Flagging interest in Mainland integration

Sunday’s South China Morning Post ran a story about the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement, which had petitioned the UK Consulate to complain about China’s interference in the Big Lychee. The group is pleased to display the piece on its Facebook page.

With a claimed 20 core members, it might be pushing things to call the HKAM a ‘movement’. But it is certainly part of one, namely the anti-Mainlandization, anti-locust, anti-Mainland mother, anti-Mainland cross-border car, anti-simplified character crusade that sprung to life last year. The backlash against Mainland tourists and homebuyers was hardly surprising to anyone who had noticed – and they were hard to miss – the crowds, the influx of luxury outlets and the closures of small local businesses in recent years. To local and Beijing officials rejoicing in ‘integration’, however, the phenomenon is decidedly unwelcome: this is Hong Kong people going massively off-message. Being (apparently) organized and having a quirky sense of symbolism, the HKAM is a particularly unnerving example of it.

The HKAM’s logo is a flag – and not just any flag, but the colonial-era coat of arms, as seen waving in the breeze, and printed on ID cards, tax forms and everything else, back in those days.

The banner appeared at the Dolce and Gabbana protest in January; it also hangs on the wall – 1970s revolutionaries-style – in YouTube videos, and of course you can get it on a T-shirt. The group also likes to unfurl it at the Cenotaph to honour the city’s fallen. If Beijing wanted to arrange a group of ‘subversive’ agents provocateurs to justify pushing an Article 23 security bill through, this is what it would look like, though it is unlikely Chinese officials would have the sensitivity to get the cultural nuances right (yes that’s I Vow to Thee, My Country at the Cenotaph).

If it comes to that, do HKAM’s members fully grasp the provocative nature of this use of the heraldry? They say they admire the juxtaposition of the Chinese dragon and the not-so Chinese lion as an emblem of the city’s unique identity and status, which suggests they don’t realize how spiteful this symbolism is towards the regime in Beijing. So HKAM could be a calculated, if slightly clumsy, attempt to piss off local and Chinese officials as a protest. But there is something more to it. The HKAM people avoid uttering the word ‘independence’ (unlike some weird friends), but they do enjoy theorizing about the city-state and autonomy, and they are into history and heritage. To the extent that they are serious, it is a romantic sort of nationalism, based on an extremely idealized and selective notion of what Hong Kong was like under the British.

That’s still hugely offensive to the Chinese government, and indeed the local administration. Communist newspaper Wen Wei Po carried an opinion piece last year accusing the US Consul-General of masterminding the group. He had previously served in the Kyrgyz Republic – home of a dreaded ‘colour revolution’ – and Taiwan. It all adds up; you can imagine a US diplomat being into Holst. This is standard Beijing logic: Hongkongers want to be less influenced or affected by the motherland, therefore it must be a foreign splitist plot.

Cooler heads are prevailing, however. The incoming administration of CY Leung has vowed a drastic reduction in Mainland mothers’ access to Hong Kong delivery rooms. Officials have modified plans to allow more cross-border road traffic and to introduce ‘national’ civic studies into schools. YouTube clips of unruly Mainland tourists, protests about simplified characters in Agnes B cafes and graffiti on ads aimed at Mainland visitors are signs that something is going wrong (cue heart-tugging HKAM video of property prices rising, shops closing, etc). Waving colonial flags brings the point home by hitting some raw nerves. It gets results. Expect to see them on 1 July.

I present an alternative, for people less enamoured of colonial government, and which neatly sidesteps the simplified-traditional character debate…

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21 Responses to Flagging interest in Mainland integration

  1. Comte Bela de Lugosi says:

    Les gens de qualité savent tout sans avoir jamais rien appris. Or as we used to say at home in brief moments of joyousness :Az emberek mindent tudnak minőségi anélkül, hogy valaha tanultam semmit.

    Colonial nostalgia is no new thing of course. There are Indians treading on dead beggars in Delhi and Calcutta today who long for the return of Mountbatten. Then there is the nostalgia for Communism in Germany, the so-called Ostalgie. Driving a Trabant is so chic.

    The old white colonials smile sardonically and a flush of pride turns their vermilion faces an apoplectic purple. “I knew they’d miss us,” they say but of course they spent all their lives in Hong Kong hating the damned natives. To be wanted by people you despise may give you a frisson but it’s more likely to be a wince.

    Can we look forward to “Colonial Nostalgia Tours”? Led by Ted Thomas and David-Akers Jones, with a packed lunch of Robertson’s Jam sandwiches, the open-top bus visits former sites of splendour, now outlets for handbags and shoes. David-Akers Jones recounts with pride how he designed Tsuen Wan to look like Birmingham city centre, that is a city with no centre at all. Ted Thomas, immaculately accoutred, does amusing Ralph Pixton imitations. Kit Cummings and Ray Cordiero lead a singalong of Radio 3 evergreens whilst Larry Feign does quick character sketches at the back of the bus.

    “Why did you let all this sh*t happen?” asks an American tourist and the guides look at each other, mournful and guilty.

  2. Real Tax Payer says:

    So silly, so so silly ( I mean the HKAM)

    But I did enjoy the background music at the Cenotaph video , which brings back bitter- sweet- bitter nostalgic memories of playing rugby in freezing English rain , horrible school lunches and coal miners’ strikes ( I suspect Hemmers feels the same, having suffered thus) , which are among the reasons I came here 30 years ago and stayed forever thereafter

    Whatever they , whatever they do, we are privileged to live in HK and HK is privileged to be part of modern China

    So to the HKAM I say : p**s off and move to the Philippines or Indonesia for the rest of your lives ( or even worse still – go and live in England for just a year)

    PS : re flags and emblems – has it ever occurred you that the “faded but rich” shade of pink-red used in the HK SAR flag clashes horribly with the scarlet crimson of the PRC flag ?
    I always think the two flags look weird next to each other, and the HK flag looks decidedly tatty vs the superb PRC flag.

  3. Joe Blow says:

    You can include Ted Thomas out: he is busy plundering bank accounts of Alzheimer wrinklies. Those Gieves & Hawkes suits don’t come cheap.

  4. PropertyDeveloper says:

    A fine Adams-esque piece, Bela. Perhaps someone should write a novel called Rebirth, where the mainland breaks up, the PRD declares independence and a woman married to a non-Chinese gets universal support.

  5. Big Al says:

    @ Property Developer
    Surely that was Simon Winchester’s “Pacific Nightmare”? Except for the bit about a woman married to a non-Chinese.

  6. Stephen says:


    I agree – Best post from Adams since NTSCMP !

    The HKAM seem to be living in a Dame Anson Chan, Two Systems dream world.

    However like the Falun Gong (or is it Dafa) they may wind up the cadres a bit which is not a bad thing.

  7. Faery says:

    Alternatively, RTP, you could move to China. Rest assured you will enjoy the absolute freedom to express how privileged you are to be there.

  8. maugrim says:

    Historical revisionism is something the Chinese would be well aware of. For example, hailing the importance of Sun Yat Sen as a ‘revolutionary’ in causing societal and political change, ignoring the various ironies that are presented.

    HK still has its Colonial fan club. Ever spoken to teachers from the ESF? I know one who is the Head of a current school who remarked to me with distaste that ‘local’ kids chatter in Chinese within the school, as if it was some sort of Anglo fortress. Such comments are tip of the iceberg. However, some like Anson Chan have a point, ther was genuine planning and direction under the British aimed at ‘bettering’ HK. What a pity our ‘own’ are so directionless they make some pine for the ‘good old days’. Mind you im sure some pine for the lash to be brought back too.

  9. ICAC says:


    We get it, Britain in the 70s and 80s was a pretty grim place. That was over 30 years ago! For the love of god, get over it, already.

  10. Comte Bela de Lugosi says:

    I was right. There are going to be Hong Kong nostalgia tours! But it all sounds pretty grim.
    HKAM CITY TOUR victorious again!

    Four units:
    The Hong Kong Story (19/5)
    Power in Central (24/5)
    Conservation Government Hill (26/5)
    Life and death of Victoria Peak (10/6)

    Chen Yun, 金珮玮 Gangan CONVALESCENT (Conservancy Association and cultural heritage resource center, Executive Director)

    All four – $ 250 (adult) $ 200 (full-time student / at least 60 years old)
    Choose any two shall be $ 150

    For details, please PM Hong Kong’s autonomy movement – Dragon and Lion Dance Facebook group Admin, Hong Kong flag, or by email to [email protected], and indicate the ring 171 to participate in a “guided tour”

    Last enthusiastic response! Registration to be fast!
    First-served basis.


  11. Real Tax Payer says:

    @Faery : I have done so already ( or rather, I have a second home in the PRC where I spend half my time – and from where I can still the BLC )

    @ ICAC. The bad weather and bad food hasn’t changed in UK The only difference is that it’s postal workers on strike instead of miners (oh, yes, and they finally did something about the bus station at Heathrow even though one has to walk 2 miles from the aircraft to get there). Have pity on me….. I have to a make a duty call back there next week

  12. Chopped Onions says:

    I have a real problem with the anti colonial crowd in that the colonial period is something that we simply can’t erase. I’m not saying it was great, but what I am saying is that it was certainly better to be living in hong kong under the british in say the 50’s than to be in china under the commies. Anyone who disagrees need only look at the measures put into place to prevent an influx of people fleeing the motherland. Now that china is rich and throwing her weight about like a spoilt child, we have people commenting here about how wonderful the mainland is. Wake up people, china is a sh#t hole. Rampant corruption, no respect for human life, a moral vacuum where people walk past dying babies or grind them up to sell in pills. A place where the rule of law means that the law makes up the rules, a place where freedom of speech can put you and your family in prison.
    Hong kong was fantastic because it shows what a Chinese city could be run like if it was done even half decently and lets face it, for those of us expats who came here and made it our home, we stayed because of the fact that it was a Chinese city with British characteristics , not in spite of.
    I can understand some people’s desire to hanker for the past, especially given the current alternative, rich spoilt Henrys fecking you over, or black hair dyed cadres fecking you over. At least when it was British you could always blame it on the “chee sin qwielo.”

  13. Faery says:

    Chopped Onions – well said, thank you.

  14. Old Timer says:

    Well said Mr Onions. Best comment on this site for some time.

  15. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Breaking news: China has just expelled a journalist: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-17986447. They seem to pick especially on ethnic Chinese working for the foreign barbarians.

  16. Real Tax Payer says:

    Sorry Chopped Onions: I must disagree

    Not that what you wrote is wrong in detail. It isn’t. All those abuses do happen in China, and the news hounds are quick to pounce on them because it means STORY ! Dirt! Filth ! Corruption! Melamine ( etc etc etc ).

    Funny how we have the same reporters digging up the same dirt in the West and we even make cable TV programs about it and call it “entertainment”

    But also funny how in 25 years of working every week in the sticks ( boondocks for Yanks) of China and mixing with common-all-garden PRC citizens , commie cadres, govt officials, factory workers, whatever, I have never come face to face with the “horror” side. In fact everyone seems pretty happy, and getting happier by the day


    My point is that for every horror story there’s 99 ( more like 999) success stories.

    Nuff said for now from my side ( and I’m sure you agree on that point )

  17. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Disagree, RTP. My frustrations with China’s absence of rule of law, corruption etc come up daily in my work and are highly common.

  18. Joe Blow says:

    I lived several years in the Pearl River Delta. Life is quite pleasant there.

  19. Peter says:

    I gotta side with RTP on this. I’ve done a lot of business in China, and I’ve had a pretty good experience. But the thing is, I am well aware of the shortfalls of China and I am very careful about doing my due diligence and vetting people.

    Overall though, as far as China is concerned the good out weighs the bad.

  20. Tony in BKK says:

    The music in the HKAM video is not “I vow to thee my country”. It’s “Jupiter, bringer of Jollity”, from Gustav Holst’s Planet Suite. It was hijacked when a jingoistic 1908 poem by diplomat Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, then serving in the British embassy in Stockholm, was set to music.

  21. Faery says:

    Well then I guess it’s a matter of opinion. I too have travelled widely and continue to do business in China, and whilst there are some nice spots and nice people there, for me the bad clearly outweighs the good. Frankly, you could not pay me enough money to live there.

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