This is me in the middle of crossing one
of the weirdest borders I’ve ever crossed. It’s this one. It divides China
from China. And it took me two hours to get through. This border is weird not
only because it separates the same country into two, but also because it has
an expiration date: July 1st 2047. Until then China has promised to stay out, to let Hong Kong be highly autonomous. Hence, the border. But the government of China doesn’t really want to wait until 2047.
They’re ready to start erasing this border now, making Hong Kong a proper
part of China and one of the ways they’re doing that is this huge bridge. Yeah, I know this isn’t really the best shot so here’s a solution. The drone
doesn’t even have a microphone, but even still I couldn’t help but say, “take a
look at this bridge” as it was flying away. But seriously, take a look at this
bridge. China has unveiled the world’s largest sea crossing bridge. It’s 55 kilometers, that’s 34 miles, it’s the longest sea crossing in the world. The bridge connects Hong Kong with Macau and mainland China. I always call this
some sort of an umbilical cord between Hong Kong and China. That we want
something physical for you to register in your head that Hong Kong is part of
China. So this bridge and a bunch of other
recent developments in Hong Kong are bringing up a lot of questions of what
is Hong Kong? Who does it really belong to? And what happens when you erase a
border? it’s June 4th which is the anniversary
of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There are hundreds of thousands of people here
in Tiananmen Square. In the history of communist China there has never been
anything like this. On June 4th, 1989, pro-democracy protesters were marching
on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square calling for the end of a single-party rule in
China. They were then brutally massacred, hundreds were killed. “The troops have been firing indiscriminately.” Marking the end of
any sort of widespread democracy movement in China. They’ve just turned
off all the lights in this park. Every year the residents of Hong Kong hold a
vigil to commemorate the people killed in that massacre. This is something
that’s not allowed to mainland China, but in recent years this vigil has become
more personal to these people and that’s because they are feeling a new level of
influence from China. But wait. Isn’t hong Kong already a part of China? Technically yes, Hong Kong belongs to China but you sure wouldn’t think so by looking at
this border that I’m at right now. Okay, I made it into China. I mean technically I was already in China, but now I’m like, really, in China. So how did it get like this? Britain and China fought a couple of wars over trade in the 1800s and Britain eventually took
over Hong Kong as a colony. At the time this was a mainly empty rocky, group of
islands in southern China. Under British rule, Hong Kong’s population and economy
exploded and even though Hong Kong’s population was mainly made up of
immigrants from China, it became a very different society than mainland China
which was undergoing a communist revolution. One of the treaties that
China and Britain signed said that Hong Kong would be a British colony for 99
years, which meant that the agreement would officially expire in 1997. As that expiration date drew nearer, China and Great Britain started to talk about what
this is gonna look like. Britain acknowledges that when the lease runs
out in 1997 on most of the territory, the whole of Hong Kong will revert to China. Let’s finish talking about this stuff up there. If you go up to the 69th floor in
this building in the Chinese border city of Shenzhen, you’ll find a life-size wax
sculpture of this moment in the mid ’80s when the leaders from China and Great
Britain sat around and negotiated the terms of handing over Hong Kong to China. And they came to this agreement that Britain would give over Hong Kong
peacefully to China, under the condition that Hong Kong would be able to retain
its way of life, legal system, their economic system, freedom of speech
freedom of press, freedom of association, these are fundamental freedoms. Freedom of religious worship, these are fundamental freedoms. And they must continue. China agreed. They said they would let them be independent and govern themselves for 50
years while they kind of adjusted to Chinese rule. 50 years beyond 1997. And so
this was the agreement that they came to. It was called the “One country, two
systems” model and it was kind of unprecedented. Okay, let’s head back to Hong Kong see ya
Margaret, see ya Deng. So even after Hong Kong was handed back to China in
1997, this border that I’m now biking to stuck around. It remained exactly how it
was and this border became highly symbolic of the fact that yes, this is
China, but it was kind of its own country at the same time. Governed with its own
values and its own system that is different than China, that is in
opposition to China in some ways. Perhaps the most overt symbol of Chinese
sovereignty is this army barracks behind me. It’s the Chinese army. And so even
though these soldiers can’t leave the barracks or do any sort of enforcement
activities within Hong Kong, they’re still here in the central area of the
city and they serve as a very powerful symbol of the fact that this is Chinese
territory, this is Chinese sovereignty. But these soldiers won’t be confined for
much longer. The borders around their barracks, as
well as this border of north, are quickly dissolving. China has committed to
respect Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047 and for the first decade after the
handover, they respected that promise. What you have to understand is that Hong
Kong was easily China’s most economically productive city. In the early ’90s right before the handover, this one city’s economy was more than a
quarter of the size of China’s entire economy and so it makes sense why China
would agree to these terms, to keep Hong Kong happy and economically free. But then things changed. Look at the explosive development of these Chinese
cities in recent years. These are China’s mega cities. These cities eventually
eclipsed Hong Kong as the economic powerhouse of China. Shenzhen, this town
that shares the border with Hong Kong, is a perfect example of this. The place went
from a small fishing village of around 30,000 people to a super productive
economic powerhouse of over 10 million people in just a few decades. Hong Kong went from making up 27% of
Chinese GDP in the early ’90s down to just 3% today. And suddenly Hong Kong, once the economic powerhouse of China and the
gateway to the West, became much less economically relevant. And soon the
Chinese government didn’t have the same incentives to respect Hong Kong’s
autonomy. So now you begin to see a flood of Chinese influence in this city. Let’s go see if we can catch the 5 o’clock news. In recent years the evening news
broadcast has started with the national anthem of China, playing under a promo
video that shows Hong Kongers enthusiastically participating in
traditional Chinese customs. The message is very clear: that Hong Kong is a part
of China whether they like it or not. On top of that, the language of the evening
news is Mandarin, the official language of China. But in Hong Kong they don’t
speak Mandarin, they speak Cantonese. Don’t they say if you want to kill a city you kill
its language first. And we speak Cantonese here. They’re actually some
professors in Hong Kong and China telling us that “Oh, Cantonese is
actually not our mother tongue, not Hong Kong’s mother tongue.” Cantonese is actually just a dialect of Chinese. The Chinese government
tried to get teachers to use this text book to teach Hong Kong children the
basics about China, but looking into the book you see that it’s more of an
advertisement for China’s style of government, than an introduction to it. The Chinese system is the ideal type. So multi-party rivalry will makes the
people suffer, because about… all these four points are about how bad the United
States is. Multi-party systems create government shutdowns. They’re basically
pointing to that as the reason why a multi-party system like that of the
United States is deeply flawed and really bad for the people. In 2014 China
took it one step too far. The Chinese government was trying to control
who could run for Hong Kong’s election, in an effort to secure a pro-China
candidate. This really touched a nerve for the locals because this was their
democratic process, something that China promised they would stay out of. So people immediately took to the streets in protest starting here in this park. I took the taxi from my home to here on
the night. What was it like down here that night? We were in a standoffish situation. And suddenly they used tear gas. The first drop of tear gas just dropped right in front of my eyes. We were holding umbrellas, trying to prevent pepper sprays. I remember that, like, itchy painful feeling. Oh my gosh. Yeah. I saw Hong Kong people
joining, uniting together against the central governments and fighting for
their rights. This protest and the subsequent movement that came up around
it is known as the “Umbrella Movement.” You would say, “Oh, what’s the point of
fighting when you’re bound to lose? They’re so big, you’re so small.” For the record, we need to fight. We’re not taking things lying down. The protest didn’t change the
Chinese government’s mind and it didn’t immediately change anything in Hong Kong, but this spectacle of young people rising up to defend their rights from
the central government of China did spark a political awakening among the
many in the city who had never before paid attention. I think post-Umbrella Movement was the first time that the middle class came out and voted in droves. And voted for the opposition force. But for the first time like, you know, people sort of like us all started caring. Look at
this graph that shows how Hong Kongers identify themselves, either as Chinese or
Hong Konger. In the early days after the hand-off, as China respected the
One party two systems arrangement, you can see how Hong Kongers slowly became more
and more comfortable identifying themselves as Chinese. But since then,
with the growing influence from the Chinese government, you can see this line
reverse course. Residents of Hong Kong who identify themselves as Chinese has
almost hit a new all-time low. The Umbrella Movement
is a manifestation of this growing Hong Kong identity and the resistance to
Chinese government influence. China responded to the Umbrella Movement with
a new wave of efforts to exert influence in this city. I’m standing outside the
bookstore where in 2015 five staff members disappeared
throughout the year. This bookstore was selling books that were banned in China,
that basically cover the sex lives and the corruption scandals of high-ranking
Chinese officials and so one by one throughout 2015, people who worked in this bookstore disappeared. No one really knows where they went. One of
them showed up a bit later on Chinese television apologizing for what he did. And confessing to his crimes. The book store has since closed down. Back here in Victoria Park these
candleholders stand as a symbol of the fight for democracy against China’s
single party rule. That was once a fight that happened far away in Beijing, but as
this border has slowly been erased these people now find themselves engaged in
that same fight. Resisting a much more powerful China in the struggle for their
own democracy and identity.