Patriotism is proving hard to define

Frank Ching says the definition of patriotism in relation to candidates in the 2017 chief executive election is open to interpretation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 2:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 2:17am

The controversy over whether pan-democrats are patriotic and hence qualified to become candidates in the chief executive election in 2017 turns on different definitions of patriotism.

In the 1970s, Szeto Wah, who later emerged as a key leader of the democracy movement, successfully led a campaign to have Chinese recognised as an official language, clearly a patriotic act.

Democrats led the movement to claim the Diaoyu Islands as Chinese territory, and they were early supporters of the return of Hong Kong to China.

Ironically businessmen, who feared a Communist takeover, are now called "patriots" while democrats are "unpatriotic".

Deng Xiaoping's "one country, two systems" was both creative and simple. It meant that the capitalistic lifestyle would continue in Hong Kong while the mainland would practise "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

After the Tiananmen Square crackdown, a million people took to the streets in Hong Kong in protest.

Jiang Zemin, who succeeded the purged Zhao Ziyang as party leader, then famously said, "Well water should not pollute river water", meaning that Hong Kong and the mainland should not interfere in each other's affairs.

Acceptance of this concept was reflected in the formation in 1990 of the first pro-democracy political party, the United Democrats of Hong Kong, with Martin Lee Chu-ming as its chairman. The UDHK defined itself as "a local political organisation" that "will not seek to participate or be involved in the politics of the central people's government".

But this did not last long. In 1994, when the Democratic Party replaced UDHK, its manifesto said: "As part of the Chinese citizenry, we have the rights and obligations to participate in and comment on the affairs of China." The separation of well and river water was being obfuscated.

After the Article 23 protest in 2003 and the push for full democracy, Beijing responded by saying "no" to universal suffrage in 2007-2008.

Jiang's successor, Hu Jintao, said "one country is the prerequisite for two systems" and "without one country, there will be no two systems".

But insistence on "one country" dilutes Jiang's separation of well water from river water. In fact, as the current Democratic Party chairman Emily Lau Wai-hing has said, democrats, as Chinese citizens, have a right to visit the mainland - a right Beijing has taken away from many, including Lau herself.

It is pointless to argue over whether "one country" trumps "two systems". The mainland and Hong Kong must cooperate to make the policy work.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves of Deng's definition of a patriot. "A patriot," Deng said, "is one who respects the Chinese nation, sincerely supports the motherland's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong and wishes not to impair Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. Those who meet these requirements are patriots, whether they believe in capitalism or feudalism or even slavery."

An interesting definition. So who's not patriotic?

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1