Hong Kong’s freedom generation was always going to rebel against its Chinese future

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The ransacking, the vandalism, the reckless violence of the protesters who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council may have shocked the world, but few in the city would have been surprised.

For more than three weeks, thousands of mainly young protesters expressed frustration that peaceful demonstrations, no matter how large, were being ignored by the city’s Government. 

Two weeks ago, many of the young demonstrators who surrounded the Legislative Council and clashed with riot police openly told reporters that they were out of peaceful options.

They felt vindicated when, in the aftermath, the Chief Executive Carrie Lam indefinitely delayed the focus of their anger — an extradition bill that could see those suspected of crimes sent to mainland China.

But Monday’s storming of the Legislative Council was unsettling for a city literally counting down the years until China assumes full control. 

No-one ever gives a clear answer when you ask what’s supposed to happen when the 50-year “one country, two systems” deal is up in 2047. 

But you get the feeling when China’s leaders agreed to the deal with Britain in the 1980s, they wouldn’t have foreseen the level of animosity towards Beijing more than two decades after the handover. 

It’s worth remembering the protesters who clashed with police are just a fraction of the total demonstrators who marched against China’s increasing grip on Hong Kong in recent weeks. 

A counter demonstration in recent days of mainly older protesters attracted tens of thousands of people, highlighting the divides in the city. 

A protester shouts next to a defaced Hong Kong emblem and a banner which reads "No thug, only tyranny".

While China’s Government often touts its modern record of economic achievement as a source of pride and satisfaction among its 1.4 billion people, it also relies on a system of constant heavy censorship, which obscures critical views and divergent opinions, to help maintain support for the Communist Party’s leadership.

Growing up in a city without the censorship and constant state-backed nationalism, it’s not surprising the hearts and minds of Hong Kong’s younger generations haven’t embraced a future under the official doctrine of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

The pro-Beijing view

The pro-Beijing view

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It’s hard to fathom how a generation raised in an international city with free speech, rule of law and freedom of the press are ever going to feel comfortable about integrating further with China’s Government in its current conservative state. 

And yet despite these freedoms, the one thing the people of Hong Kong lack is a genuine democracy that gives them the power to use the ballot box to change their fate. 

The result, not surprisingly, is a simmering resentment that boiled over in some very ugly ways these past few days. 

The storming of the Legislative Council was the most dramatic, but it’s the videos flying around social media of nasty verbal and physical clashes between people of opposing views that highlight how bitter the debate has become. 

Twenty eight years might seem like a long time to resolve that existential question of Hong Kong’s integration with the mainland. 

But 22 years of “one country, two systems” have already passed. 

The physical linkages — sea bridges, high-speed rail — have been connected, but the hearts and minds of a huge proportion of young Hong Kongers seem as distant as ever from the mainland.

A damaged portrait of a former legislative leader lies on the ground
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