Expats out of fashion with maturing society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2005, 12:00am

It is not so long ago that many Hongkongers faced a future armed with passports issued by the British government. Now the wheel has turned. Few have gone anywhere. The new Hong Kong SAR passports in use now outnumber the others. Expatriates who have stayed and the many thousands who have made their home here since then prize permanent resident status.

But while some things may have stayed pretty much the same, others have changed. The end of colonial rule redefined the relationship between locals and westerners.

The anachronism of life under a foreign power was swept away in the legal moment of the handover. The social landscape has also changed, apparently - though not as dramatically.

As we report today, evidence of changing social attitudes is to be found in one of our more humble living archives - the files of dating agencies and singles clubs. They tell the story more succinctly than any formal research or social commentary. Many clients of one singles club once admired westerners and were keen to meet them.

Now, only one girl out of 5,000 consistently asks to meet westerners. A dating agency says only 3 or 4 per cent of clients ask to meet westerners, and then only with an eye to emigration to places like North America.

This trend cannot have happened overnight. But interest has been excited by the media frenzy over actress Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi's new relationship with a westerner. Whereas once this would have been seen as upwardly mobile though controversial, now it is regarded as 'unfashionable'.

One Chinese commentator was frank. According to television pundit Chip Tsao, the fact that an expatriate is now less likely to be a well-heeled catch makes dating one harder to justify. He says dating a westerner now is like selling out your country.

Dating agencies focus on difficulties in relationships arising from cultural differences and point out that easier emigration makes westerners even less appealing.

It would be good to think that a more positive view of the trend taken by social studies professor Mak Hoi-wah is on the right track. Far from reflecting racism, he thinks it has more to do with the division between westerners and locals having been blurred in the past eight years. Westerners no longer feel the same pressure to put up a social 'front' and locals do not see them as special any more.

This can be seen as a natural redressig of social distinctions of colonialism that have long since ceased to have any place in modern Hong Kong.

As such it is to be welcomed as a healthy sign of the growing maturity of a harmonious multiracial society. That is Hong Kong's strength, and one that should be allowed to evolve naturally.