War of identity

Growing social discontent is powering up HongKongers' battle against a Chinese identity

There is perhaps little doubt that a New Yorker is an American national and Londoner a British national. But when those who live in Hong Kong call themselves Hong Kongers, they may be implying that they are of a different "nationality" from Chinese.

Sixteen years after the British handover of Hong Kong to China, the Union Jack surged back to Hong Kong's political narrative as throngs of demonstrators waved the British Flag in anti-government marches.

One of them is Mr Danny Chan Chi-chun, 26, a computer technician and spokesman for the Facebook group "We are Hong Kongers, not Chinese".

"For us, the word Chinese is a derogatory term. You cannot describe me as Chinese in a political way," he said, insisting Hong Kong's residents and mainland China's are of different ethnic groups.

Mr Chan said there was a vast gap between the two places owing to more than a century of separation after Hong Kong was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. "We have totally different lifestyles, languages, cultures and even political environment," he said.

The idea of Hong Konger arguably emerged in the late 1970s, well before the handover, and has since undergone ebbs and flows as the political and economic atmosphere changed.

The number of Hong Kong people who identify themselves as Hong Kongers hit a new high last year, according to a poll last June by the University of Hong Kong. Of the 1,001 people surveyed, around 46 per cent considered themselves "Hong Kong Citizen", whereas only about a quarter of respondents called themselves "Chinese Hong Kong Citizen", a slightly more popular choice than "Chinese Citizen".

Some Beijing officials and pro-establishment newspapers panned Mr Chan and his associates for instigating independence for Hong Kong. Mr. Chan denied right away and saw their punitive comments as a joke.

"What I have been doing for a long time is to complain to the Chinese and Hong Kong governments about their tyranny and dictatorship. The flag means nothing to Hong Kong independence," he said.

On the other hand, Mr Lew Mong-hung, a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said he was "100 per cent Chinese".

Born in Guangdong province, he fled to Hong Kong 40 years ago soon after the Cultural Revolution broke out.

"We are no doubt Chinese. You can disagree with what the government does but cannot deny your identity as a Chinese. This is completely unethical," he said.

Dr. Benson Wong Wai-kwok, assistant professor at the Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, sees the rise of a Hong Kong identify as a way of denouncing the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

In his view, some Hong Kong people still reminisce about their way of life during the colonial rule. Meanwhile, people are dispirited by mounting social problems after the handover and incensed by Beijing's interference in local affairs.

"What they want is to get what Hong Kong people are supposed to have: universal suffrage, press freedom, economic growth," Dr Wong said. "They no longer remain silent on all these issues."

 

Reported by Lawrence Mak

Edited by Clarie Lee

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