Written by Jennifer Eagleton.

Fundamentalist groups rigidly stick to core beliefs and maintain the “integrity” of their sacred text and practices to the exclusion of all others. Compromise is an anathema and ultimate domination of their dogma is their aim. After the 1997 handover, two unassailable fundamentalist “doctrines” seem to have appeared in Hong Kong: that of patriotism and democracy.Holders of these doctrines, “patriotic fundamentalists” and “democracy fundamentalists” seem further away from compromise than before.

Ironically, both these fundamentalists share the same “holy book”, the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution”. The ideological struggle between the two has been over the “true meaning” of universal suffrage that Hong Kong is promised in the Basic Law and its implementation in Hong Kong. Patriotic fundamentalists say universal suffrage has to accord with Hong Kong’s unique political situation while the democracy fundamentalists say that universal suffrage has to accord with international standards”.

Patriotic fundamentalists say that “only patriots can rule Hong Kong” and that “loving the Mainland and loving Hong Kong” is paramount. Patriotism is not mentioned in the words of the Basic Law, it is a part of its “spirit”, they say. In fact, they state that the “spirit of the Basic Law” is more important than the actual words themselves.

This fundamentalist group is the more powerful of the two, as they have the ear of religious advisors up north, known as the “Guardians of the Basic Law”. These advisors elaborate on the Basic Law text in conjunction with a higher religious body, the National People’s Congress. The latter interprets the articles on constitutional development for the Hong Kong public who largely have a “lopsided” view of what the Basic Law entails.

Metaphors used by the patriotic camp for the Basic Law certainly have a religious flavour about them, the mini-constitution seen as a “beacon” for Hong Kong and that “destroying this beacon would plunge Hong Kong into everlasting darkness”. This “guiding light” ensures the stability of the SAR after its return to China, they say. No wonder heretics querying it are considered traitors to the “faith”.

Democratic fundamentalists see the Basic Law as a “book of laughter and forgetting”, and that previous interpretations of it “wash away” the true meaning of democracy as it is understood internationally. In their eyes, they are the ones espousing “true democracy”, that of “one person, one vote”, and “equality to stand and be elected” without a “sieve” to sift out potential candidates for the top job who they see as “confrontational” to Beijing.

The journey to universal suffrage is seen as one of true enlightenment, a fight for civil rights. The democratic fundamentalists often invoke Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” discourse. It’s almost as if they almost prefer martyrdom for their refusal to compromise their beliefs for expediency as it shows their ideological purity.

The ambiguous phrasing in the Basic Law (“the ultimate aim is the election of the chief executive by universal suffrage according to the actual situation and gradual and orderly progress”), enables the democratic fundamentalists to “grey areas” and “loopholes” open to interpretation, but this group is marginalized by the powerful elite who have the power to interpret the holy book, despite former’s growing adherents from the masses. They see the Guardians of the Basic Law functioning like almanacs, with the SAR’s leaders using them to select the most auspicious day for the implementation of universal suffrage.

Patriotic fundamentalists see democratic fundamentalists as hot-headed rebels carrying out a “universal suffrage cultural revolution” or a democracy jihad. The latter see themselves as underdogs who see the journey to universal suffrage as one of true enlightenment, one which they alone tread a moral and righteous path.

Fundamentalism and nationalism converge. According to both groups, the Basic Law can only be fully lived in a society of fellow-practitioners of their belief. This, they say, can only be achieved through strict adherence to the authoritative text as each sees it.

Unfortunately, like fundamentalists everywhere, never the twain will meet.  Beijing seems unmoved by massive rally turnouts by democratic fundamentalists and their supporters.

Dr Jennifer Eagleton is an adviser to the University of Hong Kong’s “Designing Democracy” website and is a committee member of the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation. Jennifer completed her PhD on how Hong Kong talks about democracy using metaphor.