As Hong Kong prepares to mark the 19th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, the government has put up posters on the streets to remind the public of the need to commemorate the special day.
But the calls for celebration have left most people unmoved as the city is enveloped in a somber mood following a terrible blaze last week that claimed the lives of two firefighters.
Some groups have urged the government to cancel all the planned July 1 events, saying it would be inappropriate to hold celebrations in light of the tragedy involving the firemen.
As citizens are mourning the death of two relatively young men following the fire at Kowloon Bay, it would be insensitive to go ahead with any special events this Friday, it has been pointed out.
Following the negative reaction, authorities said they will tone down the celebrations as a mark of respect for the deceased firefighters.
However, the events will not be cancelled wholesale.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that performances planned for reception at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai will be scrapped, but he made no mention of other events.
That means the other events, including the fireworks show, will be held as usual on July 1.
A pro-Beijing group, which plans to organize a carnival and hold a rally on Friday, has also said that it will not abandon its plans.
The group’s convenor was quoted by the media as saying that while they respect what the firemen did, “it doesn’t mean the whole city must stop celebrating the handover”.
Firefighters Thomas Cheung and Samuel Hui died last week after battling a huge blaze that lasted more than four days at an industrial building in Kowloon Bay.
The news has shocked most locals, who are now rushing to pay tributes to the brave firemen and raising funds to support their families.
It is against this backdrop that calls have been made to cancel the July 1 celebrations.
But pro-Beijing politicians and government officials are reluctant to do so, as they are keen to use the occasion to reaffirm their loyalty to China.
The reaction of the government and some pro-Beijing veterans makes it clear where their priorities lie.
Chan Yuen-han, a lawmaker representing the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, agreed that some plans, such as a cocktail reception, must be adjusted but rejected the idea of cancellation of the July 1 events.
Continuing the celebrations doesn’t mean that we will be showing disrespect to the “two fire heroes”, she said.
Participants in sporting events offer a minute of silence to pay tribute to victims after tragedies, but the match itself is not cancelled, Chan pointed out.
Financial Secretary John Tsang, the most popular official in the Leung administration, said he understands people’s feelings over the fire tragedy, but suggested that it may be difficult to cancel events deemed to be very important for Hong Kong and Beijing.
Given the government’s stand, we are likely to see news reports over the weekend that more than a thousand guests and students gathered at the Golden Bauhinia Square for the special flag raising ceremony on July 1.
The events will go on even as a significant majority of the locals won’t really care about the official ceremonies.
As people are still mourning last week’s tragedy, a group of Hong Kong celebrities, led by Eric Tsang, have organized a campaign to “salute the firemen”.
A music video highlighting the bravery of the firemen will be aired on local TV stations on Tuesday.
There is speculation that the government is using the artists to help soothe the public’s discontent ahead of July 1.
The celebrities are facing questions as to why they didn’t come out earlier in support of singer Denise Ho, who faced a backlash from Beijing due to her backing for Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
Celebrities, for the most part, are keen to stay on the right side of Beijing as they want to protect their business interests and income from the mainland.
Hong Kong’s performing artists were once known for standing up for all the right causes, but things began to change in recent years after Beijing began punishing those deemed acting against its interests.
Artists who supported the 2014 Umbrella Movement, for instance, faced boycott calls and event cancellations in the mainland.
Given the commercial pressures, many celebrities have been playing safe.
It is no coincidence that the artists’ latest campaign has come about after some Hong Kong people began voicing their opposition to the July 1 celebrations.
Denouncing the “betrayal” by pro-Beijing artists, netizens are circulating various memes and photos hopped images of the celebrities and mocking them over various issues.
“I did not show my support to Umbrella Revolution in 2014″ is just one of messages that have been tagged to such pictures.
Another message read “I support Lam Wing-Kee”, mocking a celebrity for what he actually didn’t do with regard to a Hong Kong bookseller who was detained for eight months on the mainland.
The government, together with its loyalists, is embarking on a public relations campaign to whip up a celebratory mood for July 1, but not many people are buying into the hype.
The public’s apathy is not surprising given the unhappiness with the city’s current leadership, lack of electoral reforms and the perceived erosion of the core principles of “one country, two systems”.
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