The government-funded trips to mainland China that ‘cultivate the national consciousness of Hong Kong youth’
Carrie Lam and her predecessor Tung Chee-hwa among dignitaries at pro-Beijing group’s event to launch latest exchange programme with mainland China
About 2,000 young Hongkongers were preparing to head to mainland China to learn about its history and recent development, as a major pro-Beijing association kicked off its fourth annual exchange programme on Saturday.
The students, aged from 15 to 29, were heading north with the New Home Association (NHA), the non-profit group that organises the trips and has already sent 7,000 travellers to major cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
The latest trips, scheduled to begin next month, will be to Guangdong province and the northern cities of Xian and Tianjin.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the director of the Beijing’s Hong Kong liaison office Wang Zhimin and the city’s former leader Tung Chee-hwa were among guests at the group’s launch ceremony.
In a speech, Lam praised the NHA’s work, saying the government strongly supported sending Hong Kong youth on trips to the mainland.
“On the one hand, it can deepen their understanding of the latest developments and opportunities on the mainland,” she said. “On the other hand, it can promote youth exchanges between the two places and cultivate the national consciousness of Hong Kong youth.”
The students will set off in three batches, with 800 going to Xian in August to explore the ancient city and visit the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor – famous as the home of the Terracotta Army – and 200 going to Tianjin to learn about recent economic development in the northeastern port city.
The rest of them will, after the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, head to Guangzhou to learn about the central government’s “Greater Bay Area” plan to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into an innovation hub.
The government sponsors the programme, which is subsidised for the students, under the funding scheme for youth exchange on the mainland. In its latest budget, the administration earmarked HK$40 million (US$5.1 million) for the scheme, up from HK$36 million in the previous year, with an estimated 19,100 youngsters set to benefit.
Such mainland tours are an increasing trend, after repeated calls from state leaders, including President Xi Jinping, to strengthen national identity and patriotism among Hongkongers.
A group of 1,200 young Hongkongers from another programme will fan out across the region this summer, in search of business opportunities in the bay area.
In a recent poll by the University of Hong Kong, only 16 per cent of people aged between 18 and 29 said they were proud to be a citizen of China.
“They know too little about the country, and they are influenced by some biased media,” NHA chairman, Hui Wing-mau said.
He said he hoped the attractions of Xian – also a starting point of the ancient Silk Road, the historic underpinning for the government’s “Belt and Road” trade development push – would arouse pride in Chinese culture among participants.