20 September 2019
Hong Kong soccer fans cheer as the city's team enters Mong Kok Stadium Tuesday before a World Cup qualifier match against the Chinese national team. Photo: China News Service
Hong Kong soccer fans cheer as the city's team enters Mong Kok Stadium Tuesday before a World Cup qualifier match against the Chinese national team. Photo: China News Service

‘Apartheid’ in Hong Kong and the cost of booing the anthem

Three years into Leung Chun-ying’s term as chief executive, the attitude of Hongkongers toward Communist China has shifted from subliminal phobia to firm separatism.

And this sentiment has now been given public recognition thanks to a crunch World Cup qualifier against China.

For the first time in Hong Kong’s history, de facto “apartheid” was enforced by the city’s football association: there were separate seats, entrances and even toilets at Mong Kok Stadium for Hong Kong spectators and those from the mainland.

The security measures were so extraordinary that they would have been beyond people’s weirdest imagination if suggested just a few years ago.

But in the context of today’s Hong Kong, such an implementation of “apartheid” has become so apposite that even Beijing’s envoys and the government of the special administrative region expressed no objections.

We saw some partial racial segregation in Hong Kong’s earliest days, when The Peak and its vicinity were off limits to Chinese and other “colored” people, unless they were employed as helpers.

Some gentlemen’s clubs and societies with membership restricted to personalities from the upper class bear the hallmarks of apartheid as well.

The word “apartheid” originates with the Dutch colonists in South Africa, who segregated themselves from the black and other “colored” inhabitants, curtailing their associations, movements and social and political rights.

Different residential locations, schools, toilets and even beaches were designated for people with different skin colors.

But Hong Kong-style “apartheid” between locals and mainlanders is something that was never seen before the handover, and it may gain further momentum, though how it will evolve remains to be seen.

The only thing we know for sure is that we can expect more unthinkable outcomes like this one to occur thanks to the Leung administration.

Some Hong Kong fans still booed the Chinese national anthem when it was played before the game on Tuesday.

The truth about the current national anthem, March of the Volunteers (義勇軍進行曲), the theme song of a 1935 movie about the Sino-Japanese War, is that it’s not the first national anthem adopted by the Communist Party.

Just like the fact that the People’s Republic of China is not the first country the party founded.

Japan’s invasion of China got into full swing in September 1931.

Three months later, Mao Zedong proclaimed the Chinese Soviet Republic, the start of the two Chinas, alongside the Kuomintang-ruled Republic of China.

The soviet republic had its own capital, Ruijin (瑞金) in Jiangxi province, constitution, laws, army and even currency.

This act of separatism was obviously immoral and treasonous amid the external threat facing the country.

The Internationale, a widely sung left-wing battle cry that was already the national anthem of the Soviet Union, was given the same national status by the Chinese Soviet Republic.

The soviet republic ceased to exist after Mao Zedong agreed to form a coalition with Chiang Kai-shek to resist the Japanese aggression.

The greatest ironies were to follow.

While the KMT was confronting the Japanese on its own, Mao and the Red Army hid in the vast rural areas of western China most of the time and quietly built up their strength.

Then after the mainland fell to Mao, the Communist Party made the March of the Volunteers, a song calling for all-out efforts to defend Chinese soil, the new national anthem.

The writer of the song’s lyrics, Tian Han (田漢), was thrown behind bars during the Cultural Revolution on charges of being a “counterrevolutionary”.

Tian’s original lyrics were also edited to suit the party’s political needs.

On Tuesday and on several earlier occasions, Hong Kong soccer fans were booing not the song itself but the party and the communist republic that the anthem now represents.

Now, will the sport’s worldwide governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, find fault with Hong Kong again as it did last time?

Not likely.

Booing one’s opponents is not uncommon at all.

El Clásico is a term that refers to the rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F.

Zealous supporters of the team from the capital of Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia often boo the Spanish national anthem and get into brawls with Real Madrid fans.

Sometimes the rowdy encounters even involve players and coaches.

Seldom has European football’s watchdog, with an eye on ticketing and other revenues, taken punitive action against the culprits, and thus FIFA is also unlikely to interfere.

The worst possible consequence the Hong Kong Football Association may face is another small fine.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 19.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Enthusiastic fans wave banners in support of the Hong Kong team. Photo:

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal