***Disclaimer – this is my opinion based on the (very few) historical facts I know. If you would like a more comprehensive overview, use Google and go from there***
So, it all began once upon a time in the 1830s when Great Britain were being very naughty and doing what they did best at that time, i.e. sailing around the world, liking the look of somewhere or another and claiming it for their own, with absolutely no regard for the local inhabitants. We all know about colonialism and the good old British Empire…
To over simplify, there were some entrepreneurial Brits who decided to begin illegally importing to China opium grown in India, which was of course by this time a little England in the tropics, convenient for growing all sorts of wonderful crops and commodities that wouldn’t flourish in the climate back in Blighty.
Despite the fact it was nothing more than piracy on the part of the British, when the Chinese decided that they didn’t like the illegal British drugs trade and banned the import of opium to China, the British Parliament thought that just wasn’t cricket and sent the Navy to change the mind of the Chinese. Mainly because the British government made a pretty penny on the trade themselves.
The First Opium War between 1839 – 42 led to China being smashed by the British and eventually admitting defeat. Opium was allowed back in China, much to the delight of all the addicts the British had created with their illegal trade, and the Chinese had to pay reparations to the Brits for the loss of these highly illegal earnings. As part of the deal, which was called the Treaty of Nanking they also agreed the cession of Hong Kong Island. Which basically meant the British owned a lovely piece of real estate just off the coast of China and could sit there waiting to bash them again if they got out of line.
|The treaty of Nanking being signed - look at all those British Empire chaps, so pleased with themselves...|
And that’s exactly what happened. During the second Opium War of 1856-60 it was pretty much the same story. Only this time, at the end when China finally gave up, they had to give the Brits a bit more real estate so they got Kowloon – actually attached to the Chinese mainland. So the Empire was growing and the Chinese were beginning to get the picture about what happened when you messed with the country that had the biggest ships.
Eager to give it one more try and push out the British, French and any other arrogant European that was trying to bully them, the Chinese decided to give it one more go in the Third Opium War. It actually had nothing to do with Opium this time but completes the set nicely. As I am sure you can guess by now, the Chinese didn’t do so well and ended up giving the British a bit more land and, in 1898, the British got their grubby colonialist mitts on the New Territories and signed a lease for 99 years. Note to old school British Empire folks – that was a VERY short-sighted move. Always sign a longer lease, I’m just saying.
|First the Brits got the pink bit, then the yellow bit and finally the green bit and the orange bit as well for good measure....|
So, fast forward 86 years and the Chinese have started doing not so badly, stock piling all their money behind their communist closed doors, and the British have stopped being Empire-building bullies, starting to give back most of what they took – albeit sometimes a little worse for wear.
In 1984, the UK and China realised the HK lease would soon be up and started to hold talks about handing back the little British paradise in the South China Sea to the Chinese. Again, if I had been there at the time I would have stopped negotiations, built a big wall along the HK China border and hoped we could keep them out. However the more diplomatically-minded British agreed to give back HK to the Chinese and, on July 1st 1997, Hong Kong became part of China again. It was a very sad day when many people cried and the rain came down from the sky in floods, as if even Hong Kong herself was weeping for the departure of her colonial master.
And this is where it gets interesting. Why were people in HK so sad to wave goodbye to their dominating, land-grabbing masters? There was no democratic government for HK under the Brits, but a non-elected Governor imposed by the British government who had been elected by a population nearly 7,000 miles away. But what most people in HK knew in their hearts on that sad day in 1997 was that although life wasn’t perfect being a colony under the British, with no real rights of its own, it would be a damn sight worse under the Chinese.
At least the British had started to learn from their past mistakes – gradually handing back independence to countries they had so brutally dominated. Allowing dominated nations to start to build and shape their own future – look at India, Kenya, Australia, Canada (for a full list click here. It is quite startlingly long…!)
But no such luck for the poor Hong Kongers. No flag flying independence for them. Instead a worse fate awaited them; submission to a crueller master than before. I will not go in to a detailed description here of China’s politics or various policies but, to sum it up, when I go to China my Facebook doesn’t work because the Chinese government have decided I am not allowed to freely share my life with the rest of the world…in case I tell them something China doesn’t want me to. It may sound trivial, but make of it what you will and do some more research about the Chinese government, if you are interested.
Britain made a paltry effort to help Hong Kong. As a parting gift, it negotiated the One Country, Two Systems idea, whereby HK continues to have a certain amount of autonomy from China, having its own legal system, Legislative Council etc. However – and you think they would have learnt from the 99 year lease thing – this only stays in effect for 50 years. So, in 2047, Hong Kong is no longer an SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China, it just goes back to being plain old China. Under the control of the old faithful Communist Party, who have so little faith in their own people they have never actually bothered to ask the 1.32 billion or so that live there if they really want to be governed under a Communist one-party state, where a group of corrupt old men call the shots on absolutely everything.
Anyway, Britain let down Hong Kong by not slapping it to China on the way out the door and now Hong Kong are paying the price. Little by little, the freedoms that Hong Kongers have come to expect and value are beginning to be eroded and, by 2047, they will be non-existent unless we start fighting now to keep HK ‘special’ in terms of its place in the Chinese political system.
So, here we come to our protests today and why they are so important. When Hong Kong was signed away by the British in 1997, China ‘promised’ that one day HK would enjoy a full and fair democratic election by 2017. It has become clearer over the past year or so that Beijing had kept its fingers crossed when it made that promise and finally, at the end of August this year, they announced that Yes, Hong Kong can have a full and fair democratic election in 2017 (Yippee!!), but you will only be able to vote for candidates that have been pre-selected and approved by Beijing (Boooh!).
So, although for the Chinese government – who are notoriously bad at grasping ideas that include listening to their people about, well, anything at all – this might seem like a huge step forward, to HK it is a farcical idea and one that if we do not stand up and say No now, will be the death knell of HK and all it stands for, in terms of proving itself to be a modern, democratic society that is very much separate from China proper. The only way I can think of to describe it is if someone told you that you could have any present you wanted, from anywhere in the world, and you started getting excited and looking around and then they showed you a caveat which said you could actually only chose from these five, pre-selected presents, all of which were crap and you didn’t want.
With all of that cleared up for you – and so eloquently explained – I just want to leave you with two more points to consider.
As part of the great deal the Brits did with the Chinese before they handed HK back and ran away before anyone realised how little they had fought for, HK did not get its own army. So we are ‘protected’ by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. Now, just imagine that HK did something to piss off China and the PLA attacked HK. We would have nothing to fight back with or defend ourselves with because our own army would be fighting against us. Cast your minds back to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 where this is exactly what happened. Students peacefully protested in Beijing and, because they dared to question the Chinese government, the Old Men in charge sent the PLA tanks in and the army to shoot everyone who didn’t agree with them.
This brings me on to my second and final point to leave you with. No one in China really knows what happened during the Tiananmen Square massacre. Firstly, you don’t speak about it at all in China. Like many things, you just pretend it didn’t happen. However, if you do mention it (like I did of course, much to my poor tour guide’s dismay) you will be told that no one really knows what happened, but the government said ‘bad people were trying to hurt China’. Yes, those peaceful students who were trying to speak to their government. What is so shocking to me is that, today, in a world of social media and internet exposure, 1.3billion people are still kept in the dark by their own government. It really is an achievement and would be something to be admired if it wasn’t so destructive to an entire nation. As the internet becomes more pervasive, people in China are finding ways around government censorship but, even today, pictures of the HK protests were published in Chinese Media with the caption that HK people were ‘celebrating national day early’.
No. They weren’t. The protesters in Hong Kong are standing before the tide. They do not want to be engulfed by China. They are standing up for their right to elect who they choose. They are showing they will not be placated by a crappy compromise from Beijing. And, even more than that, I believe they are standing up for the rights of the 1.3billion Chinese who don’t even know what they are missing, because the Communist Regime has so cleverly controlled them for so long.