Hitting back

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2012, 12:00am


Can you discriminate against your own kind? Apparently you can. We're seeing exactly that right now. Chinese against Chinese. Well, Hongkongers against mainlanders, to be more precise. It's not yet widespread, nor is it ugly. But it could come to that if left unchecked. The trouble is that no one is trying hard to check it. Maybe our leaders don't see it as a problem. Maybe they didn't read much into the public fury over Dolce & Gabbana's attempt to allow only mainlanders to take pictures of its storefront.

You don't need to read much into the fashion house's idiotic behaviour to know it hit a raw nerve. The mass protest outside the store was not just a flash in the pan, as our leaders may think. It was rage meant to make clear that Hongkongers will defend their rights. Picture-taking in public places is a right. But part of that rage also signalled animosity towards mainlanders. It's galling enough for locals to see nouveau riche mainlanders arrogantly flaunt their wealth here. But to be told these visitors are a class above them in their own city was too much of a slap in the face. No one wants to feel inferior in their home. Yet, that is how many Hongkongers now feel and they're fighting back with emotional and psychological animosity. It's only natural.

Hostility against mainlanders has been building for some time. But our leaders are so hypnotised by mainland tourist dollars that they can't see the downside of millions cramming into our city.

About 28 million mainlanders came here last year. That's well over two million a month. It's a staggering number for an already crowded city of seven million. They're everywhere, changing the very character of Hong Kong. In some districts, Putonghua is heard more than Cantonese. They compete with locals for iPhones, baby milk powder, flats and maternity beds. They drive up property prices, making homes unaffordable for locals. And their spending power attracts international brand-name retailers who force out local stores from prime shopping districts by agreeing to higher rents.

The 150 mainlanders allowed into Hong Kong daily for family reunion never gelled into an emotive issue, although it bothered some. But now a quota allows another 34,400 babies with mainland parents to be born here yearly. Thousands more pregnant mainlanders without hospital bookings jam emergency rooms to give birth, so their babies can have Hong Kong residency. For many locals, there is an uneasy sense that they are being slowly robbed of the Hong Kong they know.

This has translated into scorn for mainlanders even though Hongkongers know deep down that the mainland has become an economic saviour. Many mainlanders, in turn, deride Hongkongers in internet chat rooms for relying on the mainland. Since we ourselves turned on the tap, restricting the mainland flow is clearly not possible, for economic and political reasons. What is, I don't know. A mainland-friendly businessman defined the local hostility as more protectionism than discrimination in that Hongkongers want to protect themselves from being swamped. But that seems more like splitting hairs than a meaningful differentiation.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV host. mickchug@gmail.com