17 October 2019
While leaflets (left) issued by official organizations usually have an English version, many other printed materials in Hong Kong are available only in Chinese. Photo: HKEJ
While leaflets (left) issued by official organizations usually have an English version, many other printed materials in Hong Kong are available only in Chinese. Photo: HKEJ

How printed materials in Hong Kong can lead to an unfair society

I am not sure how many of you have noticed it, but why is it that most printed materials for the Hong Kong public, whether coming from government offices or the private sector, are only available in Chinese?

It’s a common practice everywhere in Hong Kong. Brochures listing available summer courses, leaflets for newly launched apartments or car parks, vacancies in governmental schools and vocational institutions, new transport arrangements and routes, services offering discounted rates, even restaurant menus, are all printed only in Chinese, as if it has been taken for granted that everyone in this city reads Chinese.

All these reading materials are printed and handed out to the general public so they could be helpful for all. It is a common practice in any civilized society; people need to be informed in a timely manner and printed materials are mostly used for such purpose. 

Nowadays, we communicate through various means. We do it through phones, SMS, social networks, television, emails, and even by word of mouth.

Yet, distributing printed materials to provide information to the masses is still a very common and effective practice, and the general public very much rely on it.

Such printed materials undoubtedly provide valuable information and sometimes even opportunities that could change people’s lives. 

For instance, securing a school place for their children at their preferred school is very important to most Hong Kong parents, and the earlier they get the necessary information the better chances they have in succeeding in their quest.

But since such information is usually printed only in Chinese, non-Chinese residents are already out of the ballgame even before it starts.

This is just one typical example, and there are so many other instances where the practice of having printed materials available only in Chinese is putting those who cannot read the text at a great disadvantage.

Because of this widespread practice, Hong Kong is unwittingly creating an unfair society. It may not be intentional, but by failing to provide enough information to all people in our society, we are not treating them equally.

If this practice is not rectified in time, it can give a bad name for Hong Kong. Nobody wants that. After all, isn’t Hong Kong Asia’s world city? We should live up to our name as an international cosmopolitan city.

Chinese is definitely not an easy language to learn for outsiders. Many residents who came from other parts of the world somehow manage to learn to speak the language, but reading or writing Chinese is almost an impossible task for them.

Unless one has studied the language in school from a very young age, or gone through a long and formal course, it is almost impossible to become a capable reader, let alone the very good one.

And most of the people who came here from other places are already adults who have neither the time nor the inclination to become proficient in Chinese.

If they can manage to grasp enough Chinese vocabulary and be able to communicate with the locals without much difficulty, they will already consider that a great achievement. But asking them to be able to read Chinese is a bit too much.

This problem can easily be solved if we will just take the effort of printing important and useful materials in both English and Chinese. It is certainly not too much to ask for.

We hope relevant parties will take heed.

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EJ Insight contributor