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  • Oct 24, 2014
  • Updated: 8:11pm

Where bitterness reigns

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
 

For all the anguish caused by the war of words that has broken out across the Hong Kong-mainland border, it has been good for fashion designer Michael Chan.

Chan, however, is not targeting his wares at the masses of big-spending shoppers arriving from the north, unlike the makers of luxury brands.

Chan has been creating and producing T-shirts and accessories such as tote bags that feature a single theme - the locust - which has been adopted as a motif by Hongkongers fed up with what they see as an invasion of their city.

'Personally, I hope no more mainlanders visit this city, but this is impossible. Therefore, all we can do is remind ourselves of the cultural differences and do not get ours mixed up with theirs,' said the 24-year-old, who said he would never visit the mainland.

Chan said his products were intended to remind Hong Kong people about the never-ending battle to protect the traditions, customs, freedoms and rights inherited when British rule ended in 1997. They were in danger of forfeiting them just like a farmer who lost his hard-won produce to a plague of, well, locusts.

Judging by blogs and online chat forums, anti-mainlander sentiment such as that expressed by Chan is widespread, at least in cyberspace.

The past month has shown Hong Kong people's disdain of mainland visitors, whether they are visiting for tourism, study or to give birth, or driving their cars across the border under an expanded licence scheme. The visitors are seen as using up limited resources and upsetting the city's orderly culture.

Chan's ideas were shaped in cyberspace through the radically minded 'Golden' online portal. A forum originally designed for information technology discussions, it evolved into more cultural and political exchanges and now takes credit for being the first to refer to mainlanders as 'locusts' almost a year ago.

Chan and like-minded Hongkongers were especially offended by Hospital Authority figures that show about 1,600 non-local women gave birth in emergency wards last year, more than double the number in 2010. This was on top of the more than 35,000 births to mainland women under the quota system.

The consequences of the surge have gone beyond the pressure on hospital resources and medical staff; officials are wondering how many of these children, and their parents, will come back to claim benefits such as education, housing and welfare.

Such fears have given momentum to the anti-locust movement, with a group of seven netizens, for instance, forming a 'choir' to sing 'anti-locust' songs at places like Tsim Sha Tsui in front of mainland tourists. From its original target of mainland visitors, the movement has expanded its focus to all mainlanders, as shown by a full-page advert in Apple Daily last month depicting mainlanders as one big locust standing on Lion Rock overlooking Victoria Harbour.

Among the few willing to stand up against the 'irrational sentiment' is Professor Chow Po-chung, a politics scholar at Chinese University.

A day after the anti-locust advert, Chow posted a message on his Facebook page that added fuel to the controversy.

'Please stop circulating posters and comments which are obviously racially discriminative and insulting to new immigrants and mainland compatriots,' his post read. 'We are not to label mainlanders as an inferior class, thereby [exerting] resistance, hostility and humiliation on them.'

It was met with responses such as this one: 'As a Hongkonger, I feel ashamed knowing another Hongkonger like you.' Another forum commentator, apparently one of Chow's former students, wrote it was a 'shame' that he had attended his lectures.

Chow later said the anger was not justified.

'Over 90 per cent of the pregnant women arrived legally, and that was allowed, if not encouraged, by the government,' he said. 'They queue up, pay all the costs, and the government sort of signed a contract with them. It's unfortunate that the public thinks all of them are intruding illegally.'

Few among those protesting seem to remember that their forebears fled to Hong Kong during the cultural and political upheaval on the mainland decades ago.

'Only a small number of people could be called 'indigenous' here, like those in the New Territories,' said sociology professor Lui Tai-lok, of the University of Hong Kong.

Lui said there were fewer than 5,000 people in what is now called Hong Kong when the British conducted the first census after conquering the island in 1842.

According to Immigration and the Economy of Hong Kong, by Lam Kit-chun and Liu Pak-wai, most of today's Hongkongers or their parents arrived from 1945 to 1960, when those fleeing communism pushed the population from 600,000 to three million.

Chow said the antagonism should be resolved before 'it escalates into an idea that Hongkongers are cultured while mainlanders aren't'.

'News about Hong Kong is widely circulated on the mainland, so this could easily provoke the people there,' he said.

Francesca Li Kang, 19, a mainland student at the University of Science and Technology of Hong Kong, said the dispute did not bother her much.

'I'm fine, and I'm not unhappy about it,' said Li, who arrived in the city six months ago. 'I think it's normal to have such experiences as I'm in a place new to me and I think all kinds of thoughts should be tolerated.'

Shanghainese Jeremy Shi said Hongkongers' actions were understandable, if unwarranted.

'Shanghai used to have fewer immigrants from other provinces and people used to speak the local dialect,' the 28-year-old worker at a foreign company said. 'It was too late to react once we realised there were so many of them.'

But their laid-back approach is not necessarily widely shared on the mainland.

In a widely circulated video clip, a Hong Kong man was shown shouting at a mainland woman for allowing her young daughter to eat noodles on an MTR train.

The mother fired back, scolding him for exaggerating a trivial matter.

The video went viral, resulting in outspoken Peking University professor Kong Qingdong commenting: 'Many Hongkongers don't regard themselves as Chinese. These people are used to being the running dogs of the British colonialists; they're still dogs nowadays.'

In an attack on the outraged passenger, Kong said: 'Order maintained by laws explains... people's lack of quality, lack of self-awareness.' He described the law-abiding man as a 'bastard'.

The insulted dogs 'barked' back; dozens marched to the central government's liaison office, demanding an apology from Kong.

Mainland people's opinions differed. Some criticised Kong for damaging national harmony; others supported him and asked Hongkongers to review their attitudes.

Kong later narrowed his scope by saying he was referring to just 'a part of' Hongkongers as dogs, not the entire population.

The flood of mainlanders in the city is largely a result of eased travel restrictions introduced after the Sars outbreak in 2003, which paralysed Hong Kong's economy. According to the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Association, 109 million mainlanders have visited the city since the individual travel scheme was introduced about eight years ago and they have spent HK$600 billion.

Professor Linda Chelan Li, a China observer from City University, said the explosion of anti-mainland sentiment was not surprising.

'The city's speedy integration with the mainland, including economic co-operation, opening up of free travellers' schemes and the influx of immigrants did not prove to locals that they were worth the cost of changing the local culture because Hongkongers could see little benefit,' she said.

She said locals felt the pressure of high inflation and falling living standards, while big businesses, including hotels and retail stores, benefited the most from the prosperous tourism sector.

Patrick Ho Chi-ping, who was Home Affairs Bureau chief under the first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, and now writes on culture, says the authorities had failed to consider the implications when formulating policies. For instance, Hong Kong could not provide for unlimited tours and the 150 new immigrants arriving each day from the mainland.

Lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung says people should not use policies such as the widening of the cross-border car quota to criticise all mainlanders.

Hongkongers have expressed fears that allowing more mainlanders to drive to Hong Kong would increase congestion, pollution and the number of accidents.

'It's wrong to call the whole Chinese population locusts,' Leung said. 'Flip through any local newspaper, take a look at the court page, and you'll see how much more unacceptable Hong Kong people's behaviour is compared with those who are being accused.

'There are good people and bad people everywhere. Cultures, unlike systems or values, are incomparable.'

2,000

The number of left-hand drive, mainland registered cars that already have permission to be driven in Hong Kong

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