July 1 marked the 15th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the UK to China. Visiting Hong Kong to celebrate the occasion, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) said that he hoped people from all sectors would “conscientiously sum up valuable experiences” and “unite together and look forward.” However, what really vexes the government in Beijing is the question why, following Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong people have by no means returned to China in their hearts and minds. It is notable that, this year, just as everyone is talking about the trend for Hong Kong to merge with China, conflicts of social interest and examples of identity divergence keep happening. To understand why, one has to look into Hong Kong’s recent history.
In 1967, riots broke out in Hong Kong, set off by labor disputes in the then-British colony and influenced by the Cultural Revolution that was going on in China. For the first time, people living in the territory made a clear-cut choice to reject China’s system and way of life. They would rather support the British colonial government than communist rule. From then on, they gradually began to form a local identity as Hong Kong people.
In the early 1980s, China and the UK began negotiations about Hong Kong’s future. Hong Kong residents were not given any say in this political process or any chance to take part in deciding their own future.
The Chinese democracy movement of 1989 inspired more than 1 million people in Hong Kong to take to the streets in protest, once again demonstrating Hong Kong people’s complicated feelings about China. On the one hand, they identified with China in terms of history, culture and national heritage, but on the other they rejected its political system and its way of life.
Before 1997, it could be said that the great majority of Hong Kong people faced the prospect of “returning to the motherland” passively, as they had no real choice in the matter. Nevertheless, their hearts were full of anxiety and unease.
Following the handover in 1997, given the continued inseparability of party and state in China, Hong Kong people have tended to feel alienated and excluded from the status of being “Chinese.”
Socially and culturally, as more Hong Kong residents “go north” to other parts of China to work, travel and even get married, they have gained personal “cross-border experience” that has made them even more aware of the wide and substantial cultural gap that exists between Hong Kong and the rest of China. This has further reinforced and complicated the way in which they see their own status.
This phenomenon of not having returned to China, in their hearts, is especially prevalent among young people in the semi-autonomous territory. A survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong shows that the younger Hong Kong people are, the less they feel proud of being Chinese citizens, and the more negative a view they have of the policies of the central government in Beijing regarding Hong Kong. Among those surveyed, nearly 80 percent of those aged between 18 and 29 said they did not feel proud of being Chinese citizens. This is one more indication of how uncertain and anxious the new generation of Hong Kong residents feel about the future and the extent to which they fear losing their unique values and status as Hong Kongers.