23 January 2019
James Hong (right) says gang piao treat Hong Kong only as a springboard; their ambitions go way beyond the city. Photos:HKEJ
James Hong (right) says gang piao treat Hong Kong only as a springboard; their ambitions go way beyond the city. Photos:HKEJ

Why most gang piao drift away rather than settle down in HK

The number of gang piao (港漂,literally “floating to Hong Kong”, the term refers to mainlanders who come to the city to work or study) has been steadily increasing over the years.

There are probably more than 160,000 gang piao living in the city.

To some gang piao, Hong Kong may be synonymous with opportunity.

However, unlike the older gang piao, most young gang piao lack a sense of belonging.

They don’t see Hong Kong as a place to settle down any more.

James Hong Ming-sang, a successful gang piao who came to Hong Kong 29 years ago, explained to Hong Kong Economic Journal why this is so.

Hong lived in a poor village in Sichuan before coming to the city when he was 16.

He didn’t understand a single word of Cantonese and only had HK$2 (26 US cents) in his pocket when he arrived.

Hong, 45, has made a lot of effort to transform himself from a mainlander into a Hongkonger.

He managed to survive the discrimination he faced as a teenager.

Hong studied hard to get into the University of Hong Kong, one of the city’s two universities back then.

When people talk about Hong, the first thing that pops up in their minds is online games.

He was the first Chinese director in Sony Computer Entertainment Ltd.

Hong was also the organizer of the first Asia Game Show in Hong Kong 10 years ago.

In order to attract youngsters to the show, he dressed himself up as Woody, the main character in Disney’s Toy Story, and Lu Bu, a mighty warrior during the Eastern Han dynasty.

Today, Hong is the chief executive of online game developer Game One Group and a well-known commentator for local newspapers.

He has also become the host of a radio show on RTHK, recently sharing stories of gang piao. 

Hong Kong is the place where he has achieved a successful life, but he said he might not choose to come to Hong Kong today if he was 20 years younger.

The reason? Upward mobility in the city lags that in the mainland.

Hong is glad that he grew up at the right time.

“When we were young, we could easily climb up the social ladder,” he said.

“Many of those in the middle ranks had chosen to emigrate because of the handover of the city in 1997.

“So my friends and I could be promoted to management level within a rather short period.

“However, the rate of social mobility in Hong Kong is the lowest in a century.

“People who are making most of the money don’t want to leave, and the younger generation is now stuck and is unable to buy flats.”

That’s why, unlike Hong’s generation, the mainlanders who drift to Hong Kong now see themselves merely as transients.

Hong Kong has definitely lost its shine.

“The gap between the mainland and Hong Kong has been largely narrowed, being HongKongers do not have any privileges now,” Hong said.

Through his work, Hong has the chance to get in touch with many young people from the mainland and Hong Kong.

Gang piao only treat Hong Kong as a springboard,” he said.

“This is the difference between them and new immigrants; their ambitions are way beyond.

“They neither want to learn Cantonese nor integrate into Hong Kong’s culture.

“The city is such a small place to them. They will certainly leave for other places.”

On top of that, high living costs, an identity crisis and the conflict between locals and mainlanders are reasons they don’t want to stay.

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 3.

Translation by Betsy Tse

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal writer

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