Mainland chip on Hong Kong's
shoulder By Kent Ewing
HONG KONG - The celebrated handover of
this city from British to Chinese rule was not
supposed to turn out this way.
years after that momentous change of sovereignty,
Hong Kong's governing class may be cozying up to
Beijing more than ever before, but relations
between ordinary Hong Kong people and the growing
hordes of visitors from the mainland have never
Indeed, lately, things have
become downright nasty.
better exemplifies the heightened hostility more
than a video that went viral on YouTube last month
unseemly altercation on
the city's MTR (mass transit railway) in which
Hong Kong passengers heap abuse on a young girl
from the mainland for eating noodles on a train
before turning on her mother for refusing to
apologize for this transgression of MTR rules. 
After the cowing mother finally says
"sorry", the passengers proceed to mock her
In isolation, this unpleasant
incident amounts to nothing more than the sort of
social clash that can happen anywhere. In Hong
Kong, however, it has become emblematic of the
surly anger and disdain many people feel toward
their northern brethren.
Hong Kong and the mainland have always been
fraught with stereotypes and negative energy. The
negative energy remains, but over the years the
stereotypes have changed. As victims of the
old stereotype, mainlanders were seen as
uneducated bumpkins who could not cope with the
urbanity and sophistication of their Hong Kong
cousins. Seen in this light, the YouTube video
represents something of a throwback in which local
MTR passengers rise up in haughty indignation to
berate mainlanders for their low-class,
stereotypes of his own, leftist Professor Kong
Qingdong of Peking University's department of
Chinese studies reportedly called the snide Hong
Kong passengers "bastards and thieves", "colonial
elitists" and "running dogs of the British".
Kong's intemperate remarks served only to
further inflame anti-mainland sentiment in Hong
Kong, where complaints against expectant mainland
mothers overwhelming the city's hospital system in
order to gain right of abode for their children
have also become a rallying point for prejudice
Children of mainland moms now
account for nearly half the births in Hong Kong,
whose mini-constitution grants them permanent
residence in the city along with access to public
education, housing, medical care and a host of
other perks not available on the mainland.
The competition for space in the city's
obstetric wards has become so intense that some
Hong Kong mothers-to-be are being crowded out. In
response, the Hong Kong government has raised
obstetric fees at public hospitals for women from
the mainland and also capped the number of
deliveries by mothers who are not residents of
Hong Kong at 3,400 in public hospitals and 31,000
in private hospitals.
pressure, this week the Hospital Authority
announced that it is considering a blanket ban on
mainland women seeking to give birth in Hong Kong.
When, to avoid the new measures, some
pregnant mainlanders began crashing the city's
emergency wards as they went into labor, Hong Kong
immigration officials implemented physical checks
at the border and started turning back any visibly
pregnant women who could not prove they had a
booking at a Hong Kong hospital.
border controls were relaxed in 2003, the
"mainland mother" - ruthlessly single-minded in
her determination to give birth in Hong Kong and
suck up its superior resources - has become one of
this city's most viciously embraced stereotypes.
But it is not the only divisive caricature
making the rounds.
of being looked down on as poorer, uncultured
rubes from the north, these days visiting
mainlanders are just as likely to be resented as a
newly rich class using their freshly made fortunes
to pay top dollar for Hong Kong's best real
estate, driving up property prices for locals.
It also grates when the nouveau riche are
seen flashing their cash in luxury goods shops,
where they are perceived to be given preferential
treatment over Hong Kong shoppers.
new points of resentment were thrown into sharp
relief last month when more than 1,000 people
protested outside a Dolce & Gabbana (D&G)
store in the city, demanding an end to a company
photo ban that allegedly prevented Hong Kong
locals from taking pictures both inside and
outside the store while allowing mainland
customers to snap away.
A D&G security
guard also allegedly threatened a reporter who was
trying to take photos of the protest.
enough, more than 13,000 people had joined an
anti-D&G Facebook group, finally compelling
the luxury retailer to issue an apology, stating:
We understand that the events which
unfolded in front of the Dolce & Gabbana
Boutique on Canton Road have offended the
citizens of Hong Kong, and for this we are truly
sorry and we apologize. The Dolce & Gabbana
policy is to welcome the Hong Kong people and
that of the whole world, respecting the rights
of each individual and of the local
If the sentiment of the apology
was well received, the timing was not: it was
issued 10 days after the protest, at 3 am Hong
Now, after a five-day
fund-raising campaign, the same group that led the
Facebook campaign against D&G, the Hong Kong
Golden Forum, has raised enough cash to pay for a
front-page advertisement in one of Hong Kong's
best-selling daily newspapers characterizing
mainland visitors as "locusts" who are ravaging
the city's social and economic landscape.
Referring to mainlanders, the ad, which
ran on Wednesday at a cost HK$100,000 (US$13,000),
states: "Hong Kongers have had enough ... This
city is dying, you know?"
It also urges
city officials to stop the "unlimited
infiltration" of mainland Chinese into Hong Kong,
which is a Special Administrative Zone of China.
The ad takes the anti-mainland campaign to
a new level of inflammatory rhetoric and insult,
and if Hong Kong political leaders such as Chief
Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had even a scrap
of intestinal fortitude they would speak up and
try to put a stop to this ongoing and, in the end,
Yes, while the
implementation of the apparent D&G photo ban
seems ambiguous - that is the fault of the
company, not of the mainland shoppers who may have
benefited from it.
Those hurling insults
in online rants should also consider that the
"locusts" they find so unwelcome accounted for
nearly 40% of Hong Kong's retail sales last year,
while also helping to keep occupancy rates
sky-high in the city's hotels and business booming
in its restaurants.
generated more than 200,000 jobs for a local
population whose most uninformed and belligerent
members are now trashing them.
As for the
supposed multitude of expectant mainland mothers
currently sneaking across the border with the aim
of crashing the emergency wards of Hong Kong's
public hospitals, the facts tell a different
story. There were only 1,656 emergency deliveries
by non-residents in 2011 - less than 1% of all
Most pregnant mainlanders
actually booked deliveries at pricey private
As Hong Kong has one of the
lowest fertility rates in the world and faces a
future in which a rapidly aging population
threatens its prosperity and development, these
moms - and their children - should be welcomed
rather than scorned.
Bigotry, on the other
hand, should be scorned rather than welcomed.
Note 1. See video of MTR
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