Indeed, Hong Kong seems to be marked by much discontent this year,
which has been peppered with various public protests and altercations.
The list compiled above highlights some of the biggest ones. However,
Asia Society Associate Fellow Jeffrey Wasserstrom believes that there are important nuances to this turmoil. I interviewed Wasserstrom on the phone about the developments of Hong Kong-mainland China relations and tensions.
Since Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, how have Hong Kong citizens' impression of China progressed?
You've got to separate out two kinds of tension: the reaction to the mainland government, and a separate reaction to people from the mainland, and those get twisted together in a lot of different ways.
There's been ongoing concern among a lot of local Hong Kong residents
about protecting the degree of autonomy that Hong Kong has from the
rest of mainland. And it's still pretty significant how in cultural ways
and some political ways Hong Kong has really been protecting itself.
There's been periodic tension about tourism from the mainland and
immigration from the mainland, which is separate in a lot of ways from
the political issues but sometimes it gets intertwined. There have been
periodic complaints about officials from the mainland coming to Hong
Kong and behaving in uncouth ways.
Have there always been political tensions ever since Hong Kong returned to China?
The political anxiety has been there the whole time. The question is
whether Beijing will really live up to its promise to allow Hong Kong to
operate differently. Hong Kong used to be a colonial territory and as a
colony there were plenty of limits put on the economy and political
freedoms: there was censorship of the press and things like that. But
during the years right before the handover, because Britain knew it was
going to be giving Hong Kong back, it allowed more autonomy and more
democracy to take place in the colony than would be typical in a
So the period from 1989 to 1997 saw a rise in political consciousness
and concern in Hong Kong, which then had people very primed to be
interested in protecting that degree of autonomy they'd carved out when
the top officials in Hong Kong switched from having to answer to London
to having to answer to Beijing.
With regards to the non-political tension, is that a recent phenomenon?
I don't really know specifically what's driving that right now. The
thing I'm most aware of is the shift from the relationship between
Shanghai and Hong Kong. When I was in Shanghai in the 80's, to go to
Hong Kong was a totally different kind of material world -- you had many
more choices about everything; not even talking about political choices
but choices about what food to eat, what kind of clothes to buy. There
was a sense in which Hong Kong was almost operating on a different time
zone; you were more in step with global fashion and things like that in
Hong Kong. And when I came back from Hong Kong to Shanghai my Shanghai
friends in the mid-80's were saying, "What was it like?" They were very
excited to hear about this magical land. And now if I tell people in
Shanghai I've come from Hong Kong, they kind of say "So what?" So in
some ways the distance between the places has really shrunk where the
difference between what you can buy in the department store in Shanghai
and Hong Kong is minimal now. So there were ways I think people in Hong
Kong could justifiably feel superior in a lot of ways; superior in being
cosmopolitan, in the kind of lifestyle they have.