It’s a personal story but there’s no escaping the political overtones of last Sunday’s installment of the TVB drama Shades of Life. The July 27 episode, “Same Root” starring Oceane Zhu, attracted 1,500 viewer complaints to Office of the Communications Authority in one day over the portrayal of a mainland migrant and her daughter facing a new life in Hong Kong.
The episode shows Zhu’s character, Wang Meifen, struggling to deal with unfair treatment in Hong Kong and remembering happier times on the mainland. She considers returning for good with her daughter to their hometown across the border but decides against it when she sees how hard her child has worked to improve her English. Inspired by the daughter’s fortitude, Wang realizes that she too needs to try harder to build a life in the special administrative region.
A heartwarming tale to be sure but one that presents Hongkongers as morally inferior and reflects stepped-up efforts in local media to “harmonize” society through high-rating programs.
From a general cultural perspective, “Same Root” shows new immigrants working hard to fight for recognition in the city’s community, accelerating their integration on a day-to-day basis. But the episode also has political implications, reflecting how confrontations between the two parts of the country are entering a new realm, sending the message that Hong Kong people are hostile to immigrants to the point of bullying.
The episode also tries to convince viewers that new immigrants are key to Hong Kong’s future by injecting much-needed youth into the city. This central theme is to establish a positive image of mainland immigrants and maintain social stability in the city. It seems to praise mainlanders for holding on to their own ways of life and criticizing Hongkongers for not tolerating that behavior.
It comes then as no surprise that the program has angered Hongkongers. They see the main issue in the city not as a personal one of local hostility to newcomers but a political one of a secret deal between Beijing and Hong Kong. There is also the matter of recent arrivals behaving in an uncivilized manner, raising concerns about upholding standards of living in the city.
So why has the series producer taken such a stand? Who are the target viewers of TVB – Hong Kong-born people or mainland immigrants? Is there any hidden government agenda that mainlanders must be treated sympathetically?
The confrontation between Hong Kong and Beijing is a deep-rooted issue that will take time to resolve. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with Hongkongers seeking to retain their way of life. Mainlanders who want the Hong Kong right of abode should learn from Hong Kong people about those standards and not force others to accept their ways.
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