25 October 2016
Some people in the government seem to think that the Olympics are a great opportunity for political manipulation. Photo: Xinhua
Some people in the government seem to think that the Olympics are a great opportunity for political manipulation. Photo: Xinhua

Why many Hongkongers are not cheering the national team in Rio

What’s wrong with Hong Kong people – why can’t they get behind the Chinese national team in the Olympic games?

Worse still, how dare they mock athletes from the mainland?

Variations of these plaintive cries are being aired from all the usual suspects who are alarmed by the way that social media is reflecting widespread cynicism, and some outright hostility towards the Chinese team in Rio.

Aside from the idiots who blame murky foreign forces for fostering this lack of support, local stooges, who never pass up an opportunity to curry favor with Beijing, are busying themselves thinking up slightly more positive ways to make Hongkongers far more supportive of Team China.

These dimwits are rarely blessed with original thinking so they trundle out all the usual remedies: more national education in schools, organizing more patriotic events in Hong Kong and, of course, making sure that the media play a fuller role in cheerleading for the national team (ask TVB how well that’s working).

All of these “solutions” are doomed to failure and indeed likely to deepen cynicism.

The problem is that the flag wavers have the arrogance to believe that they are the only true patriots.

However, the reality, at least for now, is that a very profound vein of patriotism throbs in the hearts of Hong Kong people but is not to be equated with love of the Chinese Communist Party, nor its local acolytes.

The late Szeto Wah was one of Hong Kong’s greatest patriots. Not only did he possess a profound knowledge of Chinese history and culture but it was also his intense patriotism that led him into the democratic movement.

This is why he helped ensure that the annual June 4 commemoration demonstration used the word “patriotic” as part of its name and that the event itself adopted a format echoing Chinese cultural tradition, including the singing of patriotic songs.

Fast forward to today and many young people, who also wish to ensure that the Tiananmen Square massacre is not forgotten, express frustration over the form of commemoration that takes place in Victoria Park and find its patriotic overtones to be irrelevant.

Yet, by and large, this new generation of democracy activists is also intensely proud of their Chinese heritage but feel that they also have a distinct identity as residents of a tiny part of China that, as a result of history, is markedly different.

In societies that are not run by one-party dictatorships, multiple identities are not only tolerated but encouraged, thus in the United States people identify themselves as Italian-Americans or African Americans and so on.

This relaxed view of multiple identities reflects confidence in the overall strength of the state.

However, the PRC shows not little tolerance for any form of separate identity aside from the rather embarrassing and distinctly patronizing expressions of diversity seen, for example, at state events when minority peoples are paraded in ancient traditional costumes and may even be called upon for a song and a dance.

But woe betide any of these participants if they speak in a language other than Putonghua and should they express the slightest interest in genuine autonomy within their “autonomous regions”, a jail term beckons.

The situation in Hong Kong is different because the SAR does indeed retain a significant degree of autonomy but what we are seeing in local responses to events in Rio reflects fears and opposition to the way that this autonomy is being undermined.

It is reminiscent of the subversive activities in the various satellites of the old Soviet Union when international sporting events were seized upon to emphasize their lack of identification with Mother Russia controlled by the Soviet Communist Party.

The people of the Soviet satellite states, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, made a point of bringing their national flags to these events, sometimes daring to boo the Soviet team but more often making a great fuss when their team beat the Russians.

The situation was so delicate that on occasions local Communist Parties instructed their athletes to make sure that their teams did not triumph over Team USSR.

There is a long and murky history of the close link between manipulated sports and the use of sports to reinforce dictatorships, most notably seen in the Nazi Olympics prior to World War II.

Things have moved on a great deal since then and much of the subversive action against one-party states has gone online and is rarely seen in the streets.

However, the great minds in the Hong Kong government seem to believe that the Olympics are a great opportunity for political manipulation and are planning to invite Chinese Olympic athletes to the SAR ahead of the coming Legco elections, presumably in the hope that they will generate a wave of patriotic fervor to the advantage of the pro-government camp.

Having done this, officials will indignantly insist that politics must not be mixed with sport. However, the two have mixed freely for as long as international sporting contests have been held.

I suspect that most Hong Kong people would actually like to be far more supportive of the Chinese national team but their enthusiasm is curbed by greater fears over where the SAR is heading.

The reality lies in the irony that a more autonomous Hong Kong would also be a more patriotic Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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