23 October 2016
The debate over whether to ban the colonial flag is pointless. Rather, we should look at the reasons behind the resurrection of the flag. Photo: HKEJ
The debate over whether to ban the colonial flag is pointless. Rather, we should look at the reasons behind the resurrection of the flag. Photo: HKEJ

So what if the colonial flag is banned?

Recently, Chen Zuo’er, a former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, created a firestorm of controversy by saying that Hong Kong has not “decolonized” according to the law.

As a result, some old colonial relics, which should have remained in museums, are being flaunted frequently on the main streets, he said.

Chen, now chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, didn’t specify exactly which law we should invoke to “decolonize” our city, nor did he make it clear what “colonial relics” he was referring to.

Even so, it is not difficult for us to figure out that he was probably talking about the former British colonial flag, commonly known as the “Dragon and Lion” flag.

Many believe the fact that some protesters have been waving that flag in public on different occasions in recent years has touched a raw nerve among some top officials of the “Celestial Empire”.

In fact, when the “Dragon and Lion” flag first appeared in local protests a few years ago, it immediately came under heavy fire from pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong, which denounced the protesters’ displaying of it as both ridiculous and provocative and called for the government to outlaw the flag.

However, despite the fact there are actually laws the authorities can invoke to ban the public display of the flag, I think our society shouldn’t get entangled in the debate over whether or not to ban it, because it is simply pointless.

Rather, I think we should instead look at the potential reasons behind the resurrection of the colonial flag, such as the mounting public discontent with the current government, the widening wealth gap and the deterioration of the rule of law.

Is it possible that people are waving the colonial flag and showing nostalgia for the colonial past because their lives under the Hong Kong government are not as good as they were before 1997?

Besides, it won’t make any difference even if the flag is banned, because it will continue to exist in our minds, anyway.

More interestingly, although it was a commonly known fact that the colonial government before 1997 often gave British companies preferential treatment, resulting in an unfair advantage over their competitors, that policy didn’t arouse much controversy nor public outrage at the time, and most of the people of Hong Kong seemed to be OK with that.

In contrast, policies such as the introduction of the Individual Visit Scheme and the incorporation of Hong Kong into the 12th five-year plan, which were intended to boost our economy, have increasingly been seen by many in our city as part of a carefully perpetrated conspiracy by Beijing to accelerate Hong Kong’s integration into the mainland so as to dilute our identity as Hongkongers.

Why do our fellow citizens always look upon every move of Beijing with suspicion?

Why are Beijing and Hong Kong drifting further and further apart 18 years after the handover?

Why did Beijing fail to win the hearts and minds of the Hong Kong people despite all the favorable economic measures over the years?

It is indeed a profound subject to consider.

Only by finding answers to these questions can we solve the mystery of why the colonial flag is becoming increasingly popular among the public.

What is even more alarming is that many of those who hold a deep suspicion of Beijing and show nostalgia for the colonial past nowadays are young people who either don’t actually remember much about what it was like under British rule because they were too young at that time or were simply born after 1997.

In other words, they miss the colonial period, even though many of them didn’t even know what life was like under British rule.

Doesn’t that say something about how poorly governed our city is now?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 29.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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