21 September 2019
Mainland students in Hong Kong are no longer captivated by the idea of staying back in the city after graduation.
Mainland students in Hong Kong are no longer captivated by the idea of staying back in the city after graduation.

‘Goodbye and good luck’: A mainlander’s farewell message

It’s no secret that mainland students in Hong Kong have mixed feelings about the city.

While they appreciate the many freedoms that the Chinese special administrative region offers, there is also some resentment over the perceived discrimination by locals, as well as the territory’s other shortcomings.

Meanwhile, questions are also being raised if Hong Kong really has a better economic future than China. 

Amid such feelings and doubts, many students are opting to return to the mainland after their studies, rather than stay on and seek work here. 

And even some people who have already found work are considering uprooting themselves amid a feeling that it’s “game over” for Hong Kong.  

Most of them, as characterized by a recent post online about a mainlander giving up his Hong Kong residency to take up a job in Shenzhen, are the kind of proud Chinese who think the territory now lags in the race with mainland cities as China develops its economy further.

Alex Zhang, a 27-year-old who hails from China’s southwestern Sichuan province, is among those packing their bags right now.

But unlike his friends, Alex is not returning to the mainland. He is, instead, moving to the United States. 

Also, he admits that he likes many aspects of Hong Kong.

This reporter first met Alex at a late night gathering after the June 4 candlelight vigil at Victoria Park this year. To an audience of about 30 persons, Alex gave an impassioned speech, in Putonghua, on how Hong Kong has enlightened him on the cause of freedom and dignity.

Joshua Wong, founder of the student group Scholarism and the moderator of the open seminar that night, gave Alex a big hug when the latter finished his 10-minute speech.

The annual June 4 vigil does attract some mainlanders every year, but almost all of them prefer to stay low-key as they want to avoid any trouble for themselves or their families back home.

So it was indeed very courageous on the part of Alex to speak up in a public gathering and make some comments that Beijing may deem politically incorrect.

During subsequent meet-ups with yours truly, Alex shared more information about his life in Hong Kong and what is prompting him to leave the city after staying here for more than five years.

A Master’s degree holder in mass communications, Alex worked in the newsroom of a local TV station until he resigned last month.

He will head to the US next month to pursue a PhD degree in political sciences, with full scholarship, at the renowned Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Unlike many of his mainland peers in town who look at all issues from economic and nationalistic prism, Alex has a reflective, sober mind on matters related to Hong Kong and China.

Here, we present some of his observations in a question and answer format.

Q: Why are you going to the US for further studies? Why did you come to Hong Kong five years ago?

A: I learnt how to circumvent China’s Internet firewall when I was 16 and had access to information from the outside. On an overseas forum, I once read news reports about Hong Kong’s annual June 4 vigil, and this was how my political enlightenment began. The more I learnt from the world outside, the more antipathetic I became to the way that Beijing governs. I swore to myself back then that I must go outside to see how freedom and democracy work.

I did my internship as a reporter in Guangzhou during my fourth year in college. Each time I attended a news conference, I would be given “red packets” containing hundreds of yuan. That made me wonder: what is the purpose of journalism – seeking truth or just making money?

In Guangzhou I could watch some Hong Kong TV programs. Out of genuine admiration for the city as an open society, I decided to come to Hong Kong for postgraduate study, using my mom’s life savings.

Q: But why are you leaving now? Is it because of Hong Kong’s “mainlandization” and deteriorating cross-border relations? Or is it because of other factors like inadequate career opportunities, discrimination against mainlanders or even cramped living?

A: 2015 is my fifth year in Hong Kong. Indeed, I have already realized two years ago that the city is not the place that I can call home. I didn’t read law or finance when I was in college. So in a place where career opportunities are largely concentrated in the financial and related sectors, I see limited upward mobility for me. Also, being a non-local, it’s difficult to advance in the media industry.

And, I admit that the so-called “mainlandization” and cramped living are also part of the reason for me to leave Hong Kong.

Q: You have been here for five years. If you stay for two more years, you can apply for right of abode as well as a local passport. So why can’t you stay a bit longer?

A: The right of abode was not why I came here, nor is green card my reason to go to the US.

To be honest, though I am not happy with China’s current situation, my indigenous Chinese identity is always more important as I will return to China one day to contribute to the best of my ability.

That said, I sympathize with and support Hongkongers’ fight for democracy and autonomy. Each year I make donations to democratic parties, attend the June 4 vigil and participate in the July 1 march. Although not a Hongkonger, I think I have done my bit for the city.

Q: From your point of view, what lies ahead for Hong Kong politically? And in terms of economy, will the city keep its competitive edge or is it fading away?

A: Beijing has been badmouthing Hong Kong for a long time to serve its political needs with false notions like “China no longer needs Hong Kong”. I believe that Hong Kong will retain its prominence even as China is ruled by one-party dictatorship.

The truth is that, the Chinese economy is far from being an open and market-based one, and thus China still needs Hong Kong in finance and trade. No mainland city, be it Shanghai or Shenzhen, can overtake and replace Hong Kong.

As for political affairs, I think each and every Hongkonger has the responsibility to safeguard its values and stand up against any external interference that will undermine the core elements. Maintaining Hong Kong’s status quo is already a remarkable feat, as it’s Beijing’s aim to tame the city and assimilate it into the mainland.

I’m confident, from what I’ve seen during last year’s Occupy movement, that the younger generation has woken up and that they will be the most vigorous guardians of Hong Kong’s own systems in the face of Beijing’s suppression.

Q: Will you encourage your mainland peers to come to Hong Kong to study and work?

A: Yes. Young people will benefit greatly from their experiences overseas. But if they are merely animals in the material world, then they can learn very little. If you seek self-improvement on ideology and critical thinking, then studying or working in Hong Kong can be eye-opening.

Recently there have been complaints from mainlanders that Hong Kong has failed to meet their expectations. I think these people have never been able to realize why Hong Kong is so different from China. You can never judge the city’s virtues by some shallow material rewards. Instead, its essence is intangible spirits and systems like rule of law, freedom of speech and the courtesy and care that you can see in most people here.

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Read more:

Mainlanders in HK: We will always be grateful

To stay or not to stay: Dilemma of mainland grads in HK

Why HK bashing on mainland social media is bound to intensify


EJ Insight writer