Viewing the Anniversary Party From Afar

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A scholar in Guangzhou recently told me that 30 years ago journalists went to Hong Kong to try to figure out what was happening in Beijing, now you go to Beijing to figure out what’s happening in Hong Kong. I moved to Beijing last week, and I can say that that statement is far from true. But it does point to some realities, like how much more important a role Beijing plays in determining Hong Kong’s future. So what was the message one gets in Beijing after watching Sunday’s celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China? Perhaps it is best summed up in the line that Hong Kong pop star Andy Lau sang: “Let the world know we are all Chinese.” Of course, if you ask a Hong Konger traveling abroad where he or she is from, the first response will most likely be Hong Kong, not China. And Hong Kong people traveling to the mainland still say they are “going to China.” A series of polls by Hong Kong University points to that complicated sense of identity. It doesn’t seem like such a bad thing; such a distinct town is bound to have a distinct identity. But even from Beijing it’s clear the government is concerned about making China not just a tag on Hong Kong’s address, but the core of its mindset. That was the point Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, made in TIME’s recent coverage of the handover anniversary. “Hong Kong is still regarded as a special place of China, still regarded as a foreign country,” he says. “Hong Kong has returned in name, but not in substance.”

On a related note, this week’s TIME has one more piece on the anniversary, a viewpoint by Next Media boss Jimmy Lai considering the past 10 years and looking forward to the next 10.