Press Releases in Hong Kong

Flags, flames and a flashback

This undated photo shows Nury Vittachi, a Sri Lankan-born and Hong Kong-based veteran journalist. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Editor's note: In the run-up to the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, China Daily talked to some Hong Kong residents, including expatriates living in the city, from various sectors, with different backgrounds, about the close bond between the city and its motherland. This is the sixth piece of the series.

In this piece, Nury Vittachi, a Sri Lankan-born and Hong Kong-based veteran journalist, shared with China Daily his observations on the differences between this year's big day and previous ones, as well as some of his thoughts on the relations between Hong Kong and the country. Here's what he said.

In the frightening, arson-filled days leading up to China's National Day celebration two years ago, a group of protesters in Hong Kong called for the attention of reporters standing nearby. We walked over. The demonstrators' press censorship team lifted their wall of black umbrellas so that we could film what their leaders were doing: setting fire to the flag of the country.

If China's rise has taught us anything, it is this: failures are not the opposite of success; they are the rungs on the ladder to success

They used a cigarette lighter to create a flame and then applied it to the edge of the bright red flag of China. A long minute passed. It wouldn't catch alight. They tried again. Still no luck. They tried a different part of the flag. It flatly refused to burn.

Some of the reporters started to laugh. The protesters, embarrassed and angry, barked orders that the wall of censorship umbrellas should go up again.

What they hadn't realized is that government-mandated safety rules mean that all flags – including the flag of China and the dozens of US flags the protesters were waving – are required to have a high degree of fire resistance.

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The incident was over in a couple of minutes, but was very representative of the protests as a whole. It was as if the universe was saying: "Hey, guys: ultimately you are going to have to stop setting everything on fire, because things like safety and respect actually matter."

Two years later, now we are celebrating the 72nd National Day of the People's Republic of China, and I breathe a sigh of relief that all bids to destroy the "one country, two systems" policy failed so badly.

It's ironic: Attempts to push Hong Kong folk away from the Chinese mainland made people with a negative attitude to the country (including me) think more deeply.

Attempts to defund our city's police force have resulted in them receiving more resources and a bigger budget.

Attempts to paralyze Hong Kong's civil society functions have resulted in our community having a firmer government with a stronger grip.

And attempts to make Hong Kong into the only developed economy without a security law led to it getting one that actually works.

On this anniversary, it's worth remembering that so much of Hong Kong's troubles began with 2012 protests against government proposals that youngsters in this city learn more about their culture and history. It was sad to see. People who don't know their past have no context with which to understand their present – or set targets for their future.

Recent history is relevant, too. Whether we were born in Hong Kong or outside it, the well-financed attempts to destabilize the city forced residents to take a stand. And of course it makes infinitely more sense for us to stand with legislators allied to our country and our cousins and our business partners, than to stand with activists who are openly allied to a hostile nation on the other side of the world.

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Still, the past 72 years of the PRC's history have taught us another lesson. Developing countries go through difficult days and dark times: such struggles, it seems, cannot be avoided. But if China's rise has taught us anything, it is this: failures are not the opposite of success; they are the rungs on the ladder to success.

This week, shopkeepers near my office are happily putting up Chinese flags to celebrate National Day. Two years ago, they were too scared to do so. That's progress.

And if someone lights a candle and places it too close to the flag, we needn't worry, because we have learned something. Flags are fire-resistant.