Checkpoint Asia

Hong Kong Rebellion a Big Boost for Chinese Nationalism

Color revolution attempt rallies the mainland behind the Communist Party government

This summer of protests and unrest has been a disaster. But I wonder if there is something to be gained for everyone, after all. For some Hong Kong people, it’s to make their city so inhospitable to mainlanders as to deter many from coming. In Taiwan, it has been a big boost to separatism. On the mainland, it actually helps strengthen Chinese nationalism and the prestige of the communist state. Of course, all these just make the three Chinese places drift further apart, which is itself a disaster if you are committed to national unification.

Let me first examine the impact of the protests on the mainland, leaving Hong Kong and Taiwan for later columns.

The city’s unrest has often been described as the toughest domestic challenge Beijing has faced since Tiananmen. But is it? Here’s a typical example from the Financial Times, describing it as “the worst political crisis in decades, represent[ing] the biggest insurrection on Chinese soil since the pro-democracy movement in 1989, which eventually led to the Tiananmen Square massacre”.

Actually, Hong Kong’s latest crisis is nothing like Tiananmen 30 years ago, though many people, both here and overseas, especially some politicians in the United States, have been baying for a Tiananmen-like crackdown. Beijing, wisely, has declined to oblige.

It can afford to play the long game because Hong Kong is almost 2,000km away whereas Tiananmen Square is, and has long been, the symbolic core of the capital, not just for the nation and the state, but for Chinese civilisation itself.

The danger has always been that rebellion in Hong Kong could spread northward to the rest of the country. But there is no chance of that: we Hongkongers openly fight against mainland incursion, not just political interference from Beijing, but against incoming mainlanders. The most visible sign is that many rioters pick on Mandarin-speaking people to beat up and have campaigned against “big mothers”, street performers from the mainland.

Mainlanders once considered Hong Kong like the return of the prodigal son. Now, many believe that nothing could placate this spoiled, rotten child who hates and despises its northern siblings.

They also believe that allowing Hong Kong so much freedom has undermined its stability and prosperity.

Both stability and prosperity have been hard won for many mainland Chinese; they would not risk them for anything. And the communist state, rightly or wrongly, is seen as their guarantor.

Source: South China Morning Post