It is a fact that most young people in Hong Kong prefer to maintain a separate sense of identity from their brethren in the mainland.
The “us” and “them” feeling has only grown following the social and political conflicts over the past two years and Beijing’s attempts to undermine the freedoms enjoyed by Hongkongers.
Eighteen years after the city’s reunification with China, a huge cultural gulf still exists between peoples from the two sides.
With opinion polls suggesting that the sense of Chinese identity is especially low among the youth, authorities have been urging locals to learn more about China and be proud of its achievements.
To inculcate nationalism among young people, student exchange programs, cross-border internships and mainland employment and travel are being encouraged.
But the efforts haven’t produced any noticeable change in people’s feelings.
The exhortations of patriotism and national pride are, in fact, only prompting more cynicism and mistrust toward Beijing and its supporters in Hong Kong.
This is something that former chief executive Tung Chee-haw failed to realize Monday when he again urged local youth to learn more about China and participate in nation-building efforts.
Addressing a forum organized by his think-tank “Our Hong Kong Foundation”, Tung said that Hong Kong’s future is inseparable from that of China.
While the city has a bright future under the “One country, Two systems” framework, it needs to overcome challenges such as a stalling legislature and struggles over political reform, he said.
He noted young people’s concerns, but said it was the wish of the majority of Hongkongers to benefit from the rise of China.
“I’m sure, the majority of Hong Kong people want to actively to support China’s rise, and benefit from the nation’s growth.”
The youth should think in the same way, Tung said, adding that “Western democracy” is not suitable for Hong Kong.
Repeating a comment he made previously — “China is good, Hong Kong is good, too” — Tung said greater knowledge of the motherland will help Hong Kong youth prepare better for future challenges.
Tung, who is now a vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, added that engaging with the mainland and working for the national good can ensure a “fulfilling life”.
The comments came as the Hong Kong government has been trying to push more Hong Kong students into China, either for community or charity work or on university exchange programs.
While the purported reason is to enable the youth to understand China better, the real motive is a political agenda — help the youngsters turn “patriotic” and make them recognize the “glorious history” and role of the Communist Party in China’s emergence as a superpower.
In keeping with this, some volunteer teachers are now being recruited by Service Corps under the Home Affairs Bureau.
The volunteer teachers will be going to Shaoguan and Meizhou cities of Guangdong province to serve as teaching assistants for primary to junior secondary students, as well as provide voluntary service in a health education centre in Shaoguan.
Each participant will receive 3,200 yuan per month during their mainland stay from February to July next year. To encourage delegates to complete the program and to foster exchanges between Hong Kong and Shaoguan and Meizhou, participants will receive get a cash award of HK$5,000 per semester served if they stay on till the end.
However, the response from young Hongkongers has been muted, with the government receiving less than 10 applications as of now, compared with 30 a year earlier.
The cold reception shows that the youth are wary about joining campaigns that have political meaning.
While it is good for Hong Kong youth to join services in China to help people in need, what is disconcerting is that the government seems to be using such opportunities to achieve broader political goals and integrate Hong Kong more closely with China.
It should be noted that the activities will be directed by the municipal governments of Shaoguan and Meizhou. With mainland officials in charge of the activities, Hong Kong youth will not be able to witness the true situation of poverty or under-development of inner cities in China.
Besides, there is also the question as to why Hong Kong taxpayer money should be used to subsidize political work in China.
Hong Kong youth are aware of how Beijing has treated Hong Kong in the past decade.
If locals fall in line with the diktats of the Communist Party, the city will get more economic gifts from Beijing — but at a price.
In return for economic goodies, Beijing will want Hong Kong to compromise on political reforms and free elections.
It is this same thinking that prompted Tung to stress that Western type of democracy is not suitable for Hong Kong.
But what he seems to forget is that Hong Kong people can do better than learn from the “success” of China.
Rather than take lessons from Beijing, local youth need to strike their own path in facing the challenges amid intensifying global competition.
To maintain Hong Kong’s strengths and advantages, locals need to uphold their core beliefs in fairness and justice and have a liberal mindset, rather than be opportunists or blind China loyalists.
We don’t need no education from Beijing.
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