Yi Lu

Mainland Netizens Respond to Hong Kong Protests With Some Criticism, More Envy

Through months of protests, sit-ins, and even hunger strikes, thousands of Hong Kong residents successfully compelled the municipal government on Saturday to revoke a 2015 deadline for introducing a Beijing-backed plan for national education. As protesters retreated home that night with a decided sense of triumph and vowed to repeal the curriculum entirely in future weeks, many netizens from China’s mainland observed the episode from afar with a curious blend of anger, admiration, and reflection.

Crossed arms became a symbol for "anti-brainwashing" protesters in Hong Kong. Via Facebook

Within 24 hours after the deadline was revocated last Saturday, Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, witnessed an outpouring of comments on related keywords (国教, 国民教育), with more than 100,000 entries posted and forwarded. As news of the protesters’ success trickled in over the weekend, Internet sites in the mainland suddenly became busy with related chatter.

Not just education at stake, but identity

Although the protests in Hong Kong began as a challenge to a new national education curriculum, clear anti-Beijing keywords adopted by the protesters—such as “brainwashing” (洗脑) and “political indoctrination” (政治教化)—have upset an emotional nerve that had inflamed as anti-mainland sentiments grew in Hong Kong in recent months. Against this backdrop of growing cultural antagonism, a majority of mainland observers argued that the protests were not only against a deeply unpopular curriculum; they were evidence of a greater battle over the former colony’s very identity. 

“We mainlanders pay taxes and serve in armies, but it’s you in Hong Kong who get to enjoy the benefits of ‘two systems,’” @释不归 sharply wrote on Saturday. “Repeal national education today, the Communist government tomorrow, and soon you’ll try to impeach us, the mainlanders. But once you find all your rights and privileges exhausted, you’ll realize that they are gone forever. For those who refuse China’s reform achievements from the past 30 years, continue your hunger strike without eating food and drinking water from mainland China.” Then, with a twist of irony, he signed off, “Power through those hunger pangs!”{{1}}[[1]]纳税服兵役的是我们,尽享两制优越的是你们。正因你们是这城的主人,你们才真正有了权利昨天反23条,今天批国教,明天斗中共,后天踩“蝗虫”。而等你们把这些权利无休止的挥霍殆尽之后,你们会发现这些权利将彻底一去不复返。否定改开30年成就的,请绝食到底不喝内地水不吃内地米,拜托要坚持![[1]]

In recent months, Hong Kongers have been resisting perceived pressure to identify with the mainland. A poll in January by the University of Hong Kong suggested that the number of respondents who self-identify as Hong Kongers was more than double the number who see themselves as Chinese. In this context, many Hong Kongers see the new national curriculum as part of Beijing-orchestrated effort to strengthen perception of a shared identity.

A rival, perhaps; but a model too

Yet at a time when popular movements are increasingly gaining traction in mainland China, many netizens viewed the protest in Hong Kong on Saturday as a stunning exercise in democracy and openly expressed their envy for such political activism. 

The characters stand for "oppose brain-washing." Via Weibo

“Everyone who supports or criticizes national education in Hong Kong rushes to his/her conclusion and forgets one crucial point: The protests of Hong Kongers are legitimate public expressions within a system based on rule of law. They are protesting against the policy, not their government,” wrote @赵楚. He then quickly shifted his focus back to mainland politics, writing, “In other words, in a place where political opposition itself is outlawed, we must first fight for our legitimate right of political dissent.”{{2}}[[2]]支持和批评香港国教抗战的人大都急于表态,而忽略了致命的一点:香港人的抗争是在香港法治下合法而正当社会表达,所以,他们反对的是政策,而不是政府,换言之,在政治反对本身被禁止的地方,首先要争取的政治反对的正当权利。[[2]]

Some, however, questioned whether such a popular protest constituted a legitimate challenge to municipal authority. “130,000 people took to the streets and successfully forced the government to revoke the deadline. Now they are happy and can go home,” wrote @北大培文丁超, arguing that such popular movement was a harbinger for Hong Kong politics. “In light of procedural justice, however, these 130,000 people are in fact the enemies of real democracy.”{{3}}[[3]]到底是谁践踏了香港的民主——“國教科是通過了立法會辯論和撥款的,且大部分民主派議員都支持現有咨詢文件。如果立政當局說撤就撤 ,才是對香港民主的踐踏。”——13万人以散步胁迫港府撤销了该课,他们满意了,他们回家了,可是从真正的“程序民主”而言,这13万人才是真正的民主之敌。[[3]] Following his line of reasoning, Hong Kongers gained their victory only by leveraging public pressure; they would not have had to take their dissent to the street if there had been a democratic system that accommodated their grievances.

For the moment, at least, the infrastructure for direct political representation is not in place. In Hong Kong, the general public chooses candidates in the Legislature based on a complex system of multiple-seat geographic constituencies. In the most recent election on September 9, for example, only 40 out of 70 of the Legislature’s seats were open for public voting, and typically pro-Beijing professional groups dominated the electoral system.

At the same time, the mainland faces a distinctive set of challenges to accommodate its own civic opinions. With multiple citizen protests occurring each day by its own estimation, Beijing urgently needs a new model of responsiveness to address public dissent. The movement in Hong Kong last Saturday is, in this light, an inspiring template that showed many mainlanders the possibility of political organization.

But not all voices on China’s micro-blog services were about lofty ideologies following Saturday’s protest; instead, many focused on small moments during the movement that revealed a society’s moral fiber. “When hunger strikers retreated from the government headquarters, they cleaned every piece of trash from the site, sorted and donated all remaining goods to charities,” wrote @郑玫, who remarked on the discipline of the movement. “Hong Kongers never received any formal national education, but they learned to be civil in a society that values traditional family education and social equity.”{{4}}[[4]]绝食人士从政府总部退场,将现场打扫得干干净净,剩余的物质分类然后送到慈善团体。香港人从来没有接受过任何"素质教育",素质更多来自于尊重传统的家庭教育和公平的社会体系。[[4]] As estimated by the organizers, more than 100,000 people participated in the protest on Saturday.

A new curriculum for the mainland?

In this regard, what happened in Hong Kong on Saturday offered many in the mainland a chance to reflect upon their national education system. Whatever its triumphs and failures, the protests in Hong Kong last Saturday have inspired people on both sides to reflect on values that are too easily assumed and accepted. 

“National education should run in both directions. Hong Kongers need to learn about the political system in the Mainland, while mainlanders should also learn and respect Hong Kong’s. We should also introduce Hong Kong and Taiwan politics in the mainland curriculum so that our students will also have a better appreciation of different political systems,” wrote @老徐时评. “The dissolution of ‘one country, two systems’ should not be forced by political and economic encroachments by the mainland; rather, it should be achieved through the mainland’s economic and social evolution.  With time, the boundaries between the two sides will ultimately fade into history.”{{5}}[[5]]国民教育应该是双向的,香港人需要逐步了解大陆的政制,大陆人也需了解和尊重香港的政制。应该把香港台湾的政治制度介绍纳入大陆的课程,增加大陆同学对它们的认识。两制的消解,不是靠大陆蚕食它们的政制,而是随着时光的推移以及大陆的社会发展政治进步,两制的边界逐渐淡化,从而终究被历史超越. [[5]]

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Yi Lu

Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Yi Lu (Louis) is a junior studying History and French at Amherst College. Though fluent in Chinese, English, and French, he never fully feels at home in any. With writing, however, he hopes to weave together dissonant languages and cultures, and create a unifying story of truth and meaning.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=519588682 Robert Moore

    In the meantime it seems the mainland is whipped up into a nationalistic fervor and ready for war. Seems the national curriculum is in full swing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=519588682 Robert Moore

    In the meantime it seems the mainland is whipped up into a nationalistic fervor and ready for war. Seems the national curriculum is in full swing.

  • Jimmy Zhang

    Very informative! It seems that nationalism takes on very complex roles between mainlanders and HK’ers