The first time Wendy went to mainland China, she cried. It was in the mid-1980s, the country was recovering from the Cultural Revolution, a decade of isolation and violence. Once past the Maoist madness, China opened gradually. Under the leadership of a former comrade of the Great Helmsman, Deng Xiaoping, pragmatism was required. After the revolutionary slogans, we got used to the more peaceful and pragmatic expressions of the man nicknamed the Little Helmsman: “Whether a cat is black or white, it catches mice, it is a good cat” or “It is by feeling the stones that we cross the ford.”
While a student, Wendy (who does not want to give her last name) had taken the train from his native Hong Kong, at the time one of the last pearls of the former British empire, Hangzhou, a former imperial capital east of Shanghai. High-speed trains of the time that are the pride of China since the 2008 Olympic Games were still far away.
The railway universe then divided between the privileged of “soft” classes (first) and travelers having to settle for the ordinary class “hard” (in second). Twenty-eight hours away. This left time to account for the delay in this huge country, the people of Hong Kong had fled in large numbers since the late 1940s and the advent of communism. Wendy’s tears were in part for the finding of the lost grandeur. But they also had a lot to do with the beautiful scenery. The girl, although raised in an English family, was “overcome with emotion”.
At tea time, comfortably installed in a large hotel in Central, the business district, power and luxury brands in Hong Kong, the forty evokes emotion that memory intact, deeply connected to its identity and its relationship with China. She also said: “You Have it in your blood”.
Today China of her youth is gone. The sleeping giant has given way to the second largest economy and Hong Kong has returned to the Chinese fold in 1997 following an agreement between the pragmatic Deng and liberal Margaret Thatcher.
Times have changed, too, for the youngest, born after the handover. They form the main body of pro-democracy protesters, who demand genuine universal suffrage to refer to their leader, in 2017. And Wendy, who works in public relations, is not included. “They no longer see anything but the dark side of China, it is also its most talked about side,” she regrets marrying pragmatism of her parents’ generation, that of colonial Hong Kong, where he was not fashionable to engage in politics. She also recalls a golden age, when it was easy to find work, where salary increases were not uncommon. A time when home ownership was not an impossible dream like today.
The cut is radically between his generation and the youth of the “revolution of umbrellas” more engaged in protest. “They have invented a new engagement model in Hong Kong,” says Willy Lam, a political scientist at the center of Chinese Studies, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Rachel Yan, a young woman of 26, is working like Wendy in the education sector. But the similarities end there. “Her” China is populated by corrupt officials paunchy maintaining a cohort of mistresses, judges orders, censored journalists and media parrots. When the pro-democracy movement began, she was in Paris on a mission for her employer. She could not change her return ticket and had champing at the bit for days. She has since made up for lost time, sharing his time between his office at the university and principal place occupied by the protesters, in the Admiralty district. It was there, near the seat of government, the legislative council and the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army (Chinese army), that the rebels had set up a camp. She runs a pit stop where people can find free, food, clothing or blankets.
At the height of the protests, she went to Shanghai, the economic and financial capital of mainland China, for professional reasons. None of the Chinese she met approved the motion of umbrellas. “They think we are ruining Hong Kong. But I found that Beijing does not rule out China.”
Official media blacken the pro-democracy movement, a movement portrayed as spoiled children, while the “mother country” has given so much to the former colony, a symbol of China’s humiliation of the nineteenth century and defeats against the West at the opium Wars. “When I was in Shanghai, there was a lot of propaganda against Occupy Central, but it is totally biased. They invent stories, for example they said that an ambulance had been blocked because of the occupation and the person inside was dead, but that is completely untrue. I cannot imagine a day to see the Hong Kong media become like those of China.” Her nightmare would be to see Hong Kong becoming a Chinese city like any other,” ruled by “the whims of Beijing”: in short, the end of what is special about this crossroads between East and West, where Asian values have accommodated values from the West, such as respect for the law and the institutions or freedom of expression.
This is the paradox of Hong Kong more the former British colony is close to Beijing, with the end of “one country, two systems”, invented by Thatcher and Deng to marry capitalism and socialism, the more his youth distances itself from the “mother country”. This sense of detachment from mainland China, researchers have pointed out, year after year.
In a study conducted by the team “Hong Kong Transition Project” Baptist University and published in January, 62% of respondents reported wanting to protect the “identity of Hong Kong as a pluralistic international” and only 29% of “Chinese historical and cultural identity. “For more than 40 years, the gap between the first and second has been growing” This is a line of generational divide, there is a misunderstanding on both sides. The younger generation does not want to enter the world that it inherits, the older generation does not have a solution,” says Nicholas Bequelin, Human Rights Watch researcher and resident in Hong Kong for many years.
This disaffection is also observed at the annual commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, notes Sebastian Veg, researcher and director of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China in Hong Kong. “From 2009, students are more involved as a sign of attachment to Hong Kong. They sing songs in Cantonese, which is a reinvention of June 4,” he said.
Yeung Tat Wong, a 35 year old writer, founder of the radical group Civic Passion, openly criticizes the growing interference of Beijing. One feels almost at dawn of an independence speech, claiming a different culture, a different language – Cantonese – in short, a different country. “The immigration from the continent and tourists are completely changing Hong Kong,” he regrets. “It is approved by the Beijing government, not that of Hong Kong, that does not dare to take measures to cope. This makes the city even more crowded, there is a lack of resources for housing. Schools abandon the teaching of Cantonese in favor of Mandarin, “he continues, pointing also the appearance of ideograms simplified the official websites instead of traditional characters used in the former British colony.
Dialogue of the deaf
One of the many drawings hanging on the walls of Admiralty during movement evokes the divide between the youngest and the oldest. It shows a young woman wearing a yellow umbrella, walking down a subway car; on the platform, an older man wearing a blue ribbon, the opponents of the movement. In between, it is written on the ground: “Please Mind the Generation Gap” (literally, “Pay attention to generational walk”).
Cho Kai Kai, an activist of 26, fully feels that gap. She now refuses to talk politics with her parents. “I do not want to argue,” she said. Supporter of the movement of umbrellas, Cho Kai Kai lives in a community farm in the New Territories – a region near the border with China. For four years, she struggles to preserve the rapacity of “developers, financiers, bankers’ farmland, this amazing spacious fields, fish ponds and small farms are dominated by skyscrapers.” The government should pursue a policy of balance between the rich and the poor. If we could elect our representatives, at least we would have a voice,” she says. “My parents come from the countryside, they understand my commitment to the farm, but not for the movement of umbrellas,” she says.
Her parents warn against “foreign forces”, accused of manipulating the pro-democracy. A dialogue of the deaf. They are very active in the “tongxianghui” – self-help associations based on local solidarity, which has members from the same Chinese province. They have become Beijing relay. “Over the past decade, such networks have gained ground among older, there is a lot of pressure,” says Cho Kai Kai. Her mother continues to devote herself to worship Mao despite “the disasters he caused.” “This may be related to the education she received in China during his youth,” she argues. “If the government does not meet the demands of young people, it can develop into more violent forms, I do not want to see it, but we cannot exclude it. Because we have tried everything and they do not answer us. “The only sign of the authorities came in form of an official notification requiring the community farm to make room for sponsors.”