22 May 2019
Hong Kong activists demonstrate outside China's liaison office, holding a banner that reads "Chinese go back to China". Photo: VOA
Hong Kong activists demonstrate outside China's liaison office, holding a banner that reads "Chinese go back to China". Photo: VOA

HK-mainlander conflicts: Pride and prejudice

Hong Kong people tend to blame mainland Chinese for all sorts of problems, be it infant formula shortages, rocketing home prices, overcrowded public facilities or the absence of political reforms.
The bitter, interwoven and complicated relationship between the two sides manifests itself in many ways.

Initiating a debate, a mainlander recently posted a questionnaire on an online platform and directed it at his Hong Kong friends, mostly youngsters aged below 30.

Here are some of the questions and answers, which offer a mirror as to how Hongkongers perceive themselves in relation to their cousins from across the border. 

Q: Do you regard yourself as a Chinese?

A: (Respondent 1) We are Hongkongers. When travelling overseas we will only say that we are from Hong Kong.

(Respondent 2) In our discussions about cross-boundary relations, more than often we use “China” rather than “the mainland”.

Q: How do you feel about the individual visit scheme that has brought tens of millions of tourists a year from the north side of the border?

A: (Respondent 1) More than a decade ago when the scheme was announced after SARS devastated Hong Kong, it was seen as a booster to the city’s retail, catering and accommodation sectors. But now everyone here resents it except some fat cats that have pocketed most of the benefits.

(Respondent 2) I remember back then the Hong Kong Tourism Board invited Andy Lau to be an ambassador and shot a series of ads to promote Hong Kong to mainlanders. Local retailers were asked to enhance service quality and brush up Putonghua to better receive visitors across the border. But now most Hong Kong people no longer show genuine hospitality towards these tourists who invade the city like “locusts”.

Q: Specifically, how do you feel about mainland tourists?

A: (Respondent 1) When you have a sort of “habitual” discrimination against Chinese tourists, then you only remember their uncivilized or even barbarous behavior but the truth is that most of them are as equally polite and self-disciplined as people from other countries. One day I took a close look at the Chinese tourists in Canton Road and others parts of Tsim Sha Tsui. What I found was that except the fact that most of them liked to shout at each other, generally they behaved quite well: they wouldn’t smoke in public areas or jump a red light. When taking an escalator, some of them stood on the left side of the stairs – usually reserved for those who are in a hurry to walk through – but more than often their tour members would ask them to give way.

(Respondent 2) Due to the prevailing mindset that Hongkongers are way superior to their “country cousins” from China – you see even in Cantonese we colloquially use “countryside (鄉下)” to refer to the mainland – once we find any improper behavior by mainlanders, we simultaneously label all of them as uncouth tourists and discriminate against them further.

Q: Do you think all Hongkongers discriminate against mainlanders?

A: (Respondent 1) Basically yes.

(Respondent 2) In China there is a notion that those in Hong Kong who look down upon mainlanders are people struggling at the base of the social hierarchy or those being crowded out in job-hunting by their mainland rivals but that’s not the case.

(Respondent 3) Hong Kong movies and TV dramas, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, used to tease mainlanders about their dialects and countrified behavior. But nowadays high-income and well-educated Hongkongers will normally treat mainlanders in a polite manner but that doesn’t mean they like these people. And if a mainlander can discipline himself and look and behave as civilized as locals do, the highest compliment from Hongkongers can be that “you do not look like a mainlander”. And, as for the city’s youngsters, they seldom conceal their disdain. The fierce squabble between locals and mainlanders in Mong Kok this April after a young mainland boy reportedly urinated in the street is just one example.

Q: Do you think the Hong Kong government’s ban on mainland expectant mothers to deliver babies in Hong Kong is an act of outright discrimination?

A: Yes, absolutely. Indeed people from any other country can come here and give birth to their kids and obtain Hong Kong permanent residency but the “zero delivery quota” policy only applies to mainland mothers. And the irony is that Hong Kong belongs to China, at least nominally.

Q: What do you mean by “nominally”?

A: One aspect is that Hong Kong offers visa-free entry to more than 80 countries and territories but China is not included.

Q: Do you think that Hong Kong should be isolated from China?

A: (Respondent 1) The answer will be a big “yes” among local youngsters and I guess many Taiwanese think alike. Those born in the 1980s and 1990s harbor some profound dislike of the country.

(Respondent 2) And it may be confusing to see that 30 years ago when most Chinese were struggling to make ends meet, people across the border in Hong Kong didn’t develop a particular type of aversion but nowadays when China has already become a major power in the region, dislike and distrust have also risen to a new high in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Q: How to eliminate all this discrimination and foster reconciliation between people on both sides of the border?

A: (Respondent 1) I have a sinking feeling about such prospect. Let me put it this way: unless members of our generation and the next two generations all die out, such discrimination is going to stay.

(Respondent 2) I think the reason why we looked down upon mainlanders two or three decades ago was because they were generally poor. But now, why do we still discriminate against them? The reason is that many mainland tourists are nothing but “nouveau riches” who like to flaunt their wealth in a rather shallow and annoying way. And even if these tourists do nothing wrong in Hong Kong, still we’d rather believe that these people are pretending to be polite and civilized.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


Hong Kong mothers cry foul at the influx of mainland women seeking to give birth in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Parallel traders, mostly mainlanders, travel on the East Rail Line to smuggle goods sourced in Hong Kong, mainly powdered formula, diapers and other daily necessities, and sell them for profit in Shenzhen. Photo: VOA

EJ Insight writer

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