Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong ho-hum over Chinese astronaut's visit


A police officer guards the unloading of China's Shenshou 5 space capsule yesterday at Hong Kong's Space Museum for a display to coincide with the visit of Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei to the territory.


China's first astronaut returned to Earth a national hero and, although Hong Kong is feting Yang Liwei (楊利偉) as a superstar, there may be a little less genuine applause in this former British colony than Beijing would like to hear.

Yang will press the flesh and take the stage with local Canto-pop singers as he tours Hong Kong in his first public appearances since he orbited the planet 14 times.

Beijing hopes Yang's visit will instill Hong Kong with a bit of the patriotism it has lacked since the handover from British sovereignty six years ago, but that may be a bit of a stretch. Many Hong Kongers remain leery of China, and many who watched Yang go into space basically shrugged it off.

"It's nothing new -- America did it years ago," said David Choi, a 51-year-old Hong Kong businessman.

Unlike their adoring counterparts in China who have seen Yang glorified in state-run media, many Hong Kongers don't seem to muster much affection for Yang or his trip to the territory.

"It's just a gimmick," said Fion Ho, 39, an accounting clerk.

"I won't feel anything just because of his visit," said 29-year-old Stanley Tong, who owns a photo processing shop.

China hopes to melt the ice with a people-friendly itinerary that includes meetings with students and an appearance with local pop stars Nicholas Tse (謝霆鋒)and Joey Yung. Yang was set to fly in late yesterday and stay through Wednesday.

While local attitudes toward China's regime have softened, Hong Kong people are still coming to terms with their nationalistic sentiments, said Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist who's been conducting polls on the subject.

That's even true of some people who welcome Yang as a hero.

Retiree Joseph Lau called Yang's flight in the Shenzhou 5 space capsule "the pride of all Chinese." But Lau admits he's a little less proud of the country he left in 1937.

"Everything has improved" in China since then, said the 73-year-old former telegraph worker, but he still harbors doubts.

"I didn't have a sense of country before," Lau said. "Now I'm gradually developing it."

Some people attribute a lack of affection for the motherland to Beijing's choice of the man to lead Hong Kong, the unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華).

"I've always liked Britain better," said Irene Au, a 21-year-old university student. "The economy was in better shape under the British."

As for Yang's space mission, she said she thought it was "blown out of proportion."

Pro-Beijing figures charge that Tung's government has done too little to encourage patriotism.

"National identity is not an electrical switch you can just turn on, but we're not even laying the groundwork here," said Ma Lik, a delegate to China's National People's Congress and a leader with the territory's top pro-Beijing political party.

Ma called Yang's visit a good start, but he said patriotism should be promoted more systematically from childhood.

Ma believes singing the national anthem and raising the Chinese flag should be mandatory in the territory's schools.

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