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Introduction: Hong Kong & Mainland China

February 1, 2012

This issue explores the question of what roles Hong Kong and mainland China play in shaping a shared future path—one that is open, democratic, and respectful of human rights.

Hong Kong, with seven million people, and mainland China, with a population nearly 200 times that of Hong Kong, bring different and related historical, political, and cultural legacies to this joint challenge. Ninety-five percent of Hong Kongers are ethnically Chinese, originally from the mainland, and identify themselves as Chinese. Yet, 150 years of British rule also produced a cosmopolitan population that is fluent in the West. Never having been democratic, it is nonetheless a society with a rule of law, whose people enjoy personal freedoms and fundamental rights that their mainland compatriots do not. In short, with its unique multi-layered identity, Hong Kong is an entrepôt of ideas and ideals.

When Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the Chinese government promised that, under a “one country, two systems” policy:

[t]he socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.1

In the years since, mainlanders have come to Hong Kong to visit in increasing numbers, from 3.8 million in 2000 to 22.7 million in 2010, overtaking those of visitors from everywhere else in the world combined. And since 1997, more than 200,000 mainlanders immigrated to Hong Kong. Mainlanders come to shop and have fun, but some also come to publish books that they are not allowed to publish on the mainland, to study, or observe the Hong Kong system and culture. For many, it is here that they learn about the June Fourth 1989 crackdown for the first time, and join the annual commemoration of the victims in Victoria Park, where they can hear broadcasts of censored voices from the mainland—such as that of Ding Zilin, a spokesperson of the Tiananmen Mothers. What is the impact of these exposures and interactions carried back by these mainland visitors each year?

Section 1: HRIC Hong Kong Roundtable: Cross Border Impact and Opportunities presents highlights from a roundtable that HRIC organized in Hong Kong in September 2011 with predominantly Hong Kong-based participants that explored the complex relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China and what that relationship means for building a shared future.

In this section, Andrew Nathan, political scientist, outlines the challenges that Hong Kong poses to—and, as a result, the leverage it has with—the mainland government; Fu Hualing, legal scholar, shares his observations about three things that mainland legal professionals take back from a visit to Hong Kong; Han Dongfang, labor activist, shows how the Hong Kong business sector’s efforts in lobbying the mainland government can ironically help advance labor rights in China; Bao Pu, publisher, discusses how the media environment in Hong Kong is shaped by censorship on the mainland and by the emergence of new media; Simon Chu, archivist, explains why an archives law—which Hong Kong does not have—is crucial to the advancement of human rights; and Christine Loh, environment and policy expert, suggests some opportunities for NGOs to make policy-level contributions in the mainland. The Roundtable Discussion, in two parts, includes the contributions by 16 discussants—academics, artists, journalists, lawyers, and labor and human rights advocates—on a diverse range of topics including the intricacies of the mainland censorship machinery, video surveillance in Hong Kong, effective human rights advocacy strategies, and the phenomenal rise of microblogs in China and its impact on official censorship.

Section 2: People and Information Flows features an interview conducted by activist Si-si Liu with three female immigrants from the mainland, who contrast life on both sides of the border; and an interview with Lee Cheuk Yan, a long-time rights activist and labor organizer in Hong Kong, who offers a moving portrait of Hong Kongers whose enduring support for human rights stems from a sense of shared destiny with their mainland compatriots. The section also presents statistics on mainland visitors to Hong Kong in the 2000-2010 decade.

Section 3: Culture Notes and Resources presents an essay by Melissa Lam, an art curator in Hong Kong, about how the detention of Ai Weiwei galvanized Hong Kongers into public protest actions; a review by Beijing-based journalist Paul Mooney of Underground Front: The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong by Christine Loh; and a review by veteran China reporter Jonathan Mirsky of Ethnic Minorities in Modern China, a four-volume series of scholarly essays edited by Colin Mackerras. This issue closes with a resources list including books on Hong Kong-mainland China issues and active NGOs, policy and research groups in Hong Kong.

Please visit us at for video highlights of the roundtable and to view “Is Hong Kong the Tail that Wags the Dog” video in our Word on the Street series!

—The Editors

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