Hong Kong in Vortex: Identities and Motherland

Series stories 2

1-Hong Kong in Vortex: Cantonese or Mandarin?

Last time, we’ve talked about the difficulties to promote Mandarin Chinese in Hong Kong, since the majority of them thinks that Cantonese is their first language, Mandarin is just a tool and they don’t have to learn it in school. But what are they struggling with deep inside?

Struggle from identities

Be ready, cause I got a package of data reports to discuss it with you. In this case, it’s about the Hongkongers’ ethnic identity, which is also relevant to their trust of central and HKSAR government due to its unique historical and political situation.

Since these topics are hard to be solely discussed, it’s no surprise that Hongkongers regard Pu-tong-hua merely as a language tool and even reject to learn. Despite the reality that Pu-tong-hua has become the standard Mandarin, been acknowledged and officially used by the UN and the globe, there are still 40% of kindergartens in Hong Kong using Cantonese to teach Chinese.

But Hong Kong is not, and will never be isolated with mainland China or Chinese culture in terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the geographical location, natural resources, the cultural inheritance and future development. As more intensive communication exchanging on both sides, the regional protectionism grows stronger in Hong Kong, the controversy between Cantonese and Mandarin became a tip of the iceberg.

Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong has been collecting POP polls since the handover in 1991. Yes, at least data speak. Since I am no expert, I’d like to put more charts than comments, welcome any discussions.

All the charts below are from HKU POP Site.

Click the graphs to read more details

The chart shows that the component of Hongkongers’ identity is quite complex. The strength of ‘Hongkongers’identity is higher than ‘Asian’; as a drop in the ‘Chinese Race’ identity, the strength of ‘Global citizens’ overpasses the former one in recent years; other drops are in the ‘Chinese’ and ‘Citizens of PRC’, and the latter has been the weakest strength of identity among six in ten years. Overall, the six have all gained more than 55% strength in Hongkongers’ identity and been struggling in ups and falls.

Besides the use of language, the social system and historical background are also varied from mainland China. Despite the government of HKSAR is under the direct jurisdiction of Chinese central government, Hong Kong has always been a distinctive society with high level of autonomy. Hongkongers hold a sense of superiority for its prosperity, democracy and the rule of law towards citizens in mainland China over the past two decades. 

However, it as the fast development of mainland, Hong Kong has been gradually marginalized in the global market compared to the time of ‘Four Asian Tigers’ in recent years. Along with the monopoly of Hong Kong’s Big Caps and other social problems, the inequality of economy and society in Hong Kong kept rising these years. 

Hong Kong is losing its voice and faith.

屏幕快照 2018-04-15 14.27.24

Hong Kong’s Voice Hidden behind

The negative strength rating of national identity has been shown in Hong Kong since 1997, so has the advocators for independence, but the two have never been absolutely relevant to one and other.

For instance, during the ‘Umbrella Movement’ in Hong Kong 2017 (which is regarded as the biggest student-led movement after the Tiananmen Movement in 1989), HKU polled that 75.1% of the students were appealing for the HK Universal Suffrage, while only 11.9% agreed with Hong Kong independence. 


(I failed to refer the two out of three of the original links and saw this familiar ‘404 Not Found’ page. So the figures are referred to Hong Kong Independence– Wikipedia CN page)

屏幕快照 2018-04-15 19.26.32


On the other hand, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Hong Kong’s legal scholar and democratic activist, suggests the that 40% of 15-24-year-old people, who are born after the draft of Basic Law, agree with Hong Kong’s independence.

According to him, ‘independence’ has always been a pseudo-proposition in Hong Kong because it is ‘illegal and unrealistic’. This is merely student’s resentment which comes from Beijing government’s decline of their demand, ‘they are not considering a national state in the international society’ (‘Umbrella Movement’Youngspiration). Tai further argues, as long as Hong Kong was given the right of Universal Suffrage, the ‘self-determination’ of HKSAR could be guaranteed; but this requires a right timing, depending on the how much political reform has been down in mainland. (voachinese.com)

I didn’t find any valid polls of HK ‘Umbrella Movement’ from the official site but did find that of Tiananmen Movement 1989/June 4 Incident. Since the two are usually placed on a par with, let’s see how Hongkongers opinion on it:

According to the latest survey findings of the HKU Public Opinion Programme, 46% of Hong Kong people surveyed said the Beijing students had done the right thing, 62% said the Chinese Government had mishandled the incident. Besides, 47% supported a reversion of the official stand on the incident, while 43% were against the disbanding of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China. These simple indicators had not changed much over the past few years.
The cause and effect of the June 4 Incidentare directly related to China’s human right condition, while Hong Kong people’s self-defined position is also a vital factor. The figures showed that 80% of the respondents believed the human right condition in China has improved since 1989, 70% said Hong Kong people have a responsibility to instigate the development of democracy in China. However, relatively more people believed that economic development should be of higher priority to China.
June Fourth Angst Unsettled by Robert Ting-Yiu Chung
Director of Public Opinion Programme, the University of Hong Kong

As is known to everyone, traditional democratic debates, especially activism movements are given little space in mainland China. Students like me have shown close interest towards Hong Kong’s social movement, regarding it as a ‘gateway’ of China’s democratic reform. 

While we were watching and hearing (yes it’s banned but yes we found a way) Hong Kong’s move and voice, five (ex-)members of the 6th Hong Kong Legislative Council were deposed after an incident during oath-taking in 2016.


 ©guancha.cn. Read more about Hong Kong Legislative Council oath-taking controversy


The two young men in the picture holding the flags written ‘HONG KONG IS NOT CHINA’ named Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, both of whom are members of Youngsiration (a local political party founded in HK 2015). During the oath-taking procedure, they added ‘I shall pay earnest effort to be(for) keeping that over the interest of the Hong Kong Nation‘ and ‘I do solemnly swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Hong Kong Nation‘ without authorization. Ignoring Hong Kong is close relevant to the interest of Chinese Nation, Leung and Yau regard Hongkonger as a distinctive ethnic group; they further ‘mispronounced’ ‘China’ as ‘Shina’ (‘支那’), ‘ The People’s Republic of China’ as ‘re-fxxking of Shina’.

I don’t mean any nationalism here, but clarify the fact: ‘支那猪’ – ‘Shina pig’ was how Japanese call Chinese race in the past for a long time. The offensiveness towards Chinese race in it is similar to ‘chink’ in English; for Chinese people, it reminds us of an ingrained national humiliation. Leung and Yau themselves as individuals of the Chinese race claimed that it was ‘mispronunciation’ and refuse to apologise to Hongkongers, so as all the other Chinese in the world. After being exited by the legitimacy committee, Leung sent a letter to the British government, asking them to re-start the Treaty of Nanjing, where the cession of Hong Kong was agreed.



A Japanese illustration of 1914 depicting the nations as animals – with Russia as a bear smoking a pipe, “支那China” as a pig consulting a barometer, India an elephant, Britain a carp, Germany a boar, etc. ©Wikimedia Commons

Personally, I am appalled that they got these totally irrational guys into the committee and treat the politics and law as child’s play, and realized Hong Kong can be really struggling at times under this complex socio-historical circumstances.

So, I started to wonder WHY.

Is it all the fault of the central government in Beijing?



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