Return of people’s hearts and minds a priority for HK

The concept, policy, goal, and even catchphrase of “the return of the people’s hearts and minds” (RPHM) have been put forward and attracted the attention of many Hong Kong residents since the city’s return to the motherland. It’s agreed that, notwithstanding the physical reunification, the city’s return to the motherland cannot be considered consummated without RPHM. Nevertheless, so far, different people have different ideas of what constitutes RPHM. Because of the incongruities in understanding, there is also disagreement about how to achieve RPHM.

In my view, RPHM can be succinctly described as a growing sense of identity and belonging to the Chinese nation and the People’s Republic of China; an increasingly positive attitude toward the Communist Party of China; growing appreciation of the contribution of the CPC to the survival and development of the Chinese nation; growing pride in the significant achievements of the PRC; increasingly correct understanding of Chinese history, especially the modern Chinese history of national humiliation; increasing knowledge of and respect for the socialist system of the country; deepening awareness and respect for Chinese culture; increasing understanding and support of the “one country, two systems” (OCTS) principle; increasing pride and confidence as a Chinese; greater preparedness to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests; and increasing willingness to contribute to the country, the nation and Hong Kong. RPHM should also comprise a comprehensive and critical understanding of Hong Kong’s previous “colonial” history and governance, and a refusal to blindly applaud the city’s “colonial” past.

Until recently, RPHM had not been promulgated as a major objective in the OCTS policy. The primary objectives of OCTS are to achieve national reunification, maintain Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, strengthen Hong Kong residents’ and the international community’s confidence in the city’s future, and enable Hong Kong to continue playing a unique and irreplaceable role in the country’s modernization. Given the anti-communist sentiments of a substantial proportion of Hong Kong residents and widespread anxiety about the future of the city after its return to China, any mention of RPHM by Beijing could be interpreted by many in the city and elsewhere as a plan to launch ideological indoctrination in Hong Kong after 1997. This will unavoidably exert an adverse psychological impact on its residents, and thus will hinder smooth reunification.

Even after Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, out of understandable political concerns, RPHM has not been treated as an urgent task by Beijing and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. National education, patriotic education, and other forms of thought education about RPHM have not been seriously promoted in schools and the community. Worse, hostile forces at home and abroad have vociferously opposed any RPHM-related actions. They have taken advantage of the resultant “ideological vacuum” to actively disseminate anti-China ideas and distorted interpretations of OCTS. The pernicious consequences of their protracted and unrelenting efforts include a widening chasm between Hong Kong residents and Beijing, alienation of numerous Hong Kong residents from their country, unremitting political conflict and instability, and the emergence of variegated brands of separatism, particularly among the young people.

In the past decade or so, severely jolted by the slew of turmoil in Hong Kong, Beijing quickly realized the imperative and urgency of promoting RPHM. In its reckoning, only after the achievement of RPHM would there be a solid ideological foundation for the successful implementation of OCTS, national security, cordial relations between Hong Kong and the mainland, prosperity, stability and good governance in Hong Kong. In recent years, promoting RPHM has rapidly become an important part of Beijing’s policy toward Hong Kong. Concomitantly, the HKSAR government has been more active in promoting variegated forms of national, historical, and national security education.

After the promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the fundamental revamping of its electoral system, domestic and foreign hostile forces can no longer hinder the promotion of national education. However, although more conditions favorable to promoting RPHM will appear in the future, including the inexorable economic integration of Hong Kong and the mainland and the unstoppable rise of China, changing people’s mindsets cannot be achieved overnight. To be effective, RPHM must be promoted with a top-level design, and with the concerted efforts of Beijing, the HKSAR government, and the patriotic forces.

However, although more conditions favorable to promoting RPHM will appear in the future, including the inexorable economic integration of Hong Kong and the mainland and the unstoppable rise of China, changing people’s mindsets cannot be achieved overnight. To be effective, RPHM must be promoted with a top-level design, and with the concerted efforts of Beijing, the HKSAR government, and the patriotic forces

From a practical point of view, RPHM can be achieved in three successive phases. They are the phase of “having a sense of responsibility to the nation”, the phase of “having a sense of common interests with the nation”, and the phase of “having a sense of common destiny with the nation”. The nation referred to here is the People’s Republic of China, not the vague and inscrutable “historical China”, “national China”, “cultural China” or “geographical China” that the anti-China elements would like Hong Kong residents to identify with. As of now, a minority of Hong Kong residents has already entered the second or third phases, but most of them have yet to enter the first phase. It is thus an urgent matter to bring them into the first phase.

In the first phase of “having a sense of responsibility to the nation”, Hong Kong residents have a correct understanding of the original intention, core principles and main contents of OCTS, and the reasons for maintaining Hong Kong’s institutional and ideational differences from the mainland for a long time to come. The scourge caused by the hostile forces’ distorted understanding of OCTS needs to be eradicated. Hong Kong residents are aware that although they differ from their compatriots on the mainland in some rights and obligations, they still have to fulfill the primary obligations as Chinese citizens under OCTS, particularly in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests; ensuring the comprehensive and accurate practice of OCTS in Hong Kong; respecting the comprehensive jurisdiction of the central authorities over the city; upholding the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”; maintaining Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability; countering the hostile forces at home and abroad; and resolutely opposing the “internationalization” of Hong Kong affairs by the West. They are also aware of the hefty price Hong Kong must pay if it adopts a confrontational stance toward the CPC, the central authorities and the mainland. To reach this phase, it is important to make every effort to promote education on the nation’s Constitution, the Basic Law and OCTS, and education on national conditions and national security in schools and society.

In the second phase of “having a sense of common interests with the nation”, Hong Kong residents understand that the United States and other external forces harbor sinister intentions toward China and the HKSAR and are determined to turn the city into a base of subversion against the mainland. They also recognize that if Hong Kong threatens national security and OCTS, the city’s prosperity and stability will come to an end. Hong Kong residents have an astute understanding of the international situation as well as the machinations of external forces, and will not be fooled by Western politicians, media, intellectuals, and their proxies in Hong Kong. They understand that the city’s future economic development, industrial restructuring, improvement of people’s livelihoods, long-term peace, and political stability are closely related to a thriving, prosperous, stable and harmonious country. The many policies and measures of the central government that are devised to benefit Hong Kong, the opportunities available to Hong Kong residents on the mainland, the contribution of Beijing’s policies, mainland enterprises and mainland talents to Hong Kong’s development, and the multiple ways that Hong Kong can contribute to the nation’s development under OCTS are widely publicized and recognized. Beijing’s support and solicitude for “colonial” Hong Kong since the founding of the PRC and its critical importance to the city’s postwar “economic miracle” are appreciated by the Hong Kong residents. In the process of inculcating “a sense of community of common interests” between Hong Kong residents and their mainland compatriots, the conflict between the interests of the West and Hong Kong must be robustly exposed and elaborated upon, and so are its long-term threats to China and Hong Kong.

In the phase of “having a sense of common destiny with the nation”, Hong Kong people believe that their destiny is inextricably linked to the destiny of their mainland compatriots. In this phase, Hong Kong residents have a strong emotional and empathic connection with the nation and their mainland compatriots and show sincere respect and concern for them. Even if Hong Kong residents have different rights and obligations from their mainland compatriots because of OCTS, they nonetheless are willing to faithfully shoulder their responsibilities to the nation as Chinese citizens. In this phase, Hong Kong residents not only have a deep understanding of the nation but also have an intense sense of affection, belonging and love toward it. To achieve this situation, thought education in both schools and society should aim at cultivating a keen sense of identity, love, pride, and trust in the nation. They should be urged to care for and be friendly toward their mainland compatriots and are optimistic about the future of the nation. At this stage, Hong Kong can vigorously promote national identification, patriotism and the moral responsibility of Hong Kong residents to the nation, prodding Hong Kong residents to share with their mainland compatriots the glory of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and completely and wholeheartedly transfer their object of recognition, belonging and allegiance from all the “abstract” Chinas to the PRC.

Of course, because many Hong Kong residents have been ideologically misled for a long time, it is not an easy task to reach the stage of “having a sense of common destiny with the nation”. Hostile forces will still spare no effort to interfere, obstruct, and sabotage RPHM. However, with the active and joint efforts of Beijing, the HKSAR government and the patriotic forces, ultimate success in this heroic task can still be achieved. During the process, Hong Kong residents, after having undergone a century and a half of British rule, should be able to finally wake up to the fact that their interests, futures, feelings and destiny are inextricably tied to the PRC and their mainland compatriots. Eventually, RPHM will be achieved, and OCTS will be able “to ride the wind and waves” and “go steady and far”.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.