The latest attempt by China’s government to exert control over Hong Kong might seem particularly flat footed considering the timing. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the reversion of the city, formerly a colony of the United Kingdom, to China’s control. While at the time the event was celebrated both in Hong Kong and all around the country, the relationship between the semi-autonomous former colony and the government nominally in charge of it has, in recent years, become more strained.
William Pesek, who has reported on political, business, and social issues in the Asia-Pacific region, writes in Bloomberg News that Beijing’s latest plan to reform education in Hong Kong schools to make teaching loyalty to the Communist Party a compulsory part of the curriculum has drawn so much protest from the populace that the city’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying was forced to cancel his first official visit abroad. Protesters hit the streets almost as soon as the plan was first announced in early July, and the outrage eventually led to the plan getting scrapped and substituted with a program that school administrators could voluntarily take part in.
Hong Kong’s close ties to the West were evidenced during those days in mid-summer when people lined up outside the buildings housing the government headquarters in an attempt to show the powers that be that they will not allow the history of Communist China to be whitewashed for their children. The posters carried by the protesters contained quotes from George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 masterpiece “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” and people kept spontaneously breaking out into songs from Pink Floyd’s hit “The Wall.”
“It’s so offensive that China thinks we are this stupid,” said Andy Tang, a 20-year protester and engineering student. “Most mainlanders don’t even know about Tiananmen Square or the millions who died thanks to Mao Zedong’s policies. They don’t know a thing about their government’s real history. And now China wants to keep us in Hong Kong in the same darkness?”
This is not the first time that the determination of the Hong Kong citizenry resisted Beijing’s attempts to interfere or impose greater control. Ten years ago, massive demonstrations helped defeat a law, called Article 23, which was purported to make the persecution of people involved in subversive activities easier, but in reality was so vague as to possibly make it a crime for residents of Hong Kong to exercise their right of free speech and free press.
Hong Kong is highly sensitive to anything that threatens the “one country, two systems” arrangement. China’s recent handiwork speaks to the clumsiness of its oversight of a city that once put out the welcome mat.