Union Jack waving protesters yearn for British colonial days

Local | 5 Jul 2019 2:01 pm

They smashed glass windows, sprayed rude graffiti and defaced Hong Kong’s official emblem with black paint. But of all the dramatic photos showing hundreds of young protesters storming the city’s legislative building this week, one image makes for particularly uncomfortable viewing in Beijing: the British colonial flag draped aloft a podium in the assembly’s chamber, writes Sylvia Hui of The Associated Press.

That’s not all. On a day supposed to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the “motherland,” other protesters were pictured defiantly flying giant Union flags in the Legislative Council.

Why are some protesters — many of them millennials — harking back to a bygone colonial era, two decades after Britain handed the city over to China as a semi-autonomous territory?

“Does it really mean that people seriously want colonial rule again? No — but I don’t think there’s any dispute among protesters that British rule was better than what we’ve got after the handover, especially in recent years,” said Lam Yin Pong, a Hong Kong journalist.

“There might be some element of a rose-tinted lens. Perhaps some people are fantasizing about the ‘good old days,’” he added. “But what’s clear is that under colonial rule there was never a clear feeling of freedoms being gradually eroded, of a series of government actions completely against our interests.”

Hong Kong has been rocked by massive street protests and its most serious political crisis after its government tried to push through legislation that would allow suspects in crimes to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The proposed bills have triggered broader fears that China is chipping away at the freedoms and rights that Hong Kong was guaranteed for 50 years after its July 1, 1997, handover to Beijing rule under a “one country, two systems” deal.

Its constitution, the Basic Law, promised that Hong Kong voters should ultimately achieve universal suffrage, a goal that Beijing has pushed back indefinitely. That has long caused widespread resentment, especially among the city’s increasingly disenfranchised youth.

But Hong Kong never enjoyed democracy under 155 years of British rule either.

Governors at the time were appointed in London, and lawmakers were not directly elected to the Legislative Council until 1991. Most of parliament’s seats were either appointed or chosen by powerful professional groups. The city’s last British governor, Chris Patten, managed to push through democratic reforms only in the last years before his 1997 departure.


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