21 April 2019
Chinese tourists continue to descend on Hong Kong in increasing  numbers. Here, they are seen outside shops in Causeway Bay. Photo: Bloomberg
Chinese tourists continue to descend on Hong Kong in increasing numbers. Here, they are seen outside shops in Causeway Bay. Photo: Bloomberg

Cross-border relations: One country, worlds apart

Mainlanders piling into Hong Kong in ever increasing numbers are putting out not only the average Hongkonger. They have also managed to disappoint one of their own.

Jia Jia, a veteran journalist from the mainland who lives in Hong Kong, avoids them, saying he no longer goes to shopping areas such as Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok where they’re likely to congregate.

He has had his share of ribbing from his Hong Kong friends, such as when he wrote in a Weibo post that these days, he prefers to visit Ma On Shan and Gold Coast in Tuen Mun.

“Oh, you mainlanders now begin to occupy even these places?” a friend wrote back.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Until recently, when China relaxed a visa policy that opened the floodgates for mainlanders to visit Hong Kong, the local population had been warmer and more welcoming toward their cousins from across the border.

Still, cross-border relations did not deteriorate until waves of Chinese visitors began snapping up everything from property to baby formula and toilet paper, causing shortages and ratcheting up prices. Then there are complaints about unruly tourists trashing streets, public toilets, parks and public transport.

In the early days, Hongkongers were drawn to Guangzhou, the southern Chinese heartland, and patronized China-made products even as they struggled with their identity.

When Hong Kong came into its own in the 1970s, it was under a British colonial administration and it had a detached but inevitable view of China as the motherland.

Nowadays, Hong Kong people and mainlanders tell each other “we are not the same”.

In many respects, their differences are rooted in their socio-economic development, with Hongkongers having had a head start in many social metrics such as education, standard of living — even social graces.

For instance, it is only now, with their new-found affluence, that mainlanders are able to travel the world.

They did not come to Hong Kong in any significant number until 2003 when Beijing introduced the individual visa scheme to mitigate the impact of SARS on the local economy.

The visa program is being blamed for much of the present state of cross-border relations.

Pro-Beijing observers have accused Hong Kong of being hysterical about it to the point of hostility toward mainlanders 

On their part, the visitors think they’re doing nothing deplorable. They also litter, spit and eat on trains back home.

But when they’re called out for doing these things in Hong Kong, they feel insulted while Hong Kong people insist they have done nothing deplorable by complaining. It’s all a matter of discipline which one side clearly lacks.

Beijing has moved to curb boorish behavior by mainland tourists overseas but has done little to address the underlying issue — an inflated sense of self-importance abetted by government propaganda.

For instance, mainland visitors are quick to mouth the official line that they’re helping the Hong Kong economy and that without them, the tourism and retail industries will collapse.

It’s up to the Chinese government to educate their citizens about Hong Kong beyond their knowledge of local movies, drugstores and jewelry shops.

But it’s doubtful Beijing will encourage them to study Hong Kong’s history or politics. Hongkongers know far more about the mainland than mainlanders do.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Contributor at EJ Insight

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe