18 January 2020
Communist Party mouthpieces including People's Daily, China Daily and Ta Kung Pao denounce the Hong Kong protests. Photo: HKEJ
Communist Party mouthpieces including People's Daily, China Daily and Ta Kung Pao denounce the Hong Kong protests. Photo: HKEJ

How mainlanders see the Hong Kong protests

It’s interesting to see how China’s censors have shifted their tactics from blocking news about the Hong Kong protests to waging a carefully orchestrated propaganda war to smear the movement.

When the street protests began at the end of last month, WeChat users in Hong Kong found that their photos — even those unrelated to the protests — could not be viewed by their friends in the mainland.

It is said that Tencent (00700.HK) put up a firewall behind a virtual local area network, disabling all visits to overseas WeChat accounts.

Later, Tencent eased the restrictions only to allow a stream of pro-government propaganda from out of nowhere. Many have been shared by mainland users more than 10,000 times.

The situation is similar on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

A popular article, Hong Kong: Does your motherland owe you anything?, describes China’s economic concessions and benevolence to Hong Kong.

Swarms of tourists, ironically a source of resentment for Hong Kong people, are cited as one example of China’s support to the local economy, with the visitors’ spending power.

China is building on the notion that without it, Hong Kong is dead.

The article goes on to say that Hongkongers should be grateful to China instead of being “lapdogs of Britain and other western countries”.

The reason China is tolerant toward Hong Kong is that it regards its handover to the motherland as a kind of “homecoming for a lost child”.

That comes with parental rights which it will exercise whenever necessary including “direct governance and deployment of PLA troops to give traitors a hard lesson”.

Yet, mainlanders are not easily convinced as reflected in some objective comments.

One commenter wrote on Weibo that Hong Kong is for Hong Kong people and they have the right to express their views. Outsiders, especially mainlanders who generally have no knowledge of the cause of the protests, should not make any judgments.

Many point out the irony. If “an overwhelming majority” of Hongkongers support the central government as the party mouthpiece says, why is Xi Jinping so scared? And how come China suddenly feels threatened by “evil overseas forces?”

Bilateral trade is mutually beneficial, so mainlanders should not regard themselves as Hong Kong’s benefactors, they said.

One blogger who visited Hong Kong recently wrote that he was deeply impressed by the student protesters.

“I don’t think you can see this kind of restraint anywhere else. There has been no protest of this scale with such restraint in the face of such force. Unlike mass protests elsewhere, there has not been a single overturned vehicle, no burning tire or smashed shop window,” he wrote.

“Take a look at most of the scenic spots in China during the national day holiday where tourists would leave tons of trash behind and you will see the difference.”

Others said Hongkongers deserve the right to a free election to select their future leaders. As long as the chief executive wins a popular mandate, it doesn’t matter if he or she has been handpicked by Beijing.

As expected, these posts showing solidarity with Hong Kong students have been quickly removed by censors but the move has not stopped netizens from calling for a more objective coverage of the protest movement.

Some mainland students in Hong Kong have set up a community on Facebook called We Support Hong Kong which has gained more than 4,700 likes.

A graduate student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said he has “unfriended” some of his former classmates on social networks due to their extreme views about the movement.

“Many of them have a doctorate or a master’s degree. They say democracy will derail Hong Kong; others say the protest movement has no leg to stand on and that Hong Kong people should instead focus on the economy,” he said.

“Some think Hongkongers should accept their destiny and that freedom and democracy are abstract concepts they can do without.”

By contrast, mainstream media only carries editorials and reports from local pro-Beijing newspapers such as Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po and Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

Last weekend, several journalists from RTHK and TVB were assaulted by anti-Occupy radicals while reporting a pro-government assembly in Tsim Sha Tsui. Mainland media used headlines such as “reporters hurt in Occupy rally”.

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EJ Insight writer