China’s Cultural Revolution saw the Communist leaders initially change the names of popular streets, hospitals and other public facilities.
For instance, Beijing’s Long Peace (Chang’an) Avenue, a major thoroughfare, was renamed the “Avenue of the Red Orient” and the Union Medical College Hospital was called “Anti-Imperialism Hospital” back then.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, said Karl Marx.
Now we see the same farce in today’s Hong Kong. In this case, the names sought to be changed are not local ones, but instead those in relation to Taiwan.
Some patriotic senior officials at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department have demanded that the word “national” be removed from the name of the Taipei National University of the Arts on leaflets for an arts event that the department sponsors.
Also, the government is believed to have censored the curriculum vitae of Hong Kong artists having close ties to Taiwan, in a bid to erase or sterilize improper wording.
When quoting the names of Taiwan institutions, the Communist Party’s propaganda department has a set of detailed rules.
The most notable rule is that the word “national”, in names like the National Taiwan University or the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, must not be allowed as Beijing does not recognize Taiwan as an independent entity.
To appease Beijing, the Leung Chun-ying administration in Hong Kong is now volunteering to apply the same rules in Hong Kong.
This comes even as some mainland archives now dare to use the original names of many Taiwan national institutions.
Beijing had no problem when British colonial names were retained after the 1997 handover, but its local stooges in Hong Kong have now overdone things in the unfolding fiasco over Taiwan names.
The moves, to some extent, have undone Beijing’s efforts to woo the Taiwanese to its side.
The thinking of Leung and his underlings seems to be this: as Hong Kong has long been “liberated” from Brits, it’s time to bring the city to the party’s heel.
With his moves, Leung has now created more enemies.
Let’s not forget the huge number of Hongkongers who are alumni of Taiwan universities, and the students who plan to go to the island for higher education.
Leung and the mainland cadres posted in Hong Kong may not have realized that what Beijing wants is anything but trouble from Hong Kong, given that mainland authorities grapple with a plethora of challenges back home.
Recent incidents, be it the abduction of a Hong Kong businessman selling books critical of Beijing or an article that appeared on a mainland portal demanding Xi Jinping (習近平) step down — are all signs of white-hot infighting among party factions inside Zhongnanhai.
The top leader would hardly want Hong Kong to add to his troubles.
Beijing has also backed down in territorial disputes as the nation’s economy needs more foreign direct investment. For instance, Japanese capital is being sought even though the spat over Diaoyu Islands is nowhere near an end.
China also adopted a soft tone even after Taiwan’s president-elect Tsai Ing-wen said top mainland leaders should know what a democratic society like Taiwan wants to hear.
Hong Kong has tried to be more loyal than the king when it comes to dealing with the names of Taiwan institutions, but there are signs that it realizes it can go only so far.
The administration didn’t stop Ray Wong Toi-yeung, who is out on bail after being charged with rioting during the Mong Kok clashes, from leaving Hong Kong to attend a conference at the Dalai Lama’s residence in India.
Realizing that travels curbs would only bring more public sympathy for Wong, the government didn’t bother to appeal a court ruling that allowed the activist to go abroad.
Now, why can’t it show the same kind of tolerance when it comes to dealing with Taiwan-related issues?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 24.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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