Essay on Nationalism in China and Its Effect on Hong Kong

Published: 2021/11/17
Number of words: 1767


Japan’s and the Western nations’ century of humiliation and history serves to shape the current nationalism in China. The glorious civilization of China and its relative superiority gives pride to nationalists in China (Zhou, 2020, p. 125). Today, being Chinese means subscribing to a narrative of victimization accompanied by lost glory. Western imperialism is alleged to have victimized China. Sovereignty losses were suffered by China between 1842 and 1945 when the Second World War came to an end as a result of western imperialism (Fong, 2017, p. 523). During this period, Hong Kong was acquired by the British and the Opium War took place.

Western Imperialism was partly responsible for the creation of nationalism in China according to some studies. The May 4th Movement in 1919 is greatly viewed as China’s nationalism’s first surge. Japan was handed part of China’s territory following the Treaty of Versailles and this sparked unrest among students who turned up on the streets to show their opposition to this ‘injustice.’ In 1921, two years later, the Chinese Communist Party was established by a segment of the student leaders who were demonstrating. According to Ortmann (2020, p. 14), just like Communism and Marxism, ideology does not fully capture the essence of the reigning Chinese communist government.

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) revived nationalism following the 1989 pro-democracy protests, the 1978 opening of the Chinese economy and the Soviet Union’s collapse. For CCP to rule, nationalist credentials have been depended upon owing to communist ideology’s collapse and the inadequacy of procedural legitimacy. As societal glue, nationalism has been the continued fall back plan of the CCP following the removal of its guiding light, Maoism (Qian, 2020, p. 199). After certain occurrences, grievances have been aired and anger vented by nationalists on the internet. This has handed more power to the nationalists who can ensure ease of sharing information among the Chinese Diaspora contingent. The internet is being used by the Chinese people who are educated, urban and young according to multiple researches. There is uneven distribution of democratization of opinion even when opinion democratization has increased following the emergence of the internet.

How China’s nationalism has affected Hong Kong

More than 20 years ago, China was handed the former British colony, Hong Kong, and made a promise to conserve it and keep it in its pristine status. Cities in the mainland China were not assured the rights and freedoms that were supposed to be granted to Hong Kong following the exit of the British (Dupre’ 2020, p. 10). The capitalist system was supposed to be preserved and implemented for many years without interference from the mainland China. However, this is not the case at present. Over the not so distant past, dissenting voices have been cracked down upon and the political system in Hong Kong has been encroached on in a series of brazen steps taken by the Chinese government. Condemnation from the global leadership and widespread demonstrations in Hong Kong has been sparked by these moves (Fong, 2017, p. 525). Lawmakers and activists who were pro-democracy were apprehended in their dozens after a national security law that was controversial in nature was passed in Beijing in 2020. A democracy that is fully-fledged in Hong Kong seemed a mirage following those developments.

The association between China and Hong Kong

The principle of one country, two systems is used to run Hong Kong and China. Based on this principle, Hong Kong has the freedom to handle its activities as China’s distinct administrative zone. This principle sought to unify the indigenous systems of economics and politics of Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan and the one of China. During the First Opium War, defeat for China meant that the British acquired the Hong Kong Island from leaders of Qing Dynasty. Subsequently, in 1997, Hong Kong was returned by the British government after a colonial rule that lasted for over 150 years. Similarly, in 1999, Macau was returned by the Portuguese. Municipalities and provinces in the mainland are presided over by the officials of the Chinese Communist Party unlike in the Island of Hong Kong. However, in the political scene, the mainland, Beijing has installed their proponents who help them to impose their will in Hong Kong (Xiang, 2020, p. 3). Until recently, China had infrequently used its power to implement the Basic Law in Hong Kong. The National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body and the government in Hong Kong have the mandate to approve political processes amendments.

Figure 1: China and its administrative zones

Hong Kong’s freedoms erosion

After the handover, freedoms of Hong Kong have been steadily chipped away by China. Mass demonstrations have been sparked by takeovers of the city and imposition of stricter control measures by Beijing. Further crack downs are more often than not introduced by Beijing after such incidences. The rule of law and autonomy was on the verge of being undermined as a result of China attempting to increase their control following a plethora of official initiatives in the maiden years after the handover (Ortmann, 2020, p. 18). To put things in perspective, Beijing attempted to introduce laws that would prevent subversion, sedition, secession and treason directed towards it in 2003.

Additionally, multiple residents were opposed to the perpetuation of the Chinese national identity through changing of curriculum in Hong Kong schools in 2012 in order for them to be line with the demands of the Beijing-based government. Moreover, candidates that were hand-picked by China to run for an elective seat in Hong Kong were opposed by the citizenry after this was made very apparent in 2014 (Wu, 2020, p. 50). This meant that whoever would win the seat of City’s chief executive would be a loyalist of the Chinese government and this to them was no true democracy. Umbrella Movement rallies as they were commonly known were organized to protest these unilateral decisions.

The dissenting voices were reined in swiftly by the governments in Hong Kong and mainland China after the protests in 2014. Some of the drastic measures taken by the two governments were censorship of media coverage, dissenting new legislators were kicked to the curb, while the leaders who were behind the demonstrations were prosecuted. The worst of the protests were witnessed in 2019. These heated demonstrations were occasioned by the proposal by Beijing that perpetrators of crimes against mainland China could be extradited to the mainland and prosecuted there. This was the last straw according to many of the demonstrators who affirmed that they could not let the erosion of their freedoms continue any longer (Zhou, 2020, p. 128). Tensions were exacerbated by the use rubber bullets and excess tear gas by the police. International attention was garnered by these protests and the bill was withdrawn, however, this had very little effect on the demonstrations since they persisted into 2020.

Hong Kong and the new National Security Law

The city of Hong Kong was slapped with a new National Security Law after the Hong Kong legislature was bypassed by the Chinese government in June, 2020. Collusion with foreign powers, secession, subversion, terrorism and dissent were effectively criminalized by this piece of legislation. Additionally, the law gave powers to the Chinese government to sway the decision on the appointment of judges, particularly those who would be responsible in determining cases that concern national security (Wu, 2020, p. 46). Also, a security force would also be established in the Island. Fears of “the death of Hong Kong” have been expressed by multiple lawmakers and activists who are pro-democracy. On the other hand, the widespread demonstrations occasioned the introduction of the punitive legislation to restore stability according to loyalists of Beijing and officials in China.

Measures of a retaliatory nature were taken by different countries across the world in response to the introduction of the law by China. Revocation of special trade status, restriction of exports and imposition of sanctions against officials from Beijing were some of the measures taken by the United States government under Donald Trump (Dupre’, 2020, p. 20). Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States were suspended following the enactment of the law. Citizenship was also offered to residents of Hong Kong after the United Kingdom also severed ties with the region. Nonetheless, not all countries were opposed to the introduction of the punitive legislation. The law was supported by over 50 countries in front of the United Nations Rights Council.

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The Financial status of Hong Kong after China’s crackdown

The financial hub that is Hong Kong stands a risk of being considerably affected by the actions of the Chinese government with the introduction of the national security law but only time will truly tell if this will happen. Shenzhen and Shanghai in mainland China stand in the shadows of the one of the globe’s most attractive markets, Hong Kong owing to light regulation, highly developed financial system and relatively low taxes (Xiang, 2020, p. 3). Nonetheless, the newly introduced legislature has started to greatly affect the multinational companies which are headquartered in Hong Kong sparking questions on the immense powers granted to officials in Beijing. The affected companies have considered moving away and taking their business with them to other favourable environments.


Nationalistic promises that are not delivered could turn into criticism for Chinese leaders who pro-nationalism. This is a very interesting subject since it can take legitimacy away from leaders as well as confer the same to the same officials.


Dupré, J.F., 2020. Making Hong Kong Chinese: State Nationalism and its Blowbacks in a Recalcitrant City. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics26(1), pp.8-26.

Fong, B.C., 2017. One country, two nationalisms: Center-periphery relations between Mainland China and Hong Kong, 1997–2016. Modern China43(5), pp. 523-556.

Ortmann, S., 2020. Hong Kong’s Constructive Identity and Political Participation: Resisting China’s Blind Nationalism. Asian Studies Review, pp.1-19.

Qian, L., Xu, B. and Chen, D., 2017. Does history education promote nationalism in China? A ‘limited effect’explanation. Journal of Contemporary China26(104), pp.199-212.

Wu, C., 2020. Nationalism and Social Order in Public Discourse: Analyzing Mainland Chinese Sentiments Towards the 2019 Hong Kong Protests. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 19, pp. 45-56.

Xiang, Y., 2020. Luwei Rose Luqiu, Propaganda, Media, and Nationalism in Mainland China and Hong Kong. International Journal of Communication14, p.3.

Zhou, K., 2020. Propaganda, media, and nationalism in Mainland China and Hong Kong: by Luwei Rose Luqiu, Maryland, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, US $90.00 (hardback), pp. 124-128.

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