National Day – but which nation?

October 04, 2017 09:53
Chief Executive Carrie Lam (inset) gives a speech marking the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Photo: HKEJ

As Carrie Lam was giving her speech to mark National Day, William Leung was wondering about his future.

“In 20 years, we will have to use renminbi because the Hong Kong dollar will have been abolished. We will not have access to Facebook and Instagram. We will be like a mainland city. That is why I applied to join relatives in San Francisco. My two children can study in the US and decide whether to make their lives there or in Hong Kong.”

Leung, a 46-year-old engineer, expresses the sentiments of many people in the city. Twenty years after the handover, he feels not closer but further away from the "nation" to which he is supposed to belong.

In her speech to more than 3,000 officials and dignitaries at the Convention and Exhibition Centre on Sunday, the chief executive said China would always provide strong backing to Hong Kong and its prosperity would provide opportunities “to seek new impetus and expanded scope for such development”. Fireworks over Victoria harbour celebrated the 68th birthday of the People’s Republic.

“We just do not feel that patriotism even after 20 years,” said Wong Kei-ming, a taxi driver. “In the mainland, they have a week of holiday. Here there is just one day and that is right. I feel more for Harvest Moon festival. I do not feel British but they managed the city better than the leaders now.”

Wong’s son is studying medicine at a university in Taipei. “If he graduates and settles in Taiwan, my family will join him. The living standard there is lower but life is calmer and less stressful,” Wong said.

In the 10 years to the end of 2016, Taiwan gave permanent residency to 6,652 people from Hong Kong and Macau, 33 per cent of them in 2015 and 2016. In the first seven months of this year, 966,000 people from the two SARs visited Taiwan, up 7.16 per cent from the same period last year.

For those migrants, the "nation" is the Republic of China, which celebrates its 106th anniversary next Tuesday. Its government says it is the rightful heir of the revolutionaries who overthrew the Qing dynasty in 1911 and has implemented the political system of the "national father", Sun Yat-sen.

For those marching in protest on the streets of Hong Kong island on Sunday, it is hard to say what their "nation" is. The organisers put the number at 40,000, the police at 4,300. Their main demands were universal suffrage and the resignation of Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-Keung. Some carried a black version of the PRC flag, with black stars instead of golden ones. Police at the scene said that this could desecrate the national flag and be criminal.

Among the marchers was Lam Wing-kei, the bookseller kidnapped by mainland agents from Hong Kong for six months before his return in June 2016: “Under the rule of Chairman Xi Jinping, the future of law in Hong Kong is not good and control by the mainland has become increasingly severe. In this situation, we must continue to protest. We cannot give up.”

Of course, many people share the sentiments of Carrie Lam in her speech. They are proud of the achievements of China in economy, science and technology, the military, space exploration and raising living standards. They see China’s place in the world rising and its tourists welcome everywhere.

“In Hong Kong and Taiwan, everyone has an opinion,” said Lam Siu-tong, a driver of public buses. “There is intense debate over every project and very little is accomplished. In China, high-speed trains, wonderful new airports and telecom systems are completed in record time. The one-party system is the best way to drive economic progress and increase incomes.

“China has many mafias. It can only be run efficiently by a mafia large and powerful enough to control the others. That is the Communist Party. Can you imagine the chaos if China had a democratic system? There would be dozens of parties run by criminal gangs and local strongmen. The country would be ungovernable. I support the present government and am proud to be Chinese,” he said.

The choice of Donald Trump and the possibility of a nuclear war between him and North Korea have made China look even better. If the world’s most sophisticated democracy produces a president this miserable, what is good about democracy? He and Kim Jong-un are similar in character – self-centered, unwilling to listen to others and obsessed with face and their military. Most Americans who go abroad are ashamed of their president.

So what do we owe our nation? This is the answer of American author Mark Twain: “loyalty to the nation all the time, loyalty to the government when it deserves it.”

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.