Written by: Jui Lin Lu
After months of demonstration, Hong Kong’s people do not seem to be moving Beijing politics. Millions of Hong Kong citizens are pushing for a democratic government, and the government answered their calls with tear gas and rubber bullets. As Beijing decided to take a hard-line approach toward this issue, it will not accept any compromise with the protestors. Why is Beijing and the Chinese government so stubborn in regards to the region? Perhaps the reason lies in China’s modern history.
Beginning in the mid-18th century, China started interacting with Westerners more frequently, but involuntarily. Ever since the Opium War, foreign power has swarmed into this dynastic empire and exploited her land, her resources, and her people. This trend began after Great Britain signed the Treaty of Nanking with the Qing government, forcing the Qing dynasty to cede Hong Kong permanently. Great Britain further extended its sphere of influence along the entire Yangtze River, controlling the most important trade route during that time. Following in the steps of Great Britain, Russia took the North East and Mongolia, Germany took Shandong, Japan took Taiwan, and France took Yunnan and the South. In the river shore of Shanghai, different countries created their settlements. Different countries exercised their own law in their respective settlements, deploying their own security force to enforce these laws. The Qing dynasty lost control of the majority of its territory under the coercion of the western powers. The situation continued after the collapse of the Qing dynasty during the Republic of China, and only ended after World War II.
This painful part of China’s modern history is greatly shared by the people. During this period, China was not a complete country. A state’s most important character is the monopolization of the use of force, and China clearly struggled in this regard. The government’s policies could not be implemented, the taxes couldn’t be collected, and all Chinese citizens were viewed as second class citizens. China lost all her dignity as a nation-state under the occupation of western powers. Hong Kong was the most extreme case, since it was ceded to Great Britain permanently. Under British rule, the governor of Hong Kong was appointed directly by British government. Hong Kong had a different form of government, used a different unit system, and spoke a different language from China. Hong Kong, under the transformation of Great Britain, has become completely different than China.
After the brief introduction to China’s modern history, the reason behind China’s strong stance is apparent. After World War II, China regained control over her territory except for Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is the last trace of China’s painful past. Through the demonstrations, Hong Kong citizens are hoping to gain democracy and a liberal government. However, this contradicts China’s effort of trying to erase traces of foreign influence in Hong Kong. Beijing believes that it is reasonable for transforming Hong Kong’s government to one similar to the Chinese style of governance because it is the way Hong Kong would have been if it wasn’t forcefully taken by Great Britain.
China’s hard stance on Hong Kong’s issue is understandable. After being oppressed in the last century, she is eager to prove herself again and take back what once belonged to her. Understanding the history of China is crucial to dealing with its politics on the international stage. During the Hong Kong protests, the demonstrators didn’t take the history into account and took a more aggressive approach, causing the situation to escalate. While China believes that it is taking something that righteously belonged, Hong Kong protestors believe they are doing what is right – to pursue democracy. Both parties are not thinking of the other’s position, which further exacerbates the other side’s grievances. If Hong Kong had considered the history and taken a different approach, perhaps more a moderate one, it might have allowed Hong Kong to achieve part of their goal.