Even though Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997, that does not mean that Hong Kong is “just another large Chinese city.”
I am still amazed after all these years that there is still a basic misunderstanding by people in the United States — including many in the media — about the differences between Hong Kong and mainland China.
I still clearly remember the conversation I had with an editor in 1999 when I moved to Hong Kong. Could I please write a piece about being a freelance journalist operating in a Communist-controlled territory, I was asked. I had to explain slowly and carefully that under the terms worked out between Britain and China, Hong Kong would enjoy civil liberties — such as freedom of speech and press — for 50 years after the handover.
By and large the Hong Kong people and media have used every ounce of that freedom. Is it any wonder then that more residents of the territory see their national identity as Hong Kongers and then ethnic Chinese?
Hong Kongers see the mainland Chinese as the poor country cousins. (Back in the early days following the handover it was easy enough to identify the mainlanders in Hong Kong because of their ill-fitting clothes and general uncomfortable demeanor in a modern city.)
And the mainlanders saw Hong Kongers as superstitious fools because of the dominance Feng Shui plays in the society. (Not to mention the very popular “villain hitting” exercises that take place under highway overpasses in Hong Kong.
In the past few years, Hong Kongers have complained of pregnant mainlanders giving birth in Hong Kong hospitals so they can claim Hong Kong citizenship for their children. (Sound familiar? Think “Anchor Babies” in the States. And some wackos even thinks this is a plot to get future terrorists US passports.)
ADDENDUM: With the Chinese New Year of the Water Dragon now upon us, the latest concern are all the mainland mothers-to-be coming to Hong Kong to give birth to “lucky” babies. Hong Kong braces for influx of “Dragon Babies”
The tension between Mainlanders and Hong Kongers continues.
The latest comes in a confrontation in the Hong Kong Metro. (Mainland Visitors Eating On A Hong Kong Train Caused A Huge Fight)
Suffice it to say, the Mainlanders were wrong to eat on the train and both sides were wrong to start shouting.
What is clear — even for Mandarin/Cantonese challenged listeners — is the contempt each side held for the other.
Now add to that a descendant of Confucius jumps in and calls Hong Kong as a land of “dogs” and “thieves.” (Beijing professor and descendant of Confucius provokes anger by insulting Hong Kongers)
Every stereotype is played out in this shouting match between Hong Kong and the Mainland.
So why is this important to the West?
To begin with, the Hong Kong economy.
Hong Kong sits to Asia as the United States sits to the world. It is a massive economy with a currency recognized around the world. (Unlike the Chinese yuan.)
The gross domestic product in Hong Kong is US$325.8 billion. And this is with an economy that shifted from production to services decades ago.
The per capita income is US$45,736 compared to China’s US$8,288.81. (By comparison, the United States is US$48,665.80)
Much of the investment in China comes from Hong Kong companies or Hong Kong middlemen.
Hong Kong is rightfully proud of its rule of law, anti-corruption regime and its civil liberties. But all these items put it in direct conflict with what Mainlanders are used to.
And then add into the mix the “get rich at all costs” attitude of Hong Kong businesses.
Many shops in Hong Kong now cater to the increasing mainland Chinese tourist trade. Some store have even gone as far as making access easy for mainlanders and difficult for Hong Kongers. Or providing “special protection” to mainlanders. Dolce & Gabbana in Hong Kong got a caught in the middle when it handled the conflict poorly. (Several people speculated that D&C did not want its mainland Chinese patrons accidentally photographed because its clients were most likely high-ranking party and government officials. It would, after all be embarrassing to those mainlanders to be seen buying expensive clothes that cost more than most Chinese earn in year.)
This division plays into the economic situation in the region. It also plays into the political and social expectations of Hong Kongers. And it plays into basic prejudices.
Hong Kong is the only place under Beijing rule that can — and does — have an annual commemorative demonstration to remember the students killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It is the only place under Beijing rule that allows media to openly criticize the local and national governments.
Hong Kong provides a chance to educate mainland Chinese journalists how to be better journalists and how to push back against the ruling elite.
And for the global economy — which affects the United States — Hong Kong provides an example for businesses to better understand how to get ahead under the rule of law instead of through constant bribery. (Granted a lot of the corruption and bribery in China does come from Hong Kong companies but in the territory of Hong Kong, the anti-corruption laws are firmly applied.)
Lastly, the divide between the Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese offers a glimpse of the divides that we see between United States and Latin America or Western and Eastern Europe.
Looking for links is not hard. One just has to be willing to look.