HONG KONG : FINAL COUNTDOWN : Nationalist call is trump card in patriot game

The manner in which China's leadership plans to mark 1997 on the mainland reveals the intense official symbolism of Hong Kong's return. Take the publication next year of an Atlas of Shame which will detail China's 150 years of abuse at the hands of foreign and colonial powers. Or the huge production under way on the mainland set of The Opium Wars, a blockbuster film portraying Britain's greatest historical injustice against China, to be released in 12 months' time. In such ways will the tone be set inside China for 30 June 1997, a day which the Chinese government has said will bring to an end "a long period of bitter suffering and national humiliation".

For some time now, nationalism has already been the rallying call of a government facing difficult social and economic decisions at home. And the build-up to next June will see the hyperbole of patriotic propaganda reach new levels of excess. China "finally ... got the international reputation that was its due" when it was agreed that Hong Kong would revert to the mainland, said one recent official commentary. China's resumption of sovereignty "will not only wash away this historical stain, providing consolation to our forerunners and those martyrs who devoted their lives to the nation, but will also mark the beginning of a new era for the 'Pearl of the Orient'," it added.

On the domestic political stage, President Jiang Zemin will hope that being at the helm for Hong Kong's return will bolster his position as the "core" of the leadership. For the Chinese Communist Party, which on Monday celebrates its 75th anniversary, there is the wishful thought that public discontent over such issues as unemployment and corruption may be diverted by patriotic fervour. And for the People's Liberation Army (PLA), 1997 promises a glorious episode as the mainland garrison marches into Hong Kong, the only large contingent of mainlanders to take up residence under the "One Country, Two Systems" policy.

All the key players in China will be looking for political dividends from 1997, especially as the handover takes place just three or four months before the next full Communist Party Congress, held once every five years. Behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings have already started, as next year's Congress will decide a new prime minister.

However, 1997 also represents a huge risk for Peking. China has repeatedly told the world that the "Pearl of the Orient" will prosper under the motherland, but the world is not yet convinced that China will keep its promise to allow Hong Kong's way of life and freedoms to endure. Peking will have to manage the scrapping of the existing Legislative Council (Legco) and the imposition of an appointed interim alternative. And even if Peking is aware of the damage to be wrought by meddling in Hong Kong's business practices, it remains to be seen if it can rein in powerful provincial officials who have their own designs on a slice of the Hong Kong pie.

Over the next 12 months, China will try to settle people's nerves. But many of its supposed reassurances have a tendency to miss the target. Lu Ping, the director of the mainland's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, recently attempted, for instance, to allay fears about press freedom. Mr Lu said the media could criticise the Chinese government, but would "absolutely not" be allowed to advocate Taiwan independence. A week later, on a visit to Japan, he refined this to mean: "It is all right if reporters objectively report. But if they advocate, it is an action. It has nothing to do with freedom of the press." No one felt very reassured, especially by Mr Lu's elucidation in an interview with CNN television: "Like your country, if some press thinks that Hawaii should be separated from the United States ... and somebody advocates another government ... will it be allowed? I don't think so," he said.

Many ordinary Chinese profess a desire to visit Hong Kong after 1997, and most assume that this will be possible. "It should be easier then to visit Hong Kong," said Liu Zhang, 30, a business administrator, voicing a common misconception. In fact, after 30 June 1997, there are supposed to be strict border controls between Hong Kong and the mainland, and no entry without a Hong Kong-issued travel permit.

Talking about Hong Kong to mainlanders, especially in the north, a streak of vindictiveness is discernible. Hong Kongers have, over the past few decades, enjoyed a much higher standard of living and avoided the political turmoil of the People's Republic. "Now Hong Kong will be under the control of Peking, and the time has come for mainland people to share the benefits of Hong Kong," said a government cadre. Patriotism also has its emotional limits. One engineering graduate voiced a common sentiment: "I do not like Hong Kong people, because they look down on mainlanders."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas