An informal online poll by a Hong Kong newspaper inspired by a recent referendum in the Falkland Islands shows that 92 percent of readers who voted think Hong Kongers would prefer a return to British rule.
The poll on the English-language South China Morning Post's website was posted after residents of the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, voted 99.8 percent to remain under the United Kingdom rather than be handed over to Argentina.
The poll, titled "Would Hong Kongers vote to return to a British overseas territory, given the option?" showed that, measured at 7:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, 3,966 readers had voted "yes," while 373 voted "no."
The newspaper said in a blog post that the poll was unscientific and "just for fun," and that the question was carefully worded to avoid the impression that responses meant votes from the people of Hong Kong. There was no way to determine whether those who responded were Hong Kong citizens.
Hong Kong legislator and political activist Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," said that while the poll wasn't a scientific survey, it gave a snapshot of public sentiment towards Beijing in the years since the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
"Hong Kong people feel that [their own] government is doing a worse job than it was during British rule," Leung said.
"If you were to ask them whether they were better off before the handover, the answer would probably be that things were a bit better."
'Interference' from CCP
Leung said people in Hong Kong tended to see 1997 as a dividing line.
"The interference from the Chinese Communist Party has frightened people in Hong Kong," he said. "That interference is getting more and more obvious, and more and more serious."
One Facebook user commented on the poll that the British had never told Hong Kong people they should be "patriotic" or that they should support the government.
"The government didn't interfere with the media; it respected Hong Kong's local culture, so people naturally gave their allegiance to the British," the user wrote.
The user said the label "Chinese" had been thrust upon Hong Kongers following the handover.
Growing mood of opposition
One commenter said: "Sixteen years after the handover, pro-British feeling is still pretty strong," while another said, "This result should worry anyone who loves China and loves Hong Kong."
Media commentator Poon Siu-to said that, even without the poll, it was clear that Hong Kong people felt the city had gone downhill since the handover.
"There is a growing mood of protest against and opposition to China, which has to do with the huge pressure and interference Beijing imposes on Hong Kong," Poon said.
He said recent disputes between Hong Kongers and their compatriots across the internal border such as the buying up of infant formula milk by mainland traders had exacerbated the problem.
Poon said Hong Kong's own government was partly to blame. "[They] have put too much emphasis on one country, and not enough emphasis on two systems," Poon said, referring to the formula under which Beijing promised to take over Hong Kong.
He said the government had paid more attention to public opinion and traditional freedoms under British rule and that the gap between rich and poor had been narrower.
"These things have had a huge influence on people's views," he said.
Hong Kong's leadership
The poll comes shortly after comments from China's new leadership at the National People's Congress (NPC) session, calling on Hong Kong to be patriotic and to put their trust in Beijing.
Chinese officials have also hinted that they are unlikely to approve of full and direct elections to the Legislative Council and for the territory's chief executive by 2020, as permitted in the mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Anxiety over the city's political future sparked an "Occupy Central" movement in the downtown business district last year, with participants calling for universal suffrage by the next election.
On Jan. 1 of this year, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand the resignation of embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying and universal elections for his replacement.
Leung was narrowly selected for the chief executive job this year by a pro-Beijing committee.
Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists and political analysts say that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.
Last year, proposals for patriotic education in the territory's schools were shelved after thousands of protesters camped outside government headquarters for several weeks, dressed in black and chanting for the withdrawal from the curriculum of what they called "brainwashing" propaganda from the Communist Party.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.