Please mind the gap

By April Xiaoyi Xu
By April Xiaoyi Xu |

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An officer checks the documents of a student crossing into Hong Kong to attend school at Lok Ma Chau

It's another busy day. Commuters take the stairs up, line up, receive an expressionless nod from the immigration officers, and walk across the yellow line, indicating that they have crossed the border. Again.

“Please mind the gap.” The broadcast echoes over and over again, first in English, followed closely by Cantonese, and finally Mandarin. This routine of businessmen, schoolchildren, and other commuters crossing over from Shenzhen to Hong Kong seems mundane.

According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, 40.7 million mainlanders visited Hong Kong in 2013. Yet this yellow line separates two completely different places, marking the boundary between the “Two Systems” of “One Country.” Not only is it a boundary between two intangible systems of politics and legislature, it is a boundary between two radically different ways of living. As someone who has personal connection to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Beijing, it is an interesting issue to me.

Hong Kong’s geopolitics are fascinating. With a population of seven million, a small but self-contained government, and no military of its own, Hong Kong is situated right next to Mainland China, an increasingly powerful economy with strong military aspirations for the surrounding region.

If one stands precisely on this yellow line and steps to the right into Hong Kong, he or she has access to information via the New York Times, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. If he or she takes a step to the left, the Great Firewall of China blocks all that access, and arguably, political rights. On this basis alone, not to mention the multitude of other differences between the “Two Systems,” including the Hongkongnese cuisine and language, we see much more freedom in the daily lives of the people of Hong Kong. “Please mind the gap. Please mind the gap…”

As Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy continues, we may as well shift our attention from politics and law to the social and human aspects of the issue. Let us ponder for a minute the fundamental cultural identity of those who live in Hong Kong: who are Hongkongers? How close are they to mainlanders?

Hong Kong is currently very divided on the issue of universal suffrage. The Hong Kong dream of universal suffrage - and therefore political democracy - is complicated by legal, political, and demographic factors. If the people of Hong Kong fundamentally hold fragmented views on their own cultural identity due to the “One Country, Two Systems” politics and law, there is certainly a gap between the mainlanders and the Hongkongers themselves. We should cautiously mind the gap, then, in order to keep pursuing the dream of democracy.