THE BLOG

What Would Chinese Rule Mean for Hong Kong?

02/10/2014 17:09 BST | Updated 02/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Those marching on the streets of Hong Kong are rightfully in fear of losing the level freedom they currently enjoy. Life in China and Hong Kong are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

If China's treatment of Tibet or Xinjiang is anything to go by, there's no wonder people in Hong Kong are panicking.

2014-10-02-lights.jpg Photo: Tom Grundy / HongWrong.com

When Hong Kong was handed to China in 1997, it was promised the first democratic elections to take place in 2017.

But in August, Beijing revealed that while the people of Hong Kong would be allowed to elect their Chief Executive, the candidates would have to be approved by Beijing - a stab in the back of true Democracy.

Yet not everybody in Hong Kong society supports the idea of Democracy. Pro-Beijing groups support the Chinese government's agenda in Hong Kong.

And the large number of people sitting on the fence are slowly becoming content with the fate of the region to its Communist neighbour.

What those people may not realise is how Chinese rule could change Hong Kong.

National minority 'problem'

China is home to 56 different ethnic groups, each with their own distinct language and culture. While Han people make up around 90% of the population, there are significant numbers of Zhuang (16 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (10 million), Uyghur (11.2 million) and Tibetans (6 million).

2014-10-02-uyghur.jpg Photo: Peter Morgan / Flickr

In a country where any form of strong identity is suspected to be the roots of separatism, minority languages and cultures aren't exactly celebrated.

This has been particularly evident for places like Tibet, where political, cultural, religious and socio-economic rights are suppressed.

If we draw a parallel between these groups and Hong Kong, they both have a distinct cultural heritage, language and identity.

Hong Kong holds Cantonese very dearly, to the point where non-Chinese citizens of the city must be able to read and write it in order to climb most career ladders.

Though Mandarin is known widely in Hong Kong, it has never taken precedence over Cantonese. While in the rest of China, Mandarin has left some minority languages at the point of extinction.

2014-10-02-295110071_d59da016d1_z.jpg Photo: Roger Walch / Flickr

China has proposed making 'national education' a compulsory part of the curriculum in Hong Kong, sparking outrage among pro-Democracy supporters.

Freedom of Faith

Religious groups and activities in China are heavily monitored. Gatherings, places of worship and the appointment of religious personnel must all be given the nod by the Communist Party.

This is less to do with Communism and more to do with a fear of any idea or movement with the power to rouse a large support base - a threat to authority and stability.

Though I won't pretend that there isn't still discrimination towards those who wear certain religious garments in Hong Kong society, the city's 10,000 Sikhs, 40,000 Hindus, 220,000 Muslims and 833,000 Christians, gather and worship freely.

2014-10-02-mosque.jpg Photo: Ben / Flickr

In China, Tibetans, Uyghur people and members of Falun Gong are thought to be 'splittists'.

Since the 90's, members of the spiritual movement, Falun Gong, have been subject to detention, forced labour and even torture.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, has long been vocal about his belief in Tibet's self-determination. Though he escaped violence in 1959, those who continue to show support for him are severely punished.

"Arbitrary arrest and imprisonment remains common, and torture and ill-treatment in detention is endemic." - Human Rights Watch

2014-10-02-tibet.jpg Photo: Fran Simo / Flickr

The Communist Party has even previously appointed their own version of the Panchen Lama, another key figure in Tibet.

The Beijing-appointed Lama was announced in 1995 in place of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was chosen in keeping with Tibetan tradition.

Chinese censorship

The momentum of Hong Kong's protests has been helped by the use of Twitter, which along with most other major social media sites, is blocked in the neighbouring mainland.

The government has warned against commenting on a number of issues, including the Communist Party's mistakes, public order, the national interest and China's socialist system.

"...those who breach sensitive taboos are often swiftly identified and their speech deleted or disallowed; some are detained or jailed." - Human Rights Watch

Online commentator Charles Xue was one of the many who didn't follow these guidelines, landing him in detention in August.

While China's media is state-run and heavily censored, newspapers and news websites in Hong Kong are part of its independent free press, never shy of criticising its Communist neighbour.

2014-10-02-IMG_2854.JPG Photo: Mimi YooRim Lee

The fight goes beyond the call for a full democracy. It is the protection of the very basic rights of a population, under threat of a state that finds the idea of human rights laughable.

And to those who don't realise what that has meant yet, remember... you only know what you've got, when it's gone.

For the latest from the Hong Kong protests, go to HongWrong.com.