Hong Kong football fans' booing of the national anthem is not the way to earn respect for city's values

Bernard Chan says while the jeering of the national anthem by some football fans stems from deeper social fissures, it is inexcusably rude and reflects poorly on our own society

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 June, 2015, 11:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:46am

Hong Kong's success in the football World Cup qualifiers against Bhutan and the Maldives this month should be a cause for celebration. However, both games were marred by some local supporters who jeered during the playing of our national anthem.

I remember from my days as a spectator that some people ignored the national anthem. For some, standing in silence during the anthem was not a part of the culture. However, there is a difference between ignoring the national anthem and booing it. This was a deliberate act of disrespect. The fans concerned knew that; they had the good manners to remain silent during the other teams' anthems.

If it was just a handful of people in the crowd, the TV broadcasts would not have picked it up. But it was unmistakable. For many of us who see cross-border ties as important, it was severely embarrassing.

Reaction among viewers in the mainland was angry. People there are taught the anthem, March of the Volunteers, from an early age. The song dates from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the early 1930s and refers to the volunteer armies that fought in the resistance. To mainland people, mocking the anthem is an insult to those who defended the country.

We know the background here. There were hopes that China could win Hong Kong's hearts and minds after the handover in 1997. The "minds" part of the equation has turned out true: Hong Kong people have certainly become more conscious of the nation - China's rise has had a significant and positive impact on our own local economy. But for many local people, the "hearts" part is missing.

The most surprising thing about this is that the feeling of separateness from China is emerging most strongly among the young - people born well after the chaos on the mainland in the 1950s and 1960s, and even after colonial rule.

One explanation is that so many Hong Kong people came here to escape the civil war, revolution and chaos of mid-20th century China. But we are now three generations away from that refugee era, and everyone can see how today's China is a far more stable, prosperous and better-run place.

A better explanation is the resentment and disillusion of the young, for reasons we know well - the wealth gap, overcrowding, housing prices and declining opportunities. These things are not purely due to mainland forces, but there are obviously some connections. It is easy to see how these feeling can trigger complaints about the use of Putonghua or simplified characters, and hostility towards mainland visitors to Hong Kong.

However, I believe the key problem is the distance between the two sides - and especially between the two cultures represented by mainland officials on one side, and many Hong Kong young people on the other. One side represents a one-party state determined to ensure stability and development. The other is a pluralistic society that prioritises freedoms and the law.

These two ways of thinking should not be incompatible, but they certainly seem to find it hard to get on the same wavelength. This became very clear during the wrangling over the political reform package - the timing of which must have fed into the jeering at the football games.

That jeering was the height of rudeness and an insult to the rest of the nation. I doubt anyone will behave that way surrounded by mainlanders in the stadium when Hong Kong plays China in Shenzhen in September. They shouldn't do it here either. All it can do is stir up unpopularity and hatred - the last things we need if we want the mainland to respect and understand Hong Kong as a different sort of society.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council