“Hong Kong is not China.”
When such words make it to a campus bulletin board, it’s no surprise that the conflicts between local and mainland students take a different dimension, as we have seen from events at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Recently, someone put up a “HK is not China” slogan at PolyU’s so-called democracy wall, an open bulletin board aimed at promoting free speech and debate in the university, triggering an intense round of mutual recriminations between the anti- and pro-Beijing camps.
Local students cheered the slogan, hardly surprising given the prevailing sentiment toward China. But patriotic mainlanders at the university felt very much offended, and even attempted to pull down the banner.
Before long PolyU’s “democracy wall” turned into a staging ground for fierce polemics.
A mainland student noted in a sarcasm-laden post that she agrees with the slogan, as “a city cannot be compared to a nation”.
The message should actually be revised into “HK belongs to China”, she wrote, urging her local counterparts to think more about the realities.
Soon Hong Kong students hit back.
“Go back to China if you feel so proud of your country. Why are you still staying in Hong Kong?” asked one local.
Another pointed out that when Hong Kong was taken over by the British more than 170 years ago, there was no People’s Republic of China or even the Chinese Communist Party.
Also, as the original copy of the Treaty of Nanking, which made the Hong Kong Island a crown colony, is now kept by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Hong Kong’s sovereignty should not lie with Beijing, the person argued.
The heated debate later took a dramatic turn when someone attacked mainland students for using simplified Chinese characters in their replies, prompting a sophomore student surnamed Liu, who hails from the southwestern Guizhou province, to post his own work of calligraphy on the wall.
In the post, Liu mocked Hong Kong locals and challenged them to write traditional characters as well as he did.
Photos of his calligraphy went viral on Weibo, WeChat and other social platforms on the mainland with Chinese netizens hailing Liu for his rebuke of “good-for-nothing renegades” in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Beijing mouthpiece Global Times, while lashing out at PolyU for allowing anti-national rhetoric, said in an editorial that mainland students have set the record straight and that their rejoinder is a slap in the face of naïve Hong Kong youth.
The editorial got more than 50,000 shares.
Days later another post from a mainland student – “HK has no right of its own” — grabbed more attention.
The article twisted some basic facts about Hong Kong.
For instance, it noted that Hong Kong was never a colony in the past in any strict sense as it was “illegally ceded”. Hence, Hong Kong people don’t have any right to choose their own path, he concluded.
“Chinese people have the right to decide on Hong Kong affairs as the city is under the jurisdiction of the National People’s Congress,” wrote the student who is majoring in public administration.
“Many Hongkongers have no understanding of the Basic Law, yet they denounce the central authorities for going back on the pledges,” he went on. “It’s just like choosing a product without taking a look at the user’s manual.”
A local member of the PolyU students’ union told a reporter that mainland students enjoy Hong Kong’s many freedoms, but they still display a knee-jerk mindset when it comes to defending Beijing’s policies.
“They live in a free society but they are still surrounded by like-minds. And they never ask themselves who is to blame for the mounting estrangement among Hong Kong’s youth almost two decades after the handover,” he said.
Yet the Global Times thinks quite the opposite.
It has picked up the issue again in another post on its Weibo platform.
“Mainland students have given full play to their knowledge and eloquence, crushed local (HK) students in the debate and steered the mainstream discourse on the campus… Those Hong Kong students who like to dwell on their own illusions will surely lose out in competition.”
The campus management, meanwhile, has taken down all the posts as the university entered an examination period last week.
One thing is sure, however: we haven’t seen the last in the debate yet.
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