Posters and graffiti have appeared on the streets of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou calling for independence not just for neighboring Hong Kong, but for Guangzhou, which shares its Cantonese language and culture with the former British colony.
Graffiti phrases like "Independence for Guangzhou, Go Hong Kong!" have been photographed in a number of public places in the city, which is the provincial capital of Guangdong province, and lies at the heart of the Pearl River delta economic area.
The slogans have been spotted at the Dayuanshuaifu bus stop, the Xinhong Gardens bus stop, and on the backs of bus seats, with the words scrawled in different color marker pens in traditional Chinese characters of the kind still taught and used in Hong Kong.
In mainland China, the ruling Chinese Communist Party simplified large numbers of Chinese characters after coming to power in 1949, while the original characters are still taught in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which weren't under communist control at the time of the reforms to the writing system.
Guangzhou rights activist Liao Jianhao told RFA that the stickers have appeared in different locations across the city in recent days.
"I saw some A4 posters which bore the words 'Independence for Guangdong' outside Exit H of Nongjiangsuo station on the No. 1 subway line," Liao said. "Actually, I think this sort of thing is a sign of social progress. It makes me feel happy and optimistic."
"I think it's a backlash to various things, that people aren't OK with a lack of responsiveness from the government," he said.
A Guangzhou resident surnamed Wang said the slogans are appearing after several years of government suppression of the Cantonese language and culture in the public sphere, which has prompted growing discontent among Cantonese speakers.
"A lot of the younger generation don't even know how to speak Cantonese anymore, and there are fears that Cantonese culture will be wiped out," Wang said.
"There is a huge awakening around our culture right now, and people are suddenly realizing that younger people can't speak Cantonese at all," he said.
Wang said that Cantonese speakers in Guangdong province, which gave the dialect its name, are culturally very connected to those living across the internal immigration border in the former British colony of Hong Kong, where Cantonese has been an official language of government and the lingua franca of most residents for generations.
"Cantonese culture is directly connected with Hong Kong, because it has been wiped out in favor of Mandarin [here in mainland China]," he said.
Not the ‘right way’
Guangzhou rights activist Ou Shaokun said he is against any splitting up of China's territory, however, despite wanting to see the country proceed in a more democratic direction.
"Yes, our government has many shortcomings, but we should promote democracy and progress," Ou said. "Once people start talking about independence for Hong Kong or wherever, I think we should protect the interests of China as a nation ... I don't want to see our territory break apart."
"I don't think that's the right way to go; we should protect the dignity of our country," he said.
The posters appeared during an annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), which voted on Sunday to abolish any limits to President Xi Jinping's term in office, ushering in an era of indefinite rule by a strongman-style leader.
In 2010, thousands of people took part in mass protests in Guangzhou in support of the Cantonese language after a mainland Chinese political body called for cuts in Cantonese-language broadcasts.
Flash mobs showed up in public places wearing white as a sign of protest, sparking similar actions in Hong Kong. However, activists reported intimidation by state security police in the wake of the demonstrations.
Generally, television stations in China are required to use Mandarin, but the Guangzhou Broadcasting Network (GZBN) was given special approval in the 1980s to broadcast in Cantonese to attract viewers from neighboring Hong Kong and Macau, which were still under British and Portuguese rule at the time.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with Macau following in 1999. Both territories are now Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China.
Hong Kong has a thriving movie industry and pop music scene, both of which produce a large part of their output in Cantonese, which also attracts a large fan base in overseas Chinese communities.
Written Cantonese, which has been historically undesirable for both colonial rulers and anyone seeking to unify China under a centralized government from the north, has enjoyed a popular resurgence in recent years across the Pearl River delta, with the advent of SMS mobile phone messaging and text-based social media.
The posters in Guangzhou came as a Hong Kong businessman said he would launch a judicial review in a bid to prevent newly elected lawmaker Au Nok-hin from taking up his seat in the city's Legislative Council following Sunday's by-election, on the grounds that he is pro-independence.
Businessman Wong Tai-hoi said elections officials should have disqualified Au because he "supports Hong Kong independence," which is now grounds for disqualification from elections in Hong Kong following huge political pressure from Beijing.
Au, who is due to be sworn in next week, says he has always upheld the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, however.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.