The World Cup qualifier game between Hong Kong and China last week took the city by storm, creating great excitement among the public long before the game.
The soccer match in Shenzhen ended up in a nil-nil draw, which I believe was a perfect outcome, because Hong Kong and mainland fans were happy and neither side stirred up any trouble after the game.
There are multiple reasons as to why the game became such a sensation and grabbed local headlines, but it almost certainly had something to do with the mounting conflicts between the people of Hong Kong and mainlanders in recent months.
No wonder Shenzhen police deployed 5000 officers to guard the stadium on the night of the game to avoid any possible clashes between Hong Kong and mainland fans.
The people of Hong Kong have often been accused of rejecting their Chinese identity.
Ironically, what the game last week reflected is that the feeling could be mutual: while some of us don’t truly regard ourselves as Chinese, many mainlanders and even government officials don’t see us as their compatriots either.
For example, netizens from both sides had been exchanging insults online before the much-anticipated game took place.
Some mainland soccer fans even said in their online posts that the Hong Kong team should lose the game deliberately to send China to the World Cup final, because President Xi Jinping himself is a huge soccer fan — or else the mainland should cease supplying fresh water to Hong Kong.
Worse still, the Shenzhen police appeared to differentiate between the Hong Kong and mainland matchgoers.
For example, while most of the props, such as drums and flags, brought along by Hong Kong fans were confiscated at the security checkpoints, their mainland counterparts were allowed to bring these items into the stadium.
And part of the area in the stadium designated for Hong Kong fans was occupied by a bunch of mysterious strangers throughout the game.
All of this gave the impression that Hong Kong fans were not welcome.
Ever since the handover, Hong Kong people have been accused of only trying to uphold “two systems” while not showing enough respect for “one country”, and the sense of national identity among the general public, especially young people, remains weak.
However, what the soccer game last week demonstrated was that it seems many on the mainland don’t regard us as part of their big family either.
Interestingly, when responding to the alleged verbal abuse by Chinese team captain Zheng Zhi against Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai, Brian Leung Hung-tak, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association, quickly dismissed the incident as a misunderstanding rather than promising to find out what really happened.
It seems that when dealing with the mainland, many Hong Kong people tend to put themselves down in front of the “Celestial Empire”.
Although Hong Kong is only a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, which has sovereignty over our city, under the principle of “one country, two systems” guaranteed by the Basic Law, Hong Kong is entitled to a high degree of autonomy, and the mainland and Hong Kong are governed by two completely different systems.
So is it really necessary for us to tremble with fear in the face of the mainland?
Undeniably, the scope of cross-border exchanges between Hong Kong and the mainland has broadened so much since the handover that it is now touching every aspect of our daily lives.
The exchange is often asymmetrical, as Hong Kong is just a tiny little city compared with all of China, giving rise to an “underdog mentality” among some Hongkongers.
However, it is also important to understand that while Hong Kong depends on the mainland in many ways, our role as China’s bridge to the outside world remains irreplaceable, and so there many areas in which our mainland counterparts have to depend on us, as well.
Of course there is an ideological side to the conflicts between Hongkongers and mainlanders.
But most of them have their roots in poor management of daily cross-border activities, such as the scramble for daily commodities and baby formula by mainlanders and the influx of mainland tourists who swamp every corner of our city.
If the mainland government can put itself in our shoes more often and come up with solutions to these issues with empathy, I am sure the conflicts and distrust between the two sides can be mitigated.
On the other hand, the people of Hong Kong and our government should also stop putting ourselves down and playing the underdog in front of Beijing and should be more vocal in fighting for our rights.
There is absolutely no need for our football association chairman to downplay the whole incident in such a ridiculous manner if Zheng did call Yapp a “dog” during the match.
This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 9.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]