On China's Mainland, A Less Charitable Take On Hong Kong's Protests : Parallels The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong largely have been peaceful, but many mainland Chinese see the demonstrators as spoiled troublemakers who are asking for too much, too soon.

On China's Mainland, A Less Charitable Take On Hong Kong's Protests

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/354088313/354124542" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have impressed people around the world with their idealism and grit. But in mainland China, the view is different. Many there don't know about the demonstrations because of restrictions on the media. And as NPR's Frank Langfitt tells us, those who do know about them are likely to see the protestors as spoiled trouble-makers.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: To understand how many Chinese have viewed the protest, it's worth considering how different Hong Kong is from mainland China. Hong Kong is a wealthy cosmopolitan city - more like New York than Beijing. A former British colony, it enjoys far freedoms than the mainland, including free speech and an open Internet. So when protesters took to the streets to demand electoral democracy, some on the mainland saw them as asking for too much too soon - people like Mr. Hua, who works at Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University, but refused to give his full name or job title because he's afraid getting in trouble with the authorities.

HUA: (Through translator) I think Hong Kong people should be rational and return to reality. They can live a very good life within the embrace of the mainland. Why pursue an elusive so-called democracy? It's silly, right?

LANGFITT: Hua's thinking echoes the Communist party's argument against Western-style democracy - that it's not appropriate to a country like China, which has a huge population and little in the way of civil society and that elections will only lead to chaos.

HUA: (Through translator) Democracy and universal suffrage may be the ultimate form of political system, but it doesn't mean it can be carried out in today's China.

LANGFITT: And Hua sees the Hong Kong protesters as presumptuous, demanding rights nobody else in China enjoys.

HUA: (Through translator) Hong Kong people think too highly of themselves. They think they are awesome. Without the mainland, they are merely dog poop.

DAVID WERTIME: My name is David Wertime. I'm a senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine, focusing on China.

LANGFITT: Wertime's been studying the reaction to the protest on mainland social media. He says one reason many mainlanders don't sympathize with people in Hong Kong is because of bad relations between the two. In recent years, nouveau riche mainlanders have flooded Hong Kong, buying luxury products and homes and pushing up real estate prices. Hong Kongers have publicly criticized them as uncouth - even referred to them as locusts.

WERTIME: Mainland tourists have felt that they've been looked down upon. And so when you have this small city that's considered itself separate and apart and has a little bit of this, you know, British colonial identity, that doesn't rub mainlanders the right way.

LANGFITT: Most of the protesters have been clear about their ultimate goal - open elections for Hong Kong's next chief executive. But the demonstrations have also been dubbed the umbrella revolution, which might alarm mainlanders. A few demonstrators had even waved Hong Kong's flag from British colonial days, which only remind mainlanders of a time when China was weak and divided. Again, David Wertime...

WERTIME: For many mainland Chinese who are following this, this feels like a personal rejection - a rejection of the mainland.

LANGFITT: Of the 17 people NPR interviewed on the streets of Shanghai for this story, none expressed support for the protesters. But some mainlanders do share their aspirations for a more open and responsive political system. Like Mr. Tong, who works as a sales manager at a German industrial company in Shanghai and also refused to give his full name. He spoke after a pick-up basketball game.

TONG: (Foreign language spoken).

LANGFITT: I personally think the mainland government should better understand why Hong Kong people protesting, he says, because there are many young people on the mainland who also feel very dissatisfied with the current reality. The thing is here, there's nothing you can do. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.