What do Hong Kongers think of Shenzhen?

"Without us Hong Kong would not survive"

The images are dramatic: mass protests between Hong Kong's skyscrapers, masked Protestants storm the parliament building, pro-democracy slogans echo through the financial metropolis. The message is clear: "Hong Kong is not China" screams the red capital letters on the protest posters at you.

But how does it actually look on the other side? What do mainland people think of Hong Kong?

This is not at all easy to find out, as the mass demonstrations were barely reported in the Chinese state media until recently. But on platforms like Weibo and Wechat you can definitely find expressions of opinion about the protests in Hong Kong.

Neighboring Shenzhen: Its rapid growth has put Hong Kong's economic position into perspective

There are three main opinions. The first is:

"Hong Kong has received a lot of financial aid from China, why are you still not satisfied? Hong Kong would not survive economically without China."

In fact, when Hong Kong was transferred to China in 1997, it played a central role in the Chinese export industry. Almost half of China's trade was through Hong Kong. Today it is less than twelve percent. "As a result of the rapid economic growth and structural change in China, all of these dependencies have turned to the disadvantage of Hong Kong," explains Markus Taube, economist from the University of Duisburg-Essen. "The Chinese locations of Shenzhen and Shanghai are so strong that China can now afford a weak Hong Kong. 30 or 20 years ago a weak Hong Kong would have been a catastrophe for China," says the expert on the Chinese economy.

China supported Hong Kong's economy with a lot of money during the 2007 economic crisis. However, the economist does not see these transfer payments as particularly noteworthy financial aid. "That has nothing to do with altruism," says Taube. After all, the cash injection was made during the crisis to stabilize Hong Kong as one of the central financial service centers for the Chinese economy.

The claim that Hong Kong is showing itself ungrateful despite a lot of financial aid from China is the result of a distorted perception. The importance of Hong Kong for the People's Republic of China in the past is completely ignored. "If you look at the history of the last 40 years, it is probably clear that China has benefited more from Hong Kong than the other way around," emphasizes Markus Taube.

Colonial symbol as a deliberate provocation in the direction of Beijing

The second common opinion on mainland social media is:

"The residents of Hong Kong had a rule of law in the colonial era, but also no self-determination. Why do they want that now?"

Although the Hong Kong people had no self-determination under British colonial rule, they had a very positive attitude towards life because Hong Kong prospered incredibly as the gateway to China, explains journalist and DW columnist Frank Sieren. The Hong Kong people were privileged. In the meantime, their position of power has been relativized. "You feel every day that the importance of your city is dwindling and at the same time Beijing's ability to intervene is increasing." The hope of many Hong Kongers for an expansion of electoral democracy - as provided for in the Hong Kong Basic Law - has so far not been fulfilled, says the sinologist and political scientist Thomas Heberer.

It was not without reason that the joint Sino-British declaration of 1984 spoke of a "high degree of autonomy" and that "Hong Kong would be ruled by Hong Kongers". With these formulations Beijing wanted to reassure the residents of the still colony and prevent them from packing their bags en masse in view of the imminent return to communist rule.

Economic expert Taube sees a basic problem in two different value systems that are not compatible with each other. The Hong Kong people are socialized differently and have "a much stronger need and interest in democratic structures than the masses of the Chinese population can understand," explains Taube. The value of a democracy and the fears that Hong Kongers have of the autocratic structures of China are not at all clear to many mainland Chinese in their own information and propaganda bubble.

Six square meter "cage rooms" are extreme examples of the housing shortage in Hong Kong

The third common opinion is:

"The Hong Kong people are only angry because the prosperity gap is no longer as great as it was in 1997. The Hong Kong people no longer feel superiority. Now the Chinese have the strongest purchasing power."

Hong Kong is still richer than China, but the gap is getting smaller. The per capita economic power of Hong Kong residents is still almost four times higher than in China. But in 1997, Hong Kong people were about eleven times richer.

Economics expert Markus Taube believes that the dwindling differences in prosperity in themselves are supposed to be the reason for the anger of Hong Kong residents. But China's rapid economic growth has meant that the enormous purchasing power of many Chinese consumers has pushed prices up in Hong Kong. One example of this is the horrific real estate prices in the small metropolis, which have more than doubled since 2012.

However, Frank Sieren does not see the blame for the tense housing market as the mainland Chinese. Hong Kong could regulate the real estate market more tightly. "The city is rich enough that everyone who lives there can live decently. It is not because of Beijing that that is not the case."

China's national coat of arms smeared by activists - attack on the nation?

"Mutual communication failure"

So the opinions about Hong Kong and its people circulating on mainland social media do not show a particularly good understanding of mainland and Hong Kong history and the mindsets of Hong Kong people. In addition, there is the influence of the state media: "The current reporting on the protests arouses the feeling among the mainland Chinese that the Hong Kongers do not want to belong to them and that they may reject the Chinese nation," says Thomas Heberer. Indeed, the Chinese defense against democratic aspirations in Hong Kong has encouraged the distancing from the mainland and from Xi Jinping's idea of ​​the "one great Chinese nation".

China connoisseur Sieren sees a mutual communication disorder at work, which does not originate solely from the mainland: "Perhaps it was a mistake not to talk to each other, but just to rattle around on the respective weaknesses instead of recognizing that we are stronger together." It is like a deadlock in marriage that makes it difficult to communicate properly. "First there were feelings of inferiority on the mainland side and a little too much arrogance in Hong Kong," says Sieren. "It's now the other way around." And we still talk more about one another than with one another. In any case, the one-sided reporting from the mainland does not help to defuse the problem.