Hongkongers facing an era of change as mainland reforms pick up steam

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 3:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 3:10am

Hong Kong's competitiveness may be declining, but the future still holds hope for individuals to strive to keep pace with developments across the border, a top academic from the mainland says.

The difference between both sides was a result of their systems, Chen Pingyuan, a professor in Chinese at Peking University, said. With mainland reform gradually picking up steam, the city would inevitably be eclipsed.

"The decline has nothing to do with the 1997 handover and much to do with China's own development since the 1990s, which over time will reduce the role of Hong Kong," Chen, 60, said. "But declining does not mean failing."

Chen, who as chair professor has been teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for six months every year since 2008, continued: "Some Hong Kong students have told me the city's golden era is over and they have no future.

"That is not true, because the competition now is no longer between systems, but between individuals. They have to stay competitive on the starting line along with contestants from Beijing and New York."

The Chaozhou native was head of the Chinese department at Peking University from 2008 to 2012, overseeing 90 professors. One of his colleagues was Kong Qingdong, who aroused controversy in 2012 when he called Hongkongers lackeys of the British and non-Putonghua speakers "a***holes".

"I must say that is the view of a very small minority in China, and Kong made those comments when he got carried away during media interviews," he said.

As the department head, Chen had a talk with Kong, during which he refuted the latter's verbal assaults on Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"But at Peking University, we have a tradition of more than a century of letting individual staff members voice their views freely outside campus," he said. "So as department head, I could only disagree with him and remind him of the blemish his remarks might bring to the university. I cannot penalise him for that."

The case was subsequently handled by the university's party secretary, he said.

Chen lamented the prevailing abusive language used on social media by the discontented among the mainland's grass roots, which he said could develop into a big problem in China.

"Whereas one can sue for defamation over an article in the conventional media, verbal violence on the internet is basically unchecked, breeding harmful social trends that could explode one day," he said.

The professor said it made his heart ache to see the bickering. Hopefully, this would only be a passing phase as the two sides adapted to each other, he said.

"It is important for the mainland government to assure not only the Hong Kong businessmen or officials that we are at peace with them, but also the young people. They will feel more settled once they believe they have a future."