Celebrations scale the peak of patriotism

Hong Kong handover: Climbing a mountain is just one way to show how much you care, writes Teresa Poole in Peking
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The Independent Online
No one can accuse the Chinese of lack of ingenuity in their celebrations in the run-up to the return of Hong Kong. In Peking's Xicheng district, for instance, some 15,000 locals recently turned up for the "Welcome the Return of Hong Kong - All Citizens' Exercise Day". Mass callisthenics, skipping and tug-of-war were the focus of the patriotic activities.

A group of Chinese university students have set their sights higher. On 18 June they will start climbing the north face of the 6,179-metre Jade Pearl mountain in Qinghai province. Hong Kong student mountaineers will scale the south side. And the two teams will meet on the top on the morning of 1 July, the day Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty.

Students at the Tantai University for the Disabled in Shandong province have spent the past 10 months obtaining the signatures of all disabled mainland Chinese, including those abroad, and these have been bound into an album called "Anthology of Aspiration at the return of Hong Kong". There were some 190,000 signatures in total, and this week the album was handed over to government officials to be sent to Hong Kong.

Thus is the mainland gripped by heady anticipation. And the country expects every citizen to show his or her patriotic fervour in some manner. This month, to mark the "50 days to go" point, 1,100 youth league members released 500 doves into the Peking sky.

Rather more self-restrained, nearly 100 of Peking's literary figures gathered together to recite poems, sing, and paint "to express their happiness at the upcoming return of Hong Kong to the embrace of the motherland". The Communist Party secretary of the China Writers' Association hailed a China that will "sweep away 100 years' humiliation".

The party is pushing patriotism for all its worth, in the hope that some of the population's very real pleasure over the return of Hong Kong may start to rub off on the Chinese government. President Jiang Zemin entitled his most recent major speech, "On Strengthening Education in Patriotism". "Furious hatred of foreign invaders, boundless disdain for the nation's scoundrels who sought power and wealth by betraying the country, and great reverence for noble-minded patriots have become our precious national character," he declared.

Sometimes it takes a bit of healthy competition to educate the masses, and the handover has prompted a flurry of quizzes. Telephone the number 2666-1997 in Peking and you will get through to the Peking Evening News "Knowledge competition" which will test your understanding of Hong Kong affairs. The winners of the twice-weekly quiz will be rewarded with a set of Hong Kong stamps, and if you are correct in all 20 sets of questions, you stand a chance of a free visit to Hong Kong. A sample question: In what year did Hong Kong forbid what the newspaper called "coolie ships" from entering harbour? 1817 or 1873? (Answer: 1873.)

But it is in the official media that Hong Kong-related propaganda has reached saturation levels. Peking Cable Channel 1 is running 50 episodes on the Basic Law, China's mini-constitution, under which it will rule Hong Kong. China Central Television's main national channel is screening a six-episode series, Hong Kong's Vicissitudes, with titles including History's Choice, Way of Return, and Popular Confidence.

The Peking Youth Daily is running a four-part full-page spread on the history of Hong Kong, followed by a test paper for readers to check they have assimilated the information. An editorial this week ordered: "For every Chinese, we should all look back on modern history which was full of unbearable humiliation. Looking back is the best way for us to gain strength and confidence today. Modern Chinese history tells the truth; whoever is backward will be beaten."