Hong Kong and China

May 8, 2017

World maps are deceiving. In most of today’s maps, Hong Kong and mainland China are painted the same color. A naive observer would look at the map and say, “alright, the mainland and Hong Kong must have a similar culture and feel”. But it was obvious from the moment I stepped off the plane into HK that this is untrue.

There are those social differences, pointed out by Cantonese professors that make overt generalizations about mainlanders versus Hong Kongers in terms of relationships (mainlanders more clingy, Hong Kongers more picky). There’s the division between Hong Kong students in the back of the classroom and mainland students in the front of the classroom. Or the knowledge of the Tiananmen incident, exclusive to Hong Kong students. Or the swagger with which Hong Kong students walk.

Hong Kong feels more like a New York City than China. Both Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula give a more Western vibe than the rest of China.

Hong Kong Island was originally ceded to Britain in 1841, with the First Opium War. A mountainous, uninhabited island at the time, it soon became the center of British trade with China. Most infamously, the opium trade in China was headquartered in Hong Kong.

There’s some more history to this. Kowloon peninsula and the New Territories ceded late in the 19th century. Japanese occupation during World War II. Rapid Westernization after World War II. The 1997 handover that Deng Xiaoping did not live to see.

The next major event in the foreseeable future for Hong Kong will be in 2047, with the return of Hong Kong under full control of China. Hong Kongers have already expressed an aversion to rejoining the People’s Republic, and there is little to show that sentiments will change. The new chief executive, Carrie Lam, represents the status quo in terms of leadership - a native Hong Konger with (at least a little) respect from her constituents, she is inevitably guided by the firm hand of the Communist Party.

Whether or not things will change in the next thirty years is questionable, but I am tempted to say that by 2047 Hong Kong will be unrecognizable in comparison to the rest of China. Already, more Hong Kongers than ever are identifying themselves not as Chinese, but as Hong Kongers. There is a growing sense of national identity in Hong Kong, where the nation is not China.

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