When I used to teach in Nanjing, a regular discussion topic I’d give my students was to describe the happiest day of their lives. Without fail, I’d always have a few students in each class who said their happiest day was July 1st, 1997 – the day Hong Kong returned to China. For the past few days I’ve been in Hong Kong asking locals the same question to see if the feeling is mutual. It pretty clearly is not.
When asked what their happiest day was, those Hong Kongers I talked to said things like when the day they graduated college, the first time they went out drinking with friends, and a Dragon Boat Festival. Unsurprisingly, not a single person mentioned the territory’s handover to China. The more interesting part however was what they said next. I’d tell them I was asking because many young mainland people would say Hong Kong coming to China was their happiest day. When I said this, there was uniform laughter. Here’s a few of the responses:
Of course they say that. It’s like if you give someone a diamond necklace. It’s the happiest day for them maybe, but not really for you.
We remember that as the day dark clouds came over Hong Kong [Note: The day of the handover was literally very cloudy and rainy].
It doesn’t mean anything to us.
England, China – there’s not much difference. We’re still just Hong Kong.
Ha, more like the worst day of my life.
I just talked to about two dozen people at bars and my hotel and they were all under 35, so this is by no means a fair representation of greater public opinion. But I think it’s pretty telling that not a single person had positive things to say, even after I tried to nudge a few in that direction. Just more to suggest Beijing has a very long way to go in winning the hearts and minds of Hong Kong.