When Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, expectations were high—in Beijing and among the pro-mainland forces in Hong Kong—that identification with the Chinese nation would slowly but surely strengthen among the local population, especially among the younger generations, eventually solving the problem of Hong Kong’s full integration into China. Once the colonial education system ceased poisoning young minds, it was thought, future generations would embrace the worldview and politics favored in Beijing. However, 16 years later the situation is very different. It is precisely the younger generations, the ones educated after the handover, who are most hostile to the mainland and its local advocates. A June 2013 poll, the latest in a series released every six months, shows that identification with Hong Kong has even increased since the handover: today, 62 percent of the population identify primarily with Hong Kong and 38 percent exclusively. More surprisingly, the proportion is 84.3 percent among the 18 to 29 group (of which 55.8 percent identify exclusively with Hong Kong).
While supporters of political independence remain a tiny minority, for an overwhelming fraction of younger Hongkongers identification with the nation (even the “cultural nation”) is less significant than it is for the colonial generation, and an absolute majority of young people identify exclusively with Hong Kong. Such an evolution does not bode well for Beijing’s “trust” that Hongkongers will cast the “correct” ballot if granted universal suffrage. Indeed, a series of events that took place around the commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown suggests the current evolution may be even more deep-reaching.