Veteran Hong Kong and China expert, Jonathan Fenby, was editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong during the handover in 1997.

He says there are many different currents flowing under the surface of the current unhappiness with life in Hong Kong. One of the key issues is the identity of the citizens – how they see themselves.

Mr Fenby points out that surveys of the population by Hong Kong’s universities going back over the past 20 years have frequently found that Hong Kong people do not identify themselves as being purely Chinese – most say instead that they are “Hong Kongers” or “Hong Kong Chinese”.

And that makes the leadership in Beijing uneasy, he believes.

“A very large proportion of the people living in Hong Kong at the moment are the children or grandchildren of refugees from mainland China,” says Mr Fenby.

“This is a more fluid population, and that is not something the authorities in Beijing like very much.

“Because they like the idea of Chinese national unity, Chinese stability and the Han race sticking together – and the Hong Kongers are different.”

And it’s the feeling that they want to maintain the differences between Hong Kong and China that appears to be driving many Hong Kongers onto the streets. But it could also drive many away from Hong Kong altogether if events take a wrong turn.

For middle class residents, many with passports to other countries, that’s a choice they can make. But, as Mr Xie points out, many young Hong Kongers educated after 1997 find themselves trapped.

“It’s difficult for the people here to leave now,” he says. “Hong Kong introduced mother tongue education in ’98 – in Cantonese.

People are less likely to speak either English or Mandarin than before the handover. So it is very difficult for people to emigrate.”

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