Hong Kong protesters waving UK’s Union Jack flag, explained
The flag is a symbol for the civil rights they are fighting for.
In large-scale marches that rocked the city of Hong Kong in recent months, protesters were sometimes seen brandishing the Union Jack flag, the national flag of the United Kingdom.
In addition to vandalising property, such as defacing the city’s emblem with black paint, radical protesters who stormed the Legislative Council building on July 1 have also draped the British Hong Kong flag across the podium in the assembly’s chamber, and waved the Union Jack flag.
Such a move has sparked debate in Hong Kong, and drawn heavy criticisms, especially from the pro-government camp.
The loyalty of the protesters has been called into question, as they appear to show loyalty to their former British colonisers, instead of the central government in Beijing, or even the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.
Why the Union flag?
Different groups of people have tried to explain the use of the Union flag.
Alexandra Wong, an elderly woman, known affectionately as Grandma Wong, has gained widespread attention for waving the Union flag at multiple rallies.
She told Reuters that she misses the colonial times.
“The British colonial time was so good for us,” she said. “I saw the future.”
However, the 63-year-old was not advocating for a return to British colonial times.
She told Apple Daily that she wants to be a “true and proud Hongkonger”, even though she wanted to “return to her roots” and be a “real Chinese” at the time of the 1997 handover.
But she said she later realised she had “placed her trust in the wrong hands”, referring to the “Communists”.
Young people helped her have a mindset shift, and her “China dream” quickly burst, she said.
She added that she questioned the legality of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rule when she saw how passionate the students were with regards to the June Fourth Tiananmen crackdown last time.
But while she acknowledged the young people’s fight now might have caused some inconveniences to other Hongkongers, Wang said she could understand why they are demonstrating.
“For the past 20 years, the Hong Kong government failed to fulfil its promises, therefore, forcing the young people now to a dead end.”
The topic of the choice of flag to wave around has sparked much debate on the LIHKG Forum, which is said to be Hong Kong’s version of Reddit.
Netizens were fairly divided on the issue.
Against the Union flag
Most netizens who were against the raising of the Union flag said the move might give the impression of them wanting to return to British rule, or even hoping for Hong Kong independence.
They also said the move creates a chance for the “50 Cent Army” (a.k.a. pro-China trolls) or the media to manipulate the narrative, and shift the focus away from the five demands of the protesters.
“Although I’m against the extradition bill, I’ve to say what’s the point of waving the colonial flag? To show that the Hong Kong people love to be their colony?
I noticed that some people oppose this idea as well. The main point of this movement is against the extradition bill, not to advocate for an independent Hong Kong.
What we need to do is to unite the Hong Kong people and persuade the older generations.
Waving the Union flag would only trigger negative feelings and might even divide people. Even I, as a young person, hate it.
But I know that even though I’m against the bill, people are just going to say I’m part of the 50 Cent Army.”
“By supporting the Union flag, your focus is wrong. Secondly, I don’t believe it accurately reflects the political stance of most protesters.”
“Not a spy, don’t diu me, but waving the colonial flag can easily be used by those with ulterior motive to their own advantage. And the CCP will really go crazy. It doesn’t help the situation either. All the 50 Cent Army are commenting every day on the use of the colonial flag, it’s really disadvantageous for us.”
“The UK doesn’t give a single damn. They are one of those who sold out Hong Kong.”
For the Union flag
Most netizens who belong to the opposing camp voiced out their support for the Hong Kong colonial flag specifically, and not the Union Jack flag.
But for those who support the use of the Union flag itself, they say it is to get the attention of the British to help advocate for their cause — an objective which some disagreed with.
“Don’t always say that waving the colonial flag is a bad thing.
1. This is a Hong Kong flag.
2. It’s a symbol. Those days were better than the present.
Also, they have the right to use anything to make their point.
Right now, in their eyes, is there even anything not related to protesters getting paid, or foreign forces.”
Some suggested the Union flag is the last alternative, after depleting all other options.
“If the Hong Kong people don’t raise the Union flag, what can they raise?”
Hong Kong journalist
Lam Yin Pong, a Hong Kong journalist, told The Japan Times that waving the Union flag does not mean that the protesters seriously want colonial rule again.
Rather, it means the protesters thought the period before the 1997 handover was better than the one after.
While they were under the British, there was “never a clear feeling” of their freedom being gradually eroded, or of a “series of government actions” that were against the Hongkongers’ interests, he said.
Although The Japan Times noted that Hong Kong did not enjoy democracy under 155 years of British rule either, Britain is still widely seen in Hong Kong as “a beacon of Western-style civil liberties and the rule of law”.
The city’s last British administration, led by Chris Patten, who pushed through democratic reforms in the last years before his departure, was also much more popular than subsequent Hong Kong administrations.
This has reinforced the perception among some protesters of the “good old days” under the British.
The UK-based media which commented on this issue typically looked past the direct representation of the flag.
Instead, they appeared to scratch under the surface to say that it was supposed to mean something else.
For instance, UK newspaper, The Telegraph, claimed that the protesters waved the Union flag as they associated the flag with values that they deem worthy, such as “the rule of law, private property, impartial courts, uncensored newspapers, regular elections, jury trials”.
Such a reasoning also goes for the waving of the American national flag by some protesters.
The American flag is widely seen, especially by Americans themselves, to be a symbol for freedom, liberty and human rights.
London-based opinion digital media site Areo waddled into the debate as well, expressing the same sentiments as the article by The Telegraph.
The display of the Union flag is “far from being a yearning to return to its colonial past”, Singapore-born American activist, Melissa Chen, wrote.
Instead, it must be seen as “a celebration of the values and institutions that represent the path-dependent outcomes of British heritage, which have now transcended it”.
The article also called out the dominant narrative used by “CCP apologists” that the movement in Hong Kong was backed by foreign agents just because the Union flag was being waved by protesters.
It posited that such a criticism is both “condescending and patronising” as it implies that the protesters lack “self-agency” and must be ” so mentally weak” as to become “puppets for the Western agenda”.
She also argued that the belief that “oppressors” can only be “white” westerners is also dangerous for it implies that Asian governments can never be the ones who oppress their own people, despite them doing the same as what the colonisers did before.
It also inadvertently “empowers” the “authoritarian” forces by delegitimising the people’s fight for civil rights, and aiding their narrative that they can never be the repressor as that role belongs to the West.
Top image via Ivan Abreu/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images