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Survey Finds Hong Kong Teens Comfortable with Chinese Identity

  • Joseph Popiolkowski

When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, researchers wondered if the attitudes its young people felt toward the city, and mainland China and its people would change. As Joseph Popiolkowski reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, more of today's teens are comfortable in taking on a Chinese identity.

Benny Man was 16 years old when the British flag flying over Hong Kong harbor was lowered and the Chinese flag raised in its place.

Now, a graduate of Hong Kong University with a degree in music, Man has vague memories of the July 1, 1997, handover but recognizes it as the moment his future was tied to China's.

"Before 1997, we emphasize ourselves as the Hong Kong people rather than Chinese. And starting from 1997 we start to merge together. I think from now on we are all Chinese," he said.

The results from a recent poll of Hong Kong teenagers were compared with those from a similar poll 10 years ago. It found that although most of today's teens still put their Hong Kong identity first, a higher percentage than before use the description "Chinese Hong Konger." Sole identities, such as "Hong Konger," or "Chinese" fell in popularity.

Hong Kong University psychology professor Lam Shui-fong, who headed the study, says she found that those who identify themselves as Chinese also are more likely to support the mainland government.

"I hope that my research can arouse some discussion in this society about what we mean by being Chinese, what we mean by the Chinese identity, and what we mean by patriotic," said Lam.

Benny Man, the music graduate, shares many of the same feelings on national identity as several of his colleagues interviewed on the campus one day in June.

They, and Lam, point to civic education in schools, including daily flag-raising ceremonies and Chinese history classes, as one of the main reasons students are likely to embrace Chinese heritage.

But although the survey reveals most young people in Hong Kong feel positive about China's economic and political power, they still harbor a sense of superiority to mainlanders.

Kennis Chan, a 21-year-old dentistry student, is critical of those who look down on mainland residents.

"They want to isolate themselves from the mainland China," she said. "I think there's no point because maybe they think that China is more underdeveloped and they want to pretend that they are not part of the developing country. But I think this is not the case. China is very well developed now."

In the decade since the handover, she and Hong Kong's eight million other people have lived through the Asian economic crisis, the SARS epidemic, and large-scale protests in the streets for democratic reform. But Lam's poll suggests these challenges have not hurt the trend toward a gradual assumption of Chinese identity.

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