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September 26, 2017

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'National education' highlights Hong Kong identity politics

There may be a lot of issues behind the ongoing protests against "brainwashing" classes in Hong Kong, but the row has again highlighted the identity problem for the people of this metropolis on the southern shore of China.

Teachers and students are refusing to accept the "national education" that the Hong Kong government has introduced, arguing that it is meant to glorify one-party rule and whitewash the communists' crimes against the Chinese people, such as the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.

Hong Kongers are eager to exercise their civil liberties that have been denied to the 1.3 billion Chinese across the fenced borders in the north.

The borders divide the country — symbolically, politically and psychologically.

"Hong Konger" basically refers to those who are citizens of the city, including those who have emigrated to other countries but are still Hong Kong citizens.

Outsiders would probably think of the majority ethnic Chinese people when they hear or use the term.

Chinese themselves would probably use the term without realizing that they unconsciously ignore other ethnic groups living in Hong Kong, such as the thousands of citizens who are of Pakistani and Indian descent.

And within the ethnic Chinese, there is an often prejudiced distinction between those "natives" and those "new immigrants" from the mainland. Tensions between the two groups — the latter including tourists from mainland China — have been running high because of a lot of social issues.

The "Hong Konger" as a blanket term to define the citizens of the city might not be a problem any more than people from California calling themselves "Californians," if the Hong Kong identity were not growing so strong that now the majority of its people call themselves Hong Kongers but refuse to think of themselves as Chinese.

That wasn't the case when they were still under the British colonial rule.

At the time, people tended to think of themselves as Chinese although their official nationalities were divided by the Hong Kong government into "British" for those locally born and "Chinese" for those who came from the mainland.

But these "British" people did not have the right to live in Great Britain, which considered them subjects rather than citizens of the empire.

The colonial government never really wanted the ordinary Hong Kong people to become British and it wanted to keep them in a political and historical vacuum.

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