Envious of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese youth nonetheless identify little with local citizens’ liberal ideals and political activismby Helen Gao / October 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
As hundreds of thousands of young citizens took to the streets of Hong Kong in late September, braving tear gas and violence to protest against Beijing’s restrictions on the city’s democratic elections, I turned on my laptop one morning to find an email from a Chinese acquaintance. He was asking people, mostly mainlanders who work in Hong Kong, for their “take on the student protests.”
Out of the several hundred members of this email discussion group, five responded. The protests, one commented, were fuelled by “hormones” and “heroic self-pity.” “People who think they are fighting for something more abstract are just deluding themselves,” another opined. Do students themselves really believe in their cause, a third wondered, because “democracy sometimes seems like a cover for something else.” Still others admitted their interest lay primarily in the spectacle. Western observers of the Hong Kong protest, moved by its democratic appeal and spirit of civil disobedience, have compared it to the Tiananmen Square protests. However, among young and educated mainlanders—the demographic group that led the protests in 1989—empathy towards their Hong Kong counterparts is largely absent. On popular social media platforms like Sina Weibo and Wechat, despite censors’ heavy-handed meddling, it is still possible to discern prevailing public sentiments towards the Hong Kong protests. Most of them, echoing those expressed in the email group, range from disapproving to cynical. “Democracy doesn’t give you the rice in your bowl. Being practical and plowing ahead is the hard truth,” one web user wrote in a comment that captured a widely shared opinion on Weibo. “The Occupy Central students are hoaxed by outsiders and unable to think for themselves.”
These comments, though disheartening, are indicative of the views that mainland youths hold towards Hong Kong. Envious of the living standards, education levels and career opportunities there, they nonetheless find themselves identifying little with local citizens’ liberal ideals and political activism.
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