Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 4 News List

HK banners reveal gulf with China


Students walk beneath a banner reading “Hong Kong Independence” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Sept. 6.

Photo: AP

The banners and posters were quietly hung in universities across Hong Kong, often appearing overnight, with bold white lettering calling out for change and testing the limits of the freedoms that Beijing will allow this freewheeling territory.

“Hong Kong Independence!” one banner said, while another read: “Fight for Our Homeland!

To students from Hong Kong, the banners are a defiant insistence that their home is different from the rest of China and that they can express themselves in ways unimaginable on the mainland.

However, to many Chinese students, the calls for independence were unpatriotic insults.

Some pushed back in anger, ripping them from university bulletin boards and setting off shouting matches caught on videos that spread quickly on Chinese social media, exposing the widening gulf between Hong Kong and China, which rules the former British colony.

The series of clashes last month over the banners not only rekindled a debate over Hong Kong’s relative rights to free speech and protest; they have also revealed deeper tensions between students from the territory and those from China.

The issues are exacerbated by anxieties among young Hong Konger over a perceived loss of job prospects to their Chinese peers and the chilling effect the ruling Chinese Community Party has on campus discourse.

In the past academic year, Chinese students made up 76 percent of international students in public university programs, according to the government.

Although there is a cap on undergraduate admissions of such students, the number of Chinese postgraduate students has doubled in the last decade, making them a much more visible presence on campuses.

“Hong Kong students think that mainland students are taking their learning opportunities and degrees from them,” Hong Kong Baptist University economics student Chris Chan said.

Many locals like Chan fear that large companies and banks are more likely to hire Chinese graduates, since Hong Kongers often do not have as many connections to the China-dominated business community.

This anxiety over job prospects stems from deeper, systemic problems about skyrocketing rents and high costs of living. The influx of Chinese has contributed to soaring housing prices in a place where a parking spot can now fetch up to US$664,000, placing middle-class families and younger residents under intense financial pressure.

Many young people believe that in contrast to their parents’ generation, “we do not have any upward social mobility,” Chan said.

The growing worries over the political and economic future of the territory have fueled a deep resentment among many Hong Kong students, with some derisively referring to Chinese as “locusts” for their voracious buying of luxury goods, apartments and even baby formula.

It has also made more young people anxious for a separate Hong Kong identity.

The proportion of 18-to-19-year-olds who describe their ethnic identity as “Chinese” has fallen from 32 percent in 1997 to just 3 percent this year.

These divisions are exacerbated by language, with Mandarin dominating in China and Cantonese in Hong Kong. For some Hong Kong youth, simply hearing someone speak Mandarin can be infuriating.

As a result, Hong Kong Baptist University student Howard Liu said, many of his fellow Chinese rarely get to know local young people, choosing to socialize among themselves.

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