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Hong Kong Torn Apart

Showdown Between the Locusts and the Lackeys


Showdown Between the Locusts and the Lackeys


Seventeen years after the British colony of Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule, there is hardly any love left between the Hong Kong people and their compatriots in the motherland. The territory is moving closer to the breaking point over self-identity.



Showdown Between the Locusts and the Lackeys

By Monique Hou
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 557 )

"Hey, watch out, don't touch that," Zyu Cui-ping blurts out to warn her friend against grabbing the handrail in the subway carriage because someone has stuck discarded chewing gum onto it. "That must have been a hinterlander, it's so low class," she sighs.

Hinterlander or "neidiren" is the term Hong Kong people use for their compatriots from the Chinese mainland. Seventeen years after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, the stereotypical image that the Hong Kong people hold of their Chinese neighbors is: They are dirty, loud, rich but boorish, and ill mannered.

Some 40 million Chinese tourists and new immigrants flood the former British colony per year, jam-packing the already densely populated territory. The locals blame the Chinese for further constraints on their limited living space, soaring consumer prices and over-crowded subway cars. On top of that comes what many perceive as undue political pressure from the central government in Beijing.

As a result, many Hong Kong people have begun to distance themselves from their Chinese neighbors, developing a strong "us" versus "them" identity never seen before. Sentiment ranges from a sense of superiority and discrimination of mainlanders to outright Sinophobia. With tensions running high, such pent up anti-Chinese sentiment could erupt anytime anywhere.

Locusts Versus Lackeys

Hong Kong citizens are torn into two opposing camps as they confront existential questions: "Who are the Hong Kong people? To whom does Hong Kong belong? " These issues of antagonism, conflict, discrimination, and blame play out daily in the territory.

For instance, when a Chinese couple recently let their toddler urinate at the side of the street, the incident triggered a huge public debate about the apparent gap between standards of acceptable behavior in China and Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong belongs to us, China. The economy of the Hong Kong people depends on us, we let the Hong Kong people make money but they call us locusts, second-class citizens, it does not make sense," complains Liu Ming, a tourist from Hubei Province on an independent itinerary visiting with his family.

Liu is indignant over what he views as unfair prejudice. "If this kid urinating in the streets had been the child of Caucasians, the Hong Kong people would probably have said 'Oh dear, look, how cute!" With his resounding, loud voice, Liu immediately draws disdainful glances from other guests in the hotel lobby.

The Hong Kong people revile the Chinese as locusts "because infant formula is snatched up by mainlanders, houses are bought up by mainlanders and social welfare benefits are siphoned off by new immigrants [from China],"notes Chu Yun, a homemaker, as she casts sidelong glances at Chinese tourists who push shopping carts full of goods along supermarket aisles. 

On the other hand, Chinese scholars accuse the Hong Kong people of being lackeys or running dogs of foreign powers, claiming they fawn on things foreign while opposing things Chinese.

"These new immigrants are all freeloaders; a woman comes to Hong Kong through marriage and gives birth to many children throughout her life. On top of that they do not work but collect comprehensive social security assistance; a family of four can get more than 10,000 (Hong Kong dollars) a month," remarks Chen Hui-chu without even trying to conceal the contempt in her voice.

Meanwhile, almost 40 percent of newborns in Hong Kong are born to couples with a mainland spouse. Furthermore, given that nearly five percent of Hong Kong residents are immigrants from China, the local population already has a rather high share of residents whom the Hong Kong people do not acknowledge as fellow "Hongkongers." On top of that, the ubiquitous hordes of Chinese tourists only intensify the Hong Kong people's feeling of being "invaded, swamped and deprived."

Hongkongese Identity Growing Stronger

As a result, the Hong Kong people are distancing themselves from the motherland, developing a distinct Hongkongese identity. Chou Yu-wei has an eight-year-old son who learned the Chinese national anthem and Chinese geography in social studies class, much to his dismay. "When my kid came home from school, and told me, 'I am Chinese,' I became incensed and immediately corrected him, saying he is Hongkongese."

"There is definitely some kind of subjective identity developing here. I am a 'Chinese living in Hong Kong,' my language, thinking and culture are all very Chinese," notes Ivan Choy, political science professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

However, the number of Hong Kong people who describe themselves as "Chinese living in Hong Kong" is currently on the decline. The most recent survey on self-identity by the University of Hong Kong shows that the ratio of those declaring themselves to be "Chinese" has reached a historic low.

In contrast, the share of those professing to be "Hongkongese" has skyrocketed over the past two years, hitting 40 percent for the first time in June when the latest survey was published. At the same time, the share of people describing themselves as "Hongkongese or Chinese-Hongkongese" topped 60 percent.

Social worker Ho Hei-wah, who heads the Society for Community Association, an advocacy group for new immigrants and other underprivileged groups, is greatly concerned about the emerging rift regarding social identity. "When a society begins to distinguish between who you are and who I am, it will fail to make any progress. Today's Hong Kong is exactly doing that," Ho points out.

It is not just that the Hongkongers set themselves apart from the mainlanders, there is also increasing political polarization. "What is more cause for concern is that of the many voices in once pluralistic Hong Kong society, only two remain: Either you support the (anti-China) democracy camp or the establishment (pro-China) camp" observes columnist Alexis Tan.

Defending stances that leave no common ground, the two opposing camps confront each other with hatred. A deep rift is opening up in society tearing Hong Kong apart.

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz.