George Orwell called it “one of the most horrible sights in the world”, but China wants to bring the goose-step to semi-autonomous Hong Kong as part of a wider battle to bring the city’s querulous young people into line and inculcate a new generation of patriots.
The Chinese government has asked uniformed youth groups in Hong Kong including the Scouts and St John Ambulance to consider marching in the People’s Liberation Army-style goose-step in a forthcoming public display, replacing their existing British-style drill.
The request came earlier this month from Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong United Youth Association, which is affiliated to the All-China Youth Federation, a Beijing-based umbrella group whose mission is to promote love of the country and the Communist party.
“It’s part of a brainwashing effort to mould our young people to comply,” said Claudia Mo, an opposition member of Hong Kong’s partially democratic Legislative Council. “At the end of the day they will be conditioning our young not just how to march but how to walk, talk and think, and that’s what’s so scary.”
The appeal to take up a march associated with authoritarian regimes around the world comes as China intensifies its interventions in Hong Kong, which was promised civic freedoms and a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years when Britain handed it back in 1997.
From kidnapping critical booksellers to blocking democracy activists from standing in elections, Beijing’s squeeze has sparked a bitter backlash, with a growing number of young people in particular challenging China’s rule over Hong Kong.
Worried about rising opposition in the former British colony, last year China’s President Xi Jinping called on Hong Kong to “step up the patriotic education of young people”.
The request to march the goose-step, which was first reported by Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, came ahead of an annual flag-raising ceremony to commemorate the May 4 uprising in China, a student-led rebellion in 1919.
Karman Chan, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Girls’ Brigade, one of the 14 youth organisations involved, said that “parents will not agree” to let their children goose-step in PLA-style.
“The Girls’ Brigade has been following the same style for 55 years and therefore will not change,” she said.
But another Hong Kong youth group representative said that “Chinese-style marching was not that big a deal” as it was merely a technical issue.
The goose-step is seen as a symbolic demonstration of power by both its opponents and proponents, with China’s state-owned People’s Daily newspaper crowing in December about the PLA’s success in training the Qatari armed forces to adopt the goose-step for their national day parade.
In a 1941 essay penned during the Blitz, George Orwell, the British writer, called the goose-step “far more terrifying than a dive-bomber”.
He added: “It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face.”