The survey sparked an angry rebuke from Beijing. The Global Times, a mainland tabloid that is under the auspices of the official People’s Daily, published a commentary attacking the survey, and criticising the research as “unscientific”.
Although Ma says he will not let the allegations weigh on him, he agrees that there has been a change in the mainland government’s attitude towards Hong Kong. “[They] want to prevent Hong Kong people from having an overwhelming local consciousness, which is not beneficial to the [China-Hong Kong] integration,” he says.
However, contrary to Beijing’s hopes, this “overwhelming local consciousness” is gathering steam. Ma explains local consciousness can be understood as a sense of belonging and pride that derives from the lifestyles, values and culture of the place where one lives.
It was noticeable during the campaign to save the Star Ferry Pier in Central in November 2006. In the campaign, activists appealed to local people’s collective memory and sense of belonging. The idea of being a Hong Konger was transformed from a cultural affinity to a more political one.
This has become more assertive and visible in recent years. Colonial flags and the “Dragon Lion Flag”, which is a modified version of the former, have become a common sight at local protests; and cries for autonomy and independence are now heard from some sections of the crowd.
“Nobody takes the [Special Administrative] Regional flag to protest…because nobody thinks it is representing us,” says Stanley Ng, a member of the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement (HKAM), gazing at the Dragon Lion flag. Ng says they use the Dragon Lion flag because it can remind Hong Kong people of the values they used to enjoy in colonial times, such as freedom and the rule of law. HKAM believes the Hong Kong colonial coat of arms could act as a common symbol to help wake up the local consciousness of Hong Kong people.
The movement started when netizens gathered to form a group on Facebook to show their support for Dr Chin Wan-kan and his book Hong Kong as a City-state, which advocates the idea of claiming autonomy and re-orienting Hong Kong into a city-state. The group now has over 6,000 likes, and is an active organiser and participant in various protests on Hong Kong-Mainland issues.
Chin, more commonly known by his pen-name Chin Wan, is the mastermind of the movement and is revered almost like a spiritual leader. He says the aim of the group is to uphold the values guaranteed by the Basic Law and, ultimately, to improve Hong Kong and China. “If I do nothing, Hong Kong will perish. When Hong Kong perishes, China will perish too,” says Chin.
The group insists autonomy has to be implemented under the constitutional framework of the Basic Law. Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, all matters apart from defence and foreign relations areHong Kong’s internal affairs. Chin says the Basic Law, if fully implemented, would make Hong Kong close to being a de facto sovereign state. “The Communist Party actually knows…once there is universal suffrage, the local consciousness and people’s care for their [city] will be awakened,” says Chin.
But even though members of the group repeatedly stress they are not an independence movement, the mere appearance of a flag derived from the colonial one has been enough to provoke the irritation and outright wrath of pro-establishment camps and mainland officials.