The upheaval in Hong Kong these past weeks is a number of things: brutal, saddening, and terrifying, but simple is not one of them. As someone who called Hong Kong my home for a good part of my childhood, it’s easy to say the umbrella revolution is about Hong Kong citizens’ fighting for democracy and that what China is doing is completely wrong. Yet, that stance is a very narrow Western point of view. These recent events actually reflect the culmination of years of growing tension between the parties.
Many people forget that the novel and incomplete democracy Hong Kong possesses was given by the Chinese government in 1997 when Britain returned the colony to China out of desperation. As China grew to become the superpower it is today, Hong Kong prospered and received much of the economic and cultural benefits as it served as the gateway to China. Citizens retain the right to demonstrate, and the legal system is still rooted in British law.
The root of the issue is the impossibility of “one country, two systems.” As Hong Kong became a financial hub, its importance to China increased, and China needed complete control. This was imperative, for Hong Kong constantly criticized the central government while being content to prosper under their rule and ignore China’s large underdeveloped rural population. So the Chinese government did what it does best – slowly screen out critics through coercion and dirty tactics.
The chief executives of Hong Kong, screened and supported by the central government, consult Beijing before making decisions. Prior to their discussions, Beijing outlines what it wants, so no matter where the discussion goes Beijing always gets what it wants. It’s sort of like negotiating with your parents. You might get some playtime, but you are definitely eating your vegetables.
The government has also tried to implement patriotic education as well as interfere with the press. While these efforts have ramped up recently, the truth is China could not have hidden their agenda through the years – citizens have simply, for the most part, been passive.
The change in behaviour began as more Chinese citizens became filthy rich over the past decade due to urbanization in China. As China is mostly underdeveloped, hordes of millionaires flooded Hong Kong because they needed a classy place to make it rain. The change was dramatic when I visited Hong Kong two years ago. All employees spoke Mandarin as opposed to just Cantonese. When my family visited Louis Vuitton, we were barely paid any attention. They knew we weren’t the ones who would buy a LV suitcase to carry all the other LV items purchased. Land prices soared to unprecedented levels. In short, Hong Kong citizens were getting pushed out. This resentment is made stronger by the fact that Hong Kong has always considered the rural Chinese population to be uncivilized.
Given Mainland China’s political landscape, and Hong Kong’s history, it was inevitable that we would reach this point. The mistake us bystanders make is to talk about democracy as an ideal and guarantee for Hong Kong. What we should get riled up about is the underhand approach China is taking. If you’re going to rescind your promise, at least nut up and admit your intentions.
Photo Credit: AP PHOTO/ASSOCIATED PRESS