Chinese unite as 150 years of humiliation end at last

Amid the forced rejoicing, there is real joy, writes Teresa Poole in Peking

Peking was revelling in a holiday atmosphere yesterday. Workmen in Tiananmen Square toiled to put up the stage for tonight's gala show, as parents positioned their flag-waving children in front of the countdown clock for one last historic photograph. Ordinary people were determined to come and take a look before the whole area is cordoned off this afternoon before the official all-night party for 100,000 invitation-only participants.

The celebrations may have been planned to create a carefully scripted event but people are determined to enjoy the carnival spirit. For once in China, the Han Chinese population is in tune with the government and Communist Party propaganda that China's 150-year humiliation is at last being assuaged. But the handover can still be appreciated for a variety of other reasons.

Among billboards around town, the most down-to-earth one reads: "Happily welcome the return of Hong Kong with good traffic order." Outside China, it is a little publicised fact that this moment has occasioned the introduction of Peking's first bus-only traffic lanes.

Ask older residents about what they think of the celebrations, and they indeed emerge as a practical lot. "I'm really happy the government moved away the street stalls and ordered the migrant workers to leave. And our work unit also built a road to our residential buildings," said a retiree from the No 1 Textile Factory. "Oh, yes," echoed a fellow pensioner, "I'm glad the migrant workers are sent away; they made the city ugly and my mood irritable. The city is cleaner now, and that is what Hong Kong's return has brought us." The spruce-up has also seen beggars and pirate CD sellers disappear from the streets, and the usual teams of hawkers told to go home.

Teams of police and plain-clothes police patrolling for any signs of any departures from the official plan.

Joy at the return of Hong Kong does not always extend to fraternal fondness. Among younger mainlanders, who are most likely to have had contact with Hong Kongers, there has always been ambivalence in the way they view the returning compatriots. When Hong Kong businessmen first started swarming into China in the Eighties, their comparative wealth and brashness ruffled mainlanders' sense of their own worth. "Part curiosity, part jealousy and part aspiration," is how a Hong Kong business-woman described the attitude of mainlanders. "Very often they tell me they do not like people from Hong Kong, especially women. Everyone from Hong Kong is money-minded and has no heart, they say." A Peking man put it more bluntly: "They have no culture."

Part of the problem is that prejudices tend to be reinforced by the portrayal of Hong Kong people in Chinese television programmes and films. Yet there are signs that mainlanders are becoming more sympathetic. Su Jianguo, a Central Arts Academy student, said: "In the past, we did not like Hong Kong people; they were too pretentious. But now, since we will be one family soon, I think we can tolerate some of their characteristics, and learn their good points." Guo Kun, a businessman, said: "I always felt Hong Kong people were half-Chinese, half-foreigner. But now it is OK. Our wealth will catch up with theirs some day."

Among the better-educated, there seems to be a growing hope that Hong Kong will be able to influence the mainland, as much as the other way around. Zhang Chu, an engineer, said: "Hong Kong is such an advanced area, in finance, trade, the stockmarket, and education. It will be so close to the mainland after 1 July, I am sure it must influence China in a good sense." Mr Su, the student, said: "I think the return of Hong Kong will make the speed of development in China faster, because the Hong Kong people's rapid working style and international way of thinking will influence us."

Despite China's decision that it will be even harder for mainlanders to visit the former colony than now, most Chinese still hanker for an opportunity to go there after 1 July. Liu Yuqing, a nurse, said: "I hope to have the chance to be trained in a Hong Kong hospital or to work there for a while, just to feel the atmosphere of Hong Kong." Mr Guo said: "If I have the chance and the government permits, why not?"

The official Chinese view is that Hong Kong represents only the start of the re-integration of the motherland, and the official media is full of calls for the ultimate prize - re-unification with Taiwan.

On this score, the view of educated Pekingese appears to be rather more realistic than the propaganda. Mr Zhang said: "I think it takes time to unify with Taiwan. Maybe after 50 years, or 100 years, when both sides are reasonable and put the interest of the motherland first. But I'm sure Taiwan will come back some day." Mr Guo, the businessman, agreed: "At the moment, it is not possible to take Taiwan back. The mainland still lacks the economic foundation to do so. Only when the mainland becomes really strong will Taiwan be willing to join us in the family."

For the time being the Chinese government is not thinking that far ahead.

For tonight, massive police and plainclothes security is on hand, all the participants know what is expected of them, and the authorities will do anything necessary to make sure nothing goes wrong.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
News
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star