The hunger strike itself, launched last week outside government headquarters in this former British colony, involves fewer than 10 people. But thousands of others, mostly teenagers, have flocked to show support, filling a plaza in front of the government complex with banners, tents, sleeping bags and loudspeakers.
Protesters condemn the courses as “brainwashing” and a violation of the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong was returned to China 15 years ago after more than a century and half of colonial rule.
Officials here strenuously deny this characterization and say their aim is to promote a greater understanding of China, not obedience to China’s ruling party.
Beijing has long pushed authorities in Hong Kong to narrow what opinion polls suggest is a widening gulf between local residents and mainlanders, who have flooded into Hong Kong to shop and, in some cases, give birth in the city’s well-equipped hospitals.
While the vast majority of Hong Kong’s 7 million people are ethnically Chinese, surveys show that bonds of shared identity with the rest of China have grown weaker, not stronger, since Britain pulled out in 1997. According to a poll released this summer by Hong Kong University, Hong Kongers have less trust in the central government in Beijing than at any time since China regained sovereignty.
Alarmed by the national education crisis and facing tough decisions about whether to relax already weak restrictions on the number of mainland visitors, Leung Chun-ying, the city’s recently installed leader, abruptly canceled a trip this week to the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok, where he had been due to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting. The trip was to have been Leung’s first overseas since he took office July 1 ; he was selected for the top government post in March by a 1,200-member committee stacked with tycoons and other pro-Beijing grandees.
While Leung and other Hong Kong officials have sought to calm tempers by addressing concerns about the controversial classes, media outlets that reflect the views of China’s Communist Party have added fuel to the fire by denouncing student activists as pawns in an alleged political conspiracy.
Beijing used the same conspiracy-obsessed rhetoric in 1989 to vilify student protesters who gathered in Tiananmen Square — and also staged a hunger strike — to press party leaders for greater freedom and an end to official corruption. The party, divided over how to respond, called in the army to crush the protest in a hail of gunfire.