The China Syndrome
Mainland mothers. Mainland tourists. Mainland politics. The tensions between Hong Kong and China have never been GREATER. What are the reasons behind this current spate of hate? And what solutions, if any, do we have left? By Shirley Zhao and Time Out staff. Illustrations by escape.hk
The most surprising thing about Hong Kong today is that so little has changed in the public’s view of China since the Handover 15 years ago. Just like in 1997, the citizens of Hong Kong are worried about a ‘red government’ spreading its ‘white terror’. There are rumblings that local tycoons might leave with all their money, and that new tycoons from up north will step in with their ‘red capital’ to collude with the new administration. ‘Hong Kong has reached a tipping point’ is the phrase of the day with our media commentators. And almost everyone believes that Hong Kong will ‘tip’, for better or worse. But at a time when the shift of power is changing both here and in Beijing, people are panicked. And our dark, deep-seated psychological fears are once again coming out to play.
Only one thing is certain: Hong Kong’s future is tied to China’s future. Over these past 15 years, the borders have opened, the rail tracks interlinked and the bridges built to form a seamless superhighway with the Pearl River Delta. But curiously, although convenient cross-border transport has brought about better communication, the much ballyhooed ‘integration’ of Hong Kong and Mainland China has failed to materialise. Physically, Hong Kong is closer than ever to China; psychologically, we are chasms apart.
On February 1, a group of Hongkongers sponsored a full-page advertisement in the popularist Apple Daily newspaper, vehemently protesting against Mainland mothers who cross the border to give birth here, and requesting Mainland tourists to ‘respect local cultures’. ‘Hong Kong people have had enough!’ ran the tagline. The sensational advert also showed a giant locust looming over the HK skyline. As we all know, Hong Kong citizens have been calling Mainland resource-drainers ‘locusts’ for a long while. But this time the plague seems to be a very definite reality.
The shocking locust advertisement brought the integration row back to a scorching boil, along with heated quarrels and nationalistic finger pointing. Behind the chaos, however, it was obvious that Hong Kong was feeling ever more insecure and anxious about the ‘one country, two systems’ set-up. Indeed, the very fabric of Hong Kong’s culture now feels at stake. People’s helplessness, even powerlessness, is palpable everywhere.
Of course, Hong Kong jealously guards its key values – the rule of law, the free market, the importance of freedom of speech and the pursuit of universal suffrage. But the Mainland’s way of doing things, in Hong Kong’s eyes, goes against everything we believe to be self-evident. Many of the Hong Kong’s older generation are early immigrants, fleeing the Communist Party rule to make a new home on the fragrant harbour. The younger generation, under the influence of these elders, still has fresh memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. These are the foundation blocks of our modern thinking, and it is an unspoken fact that Hong Kong simply doesn’t trust the Mainland government, and that the Politburo is to be feared and hated.
To ease the uncertainty about the Handover, the central government promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, independent judicial and economic systems, and a way of life that ‘shall remain unchanged for 50 years’. With cautious expectation, the city reunited with their Mainland cousins. People thought they would have the power to decide their own future but, from where the city stands today, Beijing’s influence is stronger than ever before and the promise of universal suffrage appears more like a dream than a reality.
Economically, Hong Kong has been more and more dependent on the Mainland since 1997. When Hong Kong was suffering during the downturn in 2003, a free trade agreement allowed HK goods free access to the Mainland’s growing market, and various Mainland industries also opened up to our city. Growing tourism from the Mainland has been energising many local industries ever since, and more Mainland companies are listed on Hong Kong’s stock market. Today, we are no longer independent from China. That dream, as we said, is over. But has a new nightmare begun?
Look at our commercial situation. With no law to regulate the property market monopoly, the development of local small and medium-sized businesses is highly limited. An unequal distribution of wealth further widens the gap between the rich and the poor, causing serious social problems. These problems have become especially unbearable when an overwhelming tide of Mainland lower and middle-class people rush in and compete for our already limited resources and overcrowded social welfare. And all the while, the Hong Kong government has strangely (and suspiciously) remained inactive. Naturally, Hong Kong people are infuriated.
The major concern, of course, is the ‘delay’ in universal suffrage. Our common Hong Kong people, facing inflation and a widening wealth gap every year, had hoped they could one day elect their own Chief Executive to form an administration for the people, so that the citizens of Hong Kong could decide their own future. Not a chance of it. The ‘intangible hand’ of Beijing manipulated last month’s result, and even though the media reported that the Liaison Office of the central government called the election committee members asking them to vote for one candidate, the hoplessness of the situation has now deepened to uncharted depths.
So how does all this fear and paranoia and loathing and hopelessness manifest itself on a social level? Simple – we need to lash out. We need someone to blame. Step forward the Mainland individual, specifically the Mainland mother-to-be. She’s the one to blame. But really, any Mainlander will do.
Just look at them – cutting lines, speaking loudly, spitting, shouting, letting their kiddies shit in the street, crowding the MTR, acting rudely. How uncouth, how uncivilised they are. This is what many Hongkongers are saying today. You, dear reader, may be thinking the same thing. You may feel disrespected in your own home, your own city. You may feel outraged when the government tries to push the Putonghua language on our TV shows, on our radio and in our schools. Do we feel we have had enough? Or is there an element of over-reaction to it all? Let’s start by taking a look at those dastardly mothers-to-be…