Olympic Success Gives Hong Kong an Emotional Lift in Hard Times
TOKYO – The light red flag with the five-petalled bauhinia flower does not represent a country. But Hong Kong, the Chinese territory where political and civil rights have been violated in recent months, is enjoying its best performance at the Tokyo Olympics, winning gold in fencing and two silver medals in swimming.
The three-medal booty marks the first time that Hong Kong, which was returned to Chinese rule by the British in 1997, has won more than one medal at the Olympics. Swimmer Siobhan Haughey won her second silver of the Games on Friday in the women’s 100-meter freestyle after winning the 200-meter freestyle on Wednesday.
But outside of the pool and fencing track, Hong Kong’s fortunes haven’t been so bright. The territory was promised important political freedoms for 50 years after its handover to China, but Beijing cracked down. Most of Hong Kong’s main opposition politicians are in prison or in exile. Last month, the largest pro-democracy newspaper was forced to close.
The first person to be sentenced under a tough new national security law on Friday for terrorism and inciting secession was sentenced to nine years in prison for riding a motorcycle on police officers while carrying a flag of protest.
Beijing’s crackdown has targeted contemporary art, high school civics classes, and children’s books featuring a dozen fluffy sheep.
“Right now, many Hong Kong people are probably feeling miserable and full of negative emotions,” said Tse Ying-suet, who played in the mixed doubles bronze medal match in badminton on Friday. “I think the athletes who win Olympic medals bring Hong Kong people a little bit of hope and joy.”
Tse and her partner, Tang Chun-man, lost to a Japanese pair, but she thanked Hong Kong residents who had flocked to malls and other public spaces to watch the badminton competition live.
“I am very happy that so many people have come together to support the Hong Kong athletes,” Tse said.
Hong Kong police said on Friday they arrested a man among a crowd of people who gathered to watch Cheung Ka-long’s fencing final at a shopping mall. The man had violated the national anthem ordinance by waving the British colonial flag and inciting others to chant negative slogans as the Chinese anthem played at Cheung’s victory ceremony, police said. Authorities were also investigating whether he had broken the national security law.
“These insults to the Chinese national anthem are aimed at inciting hatred and politicizing the sporting event,” said Chung Lai-yee, a senior police official.
Hong Kong first entered the Olympic fold in 1952, when it was a British colony, which ruled the territory with little respect for the rights of the colonized. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Lee Lai-shan won Hong Kong’s first gold medal in windsurfing. “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem, was played during his victory ceremony. A colonial flag was hoisted.
Four years later, in Sydney, Hong Kong competed for the first time as Hong Kong, China. When Cheung won gold in the individual foil fencing event on Monday, “March of the Volunteers,” the Chinese anthem, was played. The bauhinia flag has been hoisted.
With Hong Kong’s freedoms rapidly eroding, some have wondered how long the enclave will be able to field its own team at the Olympics. On Friday, Mark Adams, spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee, said he was not aware of any discussions about Hong Kong’s future at the Games.
“I see no reason why this should not continue,” he said.
During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when equestrian events were held in Hong Kong, residents of the territory applauded both the Hong Kong team and the Chinese team. Fears that Hong Kong will change drastically after the transfer does not materialize.
The enclave, linked by a formula of “one country, two systems” which gave it a high degree of autonomy, seemed to benefit from the best of both worlds: a reputation as a society of law, endowed with political freedoms and proximity to markets. booming. from mainland China.
The past two years have shattered that sense of security. Mass protests gathered in 2019, taking millions to the streets. Each week seemed to bring more evidence that Beijing was determined to impose its will on Hong Kong. At the same time, some people in Hong Kong have decried the pro-democracy movement, which has disrupted the central financial district, calling it ideally impossible or bad for business.
The trio of medals in Tokyo, an impressive record for a territory of only 7.5 million inhabitants, gave Hong Kong people something to celebrate.
Online, in English, the Hong Kong Olympic facility celebrated the achievements of the medalists. But on an official website, the names of the athletes were at one point in Mandarin, the official language of mainland China, and not Cantonese, the predominant language in Hong Kong.
Ko Hei, a senior sports executive at the Hong Kong Fencing Association, said he was surprised to learn that Cheung’s name had been portrayed for some time in Mandarin, rather than the native language. from Hong Kong. (Cheung’s English first name is Edgar.)
Fencing has long been popular in Hong Kong, he said, and more than 1,000 children regularly participate in the competitions. The sport has also won Olympic medals for China, including a gold medal in Tokyo.
“They are getting very good,” said Ko, from China. “But we have no relationship with them. We are separated.
Joy Dong contributed to Hong Kong research.
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