A deep rift in cultural identity has come into the spotlight through public expressions of the tension that exists between residents of Hong Kong and those of the mainland. The Economist outlines the beginnings of the most recent series of events:
On January 15th a young Mandarin-speaking girl dropped some dried noodles she had been nibbling on a Hong Kong underground train. Perhaps her family, from mainland China, did not know that eating and drinking is banned on the spotless metro. When a local Cantonese speaker objected to the noodle-eating in bad Mandarin, a quarrel erupted. The whole incident, recorded on a mobile phone, was soon viewed online by millions in Hong Kong and in China.
“That’s what mainlanders are like,” was perhaps the nastiest thing said by any Hong Konger in the metro carriage.
In a televised and characteristically nationalistic public admonishment of Hong Kongers, Peking University’s Kong Qingdong added fuel to the fire:
Kong’s comments sent a shock of rage through many Hong Kongers, and led to the commissioning of a full page anti-mainland ad in a Hong Kong publication. The ad, which characterizes mainlanders as ‘locusts,’ is reposted and described in a Wall Street Journal blog post:
The full-page ad, which shows a locust looking at the Hong Kong skyline, was paid for by an online fund-raising campaign on Facebook and local site Hong Kong Golden Forum, which received more than 100,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$12,900) from 800 donors in a week.
A man who identified himself over the phone as “Mr. Poon” and goes by “Yung Jhong” online said he organized the campaign. He said he was inspired to act after seeing news stories about mainland Chinese mothers who crossed the border to bear children in Hong Kong so that their offspring could obtain Hong Kong citizenship and the benefits that come along with it. Local authorities say that some 40,000 mainland Chinese mothers gave birth in Hong Kong hospitals last year, straining the local health-care system.
This tension between Hong Kong and the mainland is analyzed in depth by a table of seasoned China watchers in the most recent episode of Kaiser Kuo’s Sinica podcast. From the episode description:
Ongoing tension between Hong Kongers and mainland citizens erupted into open flames on February 1 when a Hong Kong group raised more than HKD 100,000 to publish a full-page anti-China advertisement in the Apple Daily comparing mainlanders to parasitic locusts and calling for curtailment of benefits enjoyed by Chinese visitors to the Special Administrative Region. The ad was the latest move in an increasingly acrimonious spat that shows no sign of letting up.
Some say Hong Kong’s overly China-focused policies have corroded the city’s uniqueness, international character and values and those policies might now need revising. Mainland Chinese counter that Hong Kong for too long looked down on its mainland cousins and should not enjoy favoured status from mainland leaders.
Besides opening the floodgates to millions of free-spending Chinese after tourism went into a tailspin because of the SARS outbreak in 2003, China’s leaders have offered sweeteners to Hong Kong, including a closer economic partnership agreement and backing it as a capital raising centre and offshore yuan settlement hub.
“It’s all an outcome of a set of inclinations toward China policies laid down by the government 15 years ago,” said Chip Tsao, a well-known columnist and writer in Hong Kong, referring to the first post-handover administration of the unpopular, Beijing-backed leader, Tung Chee-hwa, whose policies sparked a mass, half-million strong anti-government demonstration in 2003.
“More Hong Kong Chinese see this in light of a bit of a conspiracy theory. They see it as a kind of colonisation of Hong Kong, or re-colonialisation of Hong Kong[…]
Finally, the folks at the Shanghaiist, who have been closely covering the drama as it unfolds, posted a video (zh) of Hong Kong youth taking to the street in song, along with accounts of mainland tourist’s reactions:
We thought this was a joke but apparently it’s dead serious. An “anti-locust choir” comprising of members of the Hong Kong Golden Forum (now apparently hacked and inaccessible) has been hitting the streets of Hong Kong and serenading tourists from the mainland with “Locust World”, a new anti-mainlander song that has been going viral in the city.
[…]One mainland tourist by the name of Mr Ma, when interviewed by Apple Daily after the “performance”, was clearly unhappy. If Hong Kongers are also Chinese, “then he must be a locust too if I’m a locust,” he fumed.
Said another tourist from the mainland, Ms You, in fluent Cantonese, “I’m from the mainland. Of course I feel uncomfortable when I hear people calling us names like that. People say that mainlanders come to Hong Kong and throw their trash everywhere, but it’s really only a small number of people that are like that.” Calling Hong Kongers dogs is also not the way to go, she added, and that people on both sides of the border need to stop insulting each other.