Well, according to the official media we have all been celebrating 25 wonderful years in the bosom of the Motherland. “Stability, prosperity and opportunity” are the catchwords and they are apparently being pursued in that order.

Xi Jinping
Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Hong Kong on July 1, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

Clearly the word has gone out from some very persuasive quarters that celebrations must occur. And a variety of freebies have been offered by a variety of companies and organisations to cheer up the city, which has also seen a great efflorescence of flags – large PRC ones and somewhat smaller SAR ones. We know our place.

The only discordant note, or at least the only one to make it into media reports, came at Ping Shek Estate. This is an elderly public housing estate near Choi Hung MTR station. Like many estates of its vintage it consists mainly of high-rise blocks built as hollow squares. Inside the square is a balcony going all the way round on each floor, and the tenants’ front doors open onto the balcony.

Kam Shek House
A woman showing a HKFP reporter of a photo that she took of the national and regional flags decorations in Ping Shek Estate. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

One of the local United Front astroturfs decided it would be a nice expression of patriotic fervour to decorate the balconies with flags – as above, big for PRC, small for SAR – and this was done on a generous scale, so that every flat on every floor had at least one flag hanging right outside the front door.

With hindsight this was perhaps asking for trouble. Within a day or two it was noticed that some of the flags had been vandalised – or as the government’s poodle press put it, “desecrated” – and one or two had simply disappeared.

All the flags were then removed, and the estate was allowed to spend the rest of the anniversary celebration period without bunting. For some mysterious reason – full report here – the ground floor courtyards were also closed “for cleaning” after the deflagging.

Lam Shek Estate
Barricaded patio in Lam Shek Estate, Ping Shek Estate on June 27, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

From the pictures supplied this seems rather a minor matter. Someone seems to have sprayed black paint on the big star on a PRC flag, which is an offence these days, though I have some theological misgivings about the use of the word “desecrate” in this context. One flag had come loose at one end, which with so many to put up may have been an accident.

I would not be surprised if one or two had been stolen. Putting so many flags within easy reach of passers-by is a bit inviting. Better if they are safely up a pole.

Kam Shek House
A red rope with a sign that reads “cleaning in process, do not enter” surrounding the patio of Kam Shek House, Ping Shek Estate on June 27, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

It may be that there is no political angle to this at all. Whatever the legal position may be, I expect tenants feel a certain sense of ownership of the part of the public balcony immediately outside their front door. Having a political symbol hung there without consent or consultation might seem provocative.

The fence between the gardens of the houses on my estate and the main road is, as far as I know, entirely the province of the estate management, who look after it and hang cameras or lights on it where necessary. Still, if someone hung a banner on my bit without asking I would feel put upon, and might well desecrate or remove the offending flag myself.

On the other hand we have to consider the possibility that there was a political angle: residents of Ping Shek Estate, and indeed of other parts of Hong Kong, are not feeling as jubilant as our leaders would have us believe.

Apple Daily
People hold placards to show support for Apple Daily Hong Kong on its last day of operation. Photo: Studio Incendo.

After all, many of us have seen changes which we did not ask for and maybe did not welcome. Readers of the territory’s once most popular newspaper have had to change their reading habits.

The district council member you elected in the last election has probably been disqualified, jailed, or conned into resigning on the basis that he or she might otherwise be presented with a bill for a million dollars. There was no legal substance to this threat, but as Vaclav Havel observed, in a totalitarian society you have to choose to live in truth or to live in lies. Not everyone makes the right choice.

Many residents of Ping Shek Estate probably know a few of the 10,000 or so people arrested for public order offences in the last three years and will have heard stories of robust policing. Indeed, many people who were not among those arrested may also have stories of robust policing.

Then there is the changing legislative scene. Many people have found that the person they voted for before was not on the ballot in the last election. Instead they were offered a choice which was no choice.

Victoria Park Causeway Bay Tiananmen crackdown vigil banned 2022 closed
Victoria Park is largely closed on the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, on June 4, 2022. Photo: HKFP.

We have also seen the disappearance of some traditional public gatherings. This was presented as a public health measure but few believe the passing of Covid will see a revival. Too many of the people who used to organise such things have been jailed.

In fact, quite a lot of people have been jailed, in many cases without the formality of a trial first. Not all of them, no doubt, are household names in Ping Shek Estate, but their former Legco representative is on the list.

Independent trade unions and other grassroots organisations have been disappearing. This may be good for stability but all these clubs had members…

July 1, 2022 Handover anniversary West Kowloon Station police water barricade
Police officers patrol around the West Kowloon Station on July 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

I do not suggest that any of these things can justify or excuse damaging a flag or stealing one. But flags are symbols and damage to flags is usually a symbolic act. The protests in 2019 started as an objection to the proposed extradition law and became an objection to robust policing. Now the author of the extradition law has been replaced as our leader by the author of the robust policing.

Stability and prosperity are wonderful things but they come more easily to governments which enjoy the affection and respect of the governed. We are, I fear, a long way from there.

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Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.