Another anthem of protest
Jeers, boos over Beijing’s growing control lead to government crackdown
Hong Kong soccer fans challenge Chinese authority at a recent match by booing and holding signs during the playing of the Chinese national anthem.
HONG KONG — In the United States, athletes protest during the national anthem. In Hong Kong, fans do.
Sports fans in Hong Kong have been turning their backs, booing and even raising their middle fingers as China’s national anthem is played, a protest of Beijing’s growing influence in this semiautonomous city.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997, but it still fields its own teams in international sports competitions. One of its most popular teams, men’s soccer, has become a focal point for discontent.
On Tuesday, fans booed before the start of an Asian Cup qualifier against Malaysia, which Hong Kong won 2-0. Last week, they protested the anthem before a friendly match against Laos, which Hong Kong won 4-0.
The boos come from hardcore fans who worry that Hong Kong’s autonomy and unique identity are being undermined by Beijing. A few even hold up signs advocating independence, an idea that mainland and local officials denounce as illegal.
Now the authorities are planning tougher measures. Last month, China’s legislature approved a law prohibiting disrespect of the anthem, barring the song’s use in commercials or parodies, and outlining punishments for people who do not “stand with respect” and “maintain a dignified bearing” when it is played.
With a population of 7 million, Hong Kong is a minnow in the ocean of international soccer. But the city has a long history with the sport and, with the help of some foreign-born players, often punches above its weight.
China has a huge population to draw from, and its teams have been successful in several sports. But its men’s soccer teams have routinely struggled in international competition.
The anthem law went into effect on Oct. 1. But Hong Kong, a former British colony, maintains a semiautonomous existence that allows it to keep its own economic and legal systems. So Hong Kong will need to enact its own version of the law, which it has yet to do.
Thus far, Hong Kong fans are unbowed.
“We do it spontaneously because we don’t think we are part of the PRC,” said Sanho Chung, 24, who was at Tuesday’s game, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China. “We are different.”
Chung, clad in a red home jersey, stood with fellow fans during halftime. He said the national anthem law would not stop him from booing.
“It does dampen our freedom of speech, forcing us to respect something,” he said. “I worry, but I will still practice my rights. I think this is my right.”
SSIILTVNHRUViRVHSROVKSRO turned their back during the Chinese national anthem at the start of an Asian Cup qualification soccer match Tuesday against Malaysia.