WASHINGTON — As young protesters in Hong Kong are taking to the street, their grandparents are voicing concerns.
The leading figures of the two opposing campaigns in Hong Kong today illustrate the generation gap in the city’s politics. Robert Yung Chow, a white-haired former government official who is 64 this year, is the spokesperson for the Anti-Occupy campaign while Joshua Wong, a 18-year-old who just started college this fall, is leading a class strike for “an election of international standards.”
The opposition, Occupy Central, claimed to have had 780,000 voters in their “unofficial” referendum in June, who were considered as supporters. According to the police, 100,000 people went on street on July 1 to protest Beijing’s verdict over Hong Kong’s political reform. At the same time, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, also known as Anti-Occupy Central, claimed 1.5 million signatures during their campaign last month and police recorded a turnout of 110,000 people in their counter-protest in favor of Beijing’s decision.
All the above numbers require further scrutiny. Yet it is an undeniable fact that on the question of how to deal with Beijing, Hong Kong is divided among its people.
Since 1949, waves of mainland Chinese refugees have flooded Hong Kong. Many of them carried terrible accounts of the Communist Revolution and accompanying draconian political movements. Yet they were inherently nationalistic and inextricably bonded to the social fabric of mainland China. Many who happened to make a fortune in Hong Kong would start investing in mainland China in the 1980s when signs emerged that Hong Kong would be handed over. This generation, typically in their 50s or 60s today, transforms into the pro-Beijing group. The most successful of them, typically the tycoons dominating everyday life in Hong Kong in everything from toilet paper to housing projects, are expected to control the majority of the 1200-person nominating committee which will decide if a candidate is qualified to run for the position of Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong in 2017. It is also this group that are the most outspoken supporters of Beijing’s “patriotic and love Hong Kong” threshold for potential CEO candidates.
Youth in Hong Kong today do not typically share the old generation’s historic and emotional attachments to mainland China. The local youth movement gained momentum in a series of cultural heritage preservation campaigns (one of which was to preserve Queen’s Pier, where the Governor of Hong Kong held ceremonies for his inauguration during the colonial times), which effectively promoted a self-aware Hong Kong identity. In 2012, Scholarism, a student movement, began protesting against Beijing’s National Education program, which was designed to promote the Chinese identity in residents of the former British colony. Students laid siege to the government building for several days until the program was eventually postponed.
It would not be totally fair to depict the current political division in Hong Kong as baby boomers fighting against their grandchildren. But just as Hong Kong is trying to decide its role in the “China Rising” narrative, the Hong Kong people, whose identity has been ambiguous in the past, are also trying to decide what China really means for them as well as what they should ask from China. But it seems that they don’t have much consensus yet.
Vincent Mingqi Zhu is a first year M.A. student in Conflict Management from Hangzhou, China. Prior to attending SAIS, he worked as a journalist in Hong Kong.