Storm in a noodle pot

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2012, 12:00am


The issues

Differences in rules and behaviour

The survey run by found 35 per cent of about 4,000 respondents backed the Hong Kong passengers' demands in the MTR row that tourists abide by local public order rules.

Ten per cent said Hongkongers held a grudge against mainland tourists and 31 per cent said Hongkongers and mainlanders needed to show greater respect to one another. Both Hong Kong and mainland internet users posted comments online about the incident. A mainlander wrote: 'Eating in the MTR carriage is wrong. The mainland mother should apologise first, rather than fight back.'

A Hongkonger said the behaviour was 'uncivilised as usual' and that Hongkongers had shown too much patience towards mainlanders.

Differences in language

During the argument, the Hong Kong people spoke Cantonese and the mainland passengers spoke Putonghua. Ken Wai, the Hongkonger who sparked the row, said on Facebook: 'The wrangle was sparked by one of the mainlanders laughing at my poor Putonghua, but ignoring their wrongdoing of eating.'

Yet Kong, a noted leftist academic, criticised Hongkongers for failing their responsibility to speak the 'real Chinese language' because of 'residues of colonialism'.

On the talk show, he said: 'You [Hongkongers] are Chinese, right? But as I know, many don't think they are Chinese. They claim to be Hongkongers ...Those kinds of people used to be running dogs for the British colonialists. And until now, you [Hongkongers] are still dogs. You aren't human,' Kong said.

Hongkongers have been criticised by some mainland netizens, too, for being unable to read simplified Chinese, the official written language on the mainland.

The root of the problem

The noodle row is only one of the recent incidents reflecting rising anger in the city. Early last month, hundreds of Hongkongers protested outside a Dolce & Gabbana store in Tsim Sha Tsui after a security guard stopped some of them from taking pictures of the shop, saying only mainlanders could do so.

'Deep below [there is] a sense of threat that mainlanders are overwhelming Hong Kong,' said Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, an executive councillor and founder of SynergyNet, a policy think tank.

In an article for the South China Morning Post, Cheung talked of the growing concerns among Hongkongers over mainlanders buying up local properties and infant formula milk, and about pregnant women from mainland flooding local hospitals, which led to a protest by local pregnant women.

'The clash is not merely economic or even cultural,' he said. 'The brewing tensions have arisen out of the original 'two systems' designs not being able to cope with the new social and economic realities merging ... as mainland China rises to become the second-largest economy in the world, breeding the new rich and middle classes in growing numbers.

'Until the 1990s, Hong Kong was regarded as economically more advanced, and Hong Kong businesses were the first to invest in the mainland following the economic reform after 1979. The Hong Kong way of life and doing business was held up as the role model for mainland cities for a few decades.'

However, the pendulum had now swung the other way, Cheung wrote.

'The newly affluent mainlanders are the big spenders and buying up Hong Kong, which has been depicted as economically dependant on the mainland,' he said.

The economic setbacks, local political quagmires and a lack of long-term vision after reunification have fuelled a sense of marginalisation among Hongkongers. The anti-mainland sentiment has been reinforced by insensitive mainland officials and commentators questioning our sense of national identity, he said.

The way forward

Rather than blaming each other, Cheung said both sides should work towards finding a solution.

'There is no need to put national identity and local identity in direct confrontation ... Hong Kong's further integration with the mainland is inevitable,' Cheung said.

'It can actually open up a larger horizon for a reinvented Hong Kong if it positions itself effectively as a global city of China. Mainlanders also have to embrace a more inclusive notion of Chinese identity.'

This is an edited version of stories appearing in the South China Morning Post on January 16, 20-22, 29, 31 and February 4

The news

A video clip of a quarrel between Hong Kong and mainland passengers on an MTR train has sparked widespread online debate here and on the mainland. The quarrel took place on a Lo Wu-bound train at Mong Kok East station in January.

The video, uploaded by a Hongkonger on YouTube, records an argument between two groups after some angry locals tried to stop a mainland girl eating noodles on the train. It has been watched by about 200,000 internet users on Tudou, an online video site. The popular portal launched a survey of views on the incident.

Soon after the event, Kong Qingdong, of Peking University's Chinese department, was invited to make a comment on a mainland internet television talk show. In the interview, he referred to Hongkongers as 'dogs', which again angered many Hongkongers.

Then, Apply Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong, ran a front-page advertisement entitled 'Hongkongers have had enough', depicting mainlanders as locusts - a nasty metaphor for their use of the city's resources. The anti-locust advert was responded to by mainlanders with a mock-up advert posted online, saying Hongkongers have been receiving benefits from its mainland father. The war of words has just begun.

Voices: What people are saying

If you [Hongkongers] keep [discriminating against mainlanders] in that way, then we [mainland China] won't provide you with water, vegetables, fruit and rice. Can you Hongkongers still survive? Go seek help from your British daddy'

Professor Kong Qingdong, Peking University

'Many mainlanders are misled by the communist party's propaganda to believe that Hong Kong has been living in the mercy of the mainland government and replying on its provisions of water, electricity and food ... 'That's why the rich mainlanders will be so arrogant and shouting at Hongkongers like servants.'

Chan Wan, social commentator and writer

'The root cause of the sentiment is the rapidly growing number of pregnant mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong ...

'There is also a widespread fear the social welfare system will be strained when these babies grow up and return to Hong Kong as citizens.

'A long-term solution is simply to build more hospitals if the trend is projected to continue. Hong Kong's birth rate is alarmingly low and the population ageing quickly. Mainland babies may help rather than hurt.'

Hongkonger Gordon Wong, from Chai Wan

'Kong Qingdong should take responsibility for his speech.'

Chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen

'Kong Qingdong's speech does not represent all mainlanders' views.'

Chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying

'The ill will goes deeper than just mainlanders having babies here or driving up property prices. Hongkongers fear their city is being radically altered by an invasion of cash-rich, but culturally inferior mainlanders. The noodle-eating outburst was just a release of bottled-up frustration.'

Michael Chugani, columnist and TV host

'So far, our leaders have been silent on the nature of the systematic problems facing our society, and ineffective measuresare in place to address the resource problems ... our chief executive candidates made some ... pro-Hong Kong noises, but have fallen short of proposing real solutions.'

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, legislator and chairwoman of the New People's Party


Early January

A security guard from the D & G shop on Canton Road, in Tsim Sha Tsui, stops some Hongkongers from taking pictures of the shop, saying only mainland tourist can take pictures. This angers many Hongkongers and leads to heated debates and discussions among netizens. Some organise protests over the next two weeks. Hundreds of Hongkongers, including lawmakers and professional photographers, gather outside the shop to take pictures and demand an apology. First, D&G refuses to apologise. On January 18, D&G finally apologises and says it is 'truly sorry'.

January 15

A Hongkonger sees a mainland girl eating noodles on the MTR and asks her to stop. The girl's mother starts to argue back and the incident turns into a dispute between the two groups of mainlanders and Hongkongers and a video is uploaded on YouTube.

January 19

Professor Kong Qingdong, of Peking University's Chinese department, comments on the incident - calling Hongkongers 'dogs' in an interview on a mainland online television programme.

February 1

Apple Daily runs a front-page advert paid for by Hongkongers. The advert, with the title, 'Hongkongers have had enough', shows a huge locust occupying the tip of Lion Rock against a background of Victoria Harbour.

February 2

A mock advert is posted online by a mainlander. It shows a child sitting on the shoulders of his father, saying the mainland has been granting various benefits to Hongkongers because 'mainlanders have accepted Hong Kong being their son'. One of the lines says: 'Because you are a son, Father gives you 210 billion yuan a year', referring to mainland tourists' spending (HK$260 billion) here. The ad also calls for water and power supplies to Hong Kong to be blocked.