
The most serious crisis in the last 20 years has been “Movement umbrellas” in 2014, and it got this name because the protesters used umbrellas to protect against tear gas and percovich aerosols (and, of course, from the rain). The demonstrations began in September after Beijing announced its proposal for the selection of the chief Minister in 2017. In it they talked about direct elections, but by maintaining strict control over who will be allowed to participate in them, because the right to nominate candidates was vested with the Election Committee composed of 1,200 people.
An indefinite termination of the Movement of umbrellas has left both sides, Hong Kong and Beijing, in a gloomy and irritable mood. Beijing seemed no longer particularly cared about how to please the inhabitants of the territory. In June 2014 he released “White paper” which was accepted as the official risk of reprisals. It has been said that autonomy is not a right and may be terminated at any time, if the Central government feels that its power is threatened.
The failure of the Movement of the umbrellas also had a significant impact on the people of Hong Kong, especially for young people. The impression that they are no longer interested in a traditional liberal issues such as elections to the Legislative Council and chief Minister’s Administration — what motivated their fathers for more than 20 years. Many have become adherents of an extreme form of localism and are, for example, the use of the local Cantonese dialect, not the official Chinese language.
They ignored the names of Local party Hong Kong (Hong Kong Indigenous Party), the independence Party of Hong Kong (Hong Kong Independence Party), “Civil passion” (Civic Passion) or “Demosite” (Demosisto). Some people took part in the riots during the lunar New year 2016 in Moncoque, and it was the most violent clashes since the beginning of the Cultural revolution in 1967. All this was very different from the serene days of 2003 during the protests against article 23.
Time always put a lot of pressure on Hong Kong. When I arrived there in 1987, the date of its transfer to China in 1997, were presented at a very comfortable distance, but the time passed quickly. Promises of China concerning respect for 50 years of autonomy for Hong Kong as a Special administrative region, too, seemed something very distant. However, 20 years of this period has already passed. Many young people who took part in the Movement of umbrellas in 2047 will have active middle-aged people. In the beginning of this period most of us believed that Beijing would be happy just to prolong the autonomy indefinitely. But today, such certainty is no more.
Todd Crowell for 16 years was a regular contributor to the magazine Asiaweek. He is the author of the book “farewell to the colony. Last years of British Hong Kong” (Farewell My Colony Last years in the life of British Hong Kong).