More than a century ago, the revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, revered today as the father of modern China, found refuge in Hong Kong while plotting to overthrow China’s last imperial dynasty.
After the Communist takeover in 1949, the then-British colony was used as a center by intelligence operatives from around the world. Little wonder, then, that on the eve of Britain’s handover of its colony in 1997, Beijing wanted to ensure that the territory would no longer be a base for subversion against the mainland.
However, 15 years after the handover, Hong Kong continues to provide sanctuary to groups and individuals whose activities are considered illegal in mainland China today, such as Falun Gong.
And, increasingly, disaffected individuals who cannot protest legally on the mainland are coming to Hong Kong to stage their protests.
This began two summers ago after mainland authorities cracked down when several hundred people held rallies to protest against a proposal to switch programming on the main channels of Guangdong TV from Cantonese to Putonghua, or Mandarin.
Subsequently, a number of activists traveled to Hong Kong and, on Sunday, August 1, 2010, a historic demonstration was staged that included protesters from the mainland and Hong Kong calling for the preservation of Cantonese. Some in Hong Kong also fear for the future of their dialect as Putonghua continues to make inroads in the former British colony, now a Chinese special administrative region.
About 200 people dressed in white marched from Wanchai to government headquarters in Central Hong Kong demanding the preservation of Cantonese. Some of the mainlanders covered their faces with medical masks for fear of reprisals after they returned to Guangzhou.
While the staging of protests is part of Hong Kong culture – in the absence of an elected government – in the mainland such rallies are considered illegal.
Just how much influence Hong Kong wields on the mainland was suggested by Lang Zi, a Guangzhou poet, editor and blogger. “We here in Guangzhou follow closely all the actions in Hong Kong, such as the civil movements against the demolition of Queen’s Pier, the building of the high-speed-rail line and so on,” he told the South China Morning Post. “We’ve seen it all and got inspired by what Hong Kong people did to save their valuable past.”