A separate identity across border

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am


The issues

Even though Hong Kong has been a part of China since the 1997 handover, many of its residents see a separate identity. They think they are different from mainlanders. Some even view their fellow Chinese citizens in a bad light, as impolite, inconsiderate, loud or greedy.

In a study of mainland stereotypes by Hongkongers, many locals do not refer to themselves as 'Chinese'. Hans Ladegaard, English professor at Baptist University, also found other interesting discoveries. He also looked at what mainlanders think of the stereotypes. His study was published in this month's issue of Journal of Multicultural Discourses.

Rejecting the Chinese identity

People in Hong Kong tend to refer to themselves as Hongkongers or Hong Kong Chinese, but not Chinese.

This may suggest that Hong Kong is still not comfortable that it is a part of China, even 15 years after the city was handed over to Beijing.

Hong Kong was under British rule for 155 years, and some argue that the city has few social, cultural, political and linguistic similarities with the mainland.

Some Hongkongers used to look down on the mainlanders, thinking they are poor. But that is no longer the case.

Mainlanders with big wallets can afford to buy Louis Vuitton and Gucci, but they are still not getting respect. Why? Some Hongkongers suspect mainlanders lack moral education; they may even think their money comes from shady deals.

'Everything is fake on the mainland, except the fake itself' is a common saying in Hong Kong. It refers to the large piracy and imitation market across the border; almost everything can be found in imitation, such as clothes, paintings, iPhones, even complete Apple stores.

Some Hongkongers who hold such negative stereotypes refuse to identify themselves with the mainland and its people.

Respect for the motherland

Let's cross the border and look at how mainlanders respond to those negative stereotypes.

Some people on the mainland think Hongkongers are arrogant, Ladegaard's study found. Those mainlanders say people in Hong Kong should be thankful the city is part of China. After all, the motherland has helped Hong Kong through financial crises.

On the other hand, Hong Kong people think the 'mother-son' relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong is not so important.

They say a son who looks down on his mother is not a good son. 'However, a son should not love his mother merely because she is his mother; a son should love his mother because he loves her,' they add.

Mainlanders also suggest that the negative stereotypes come from ignorance.

They say Hongkongers tend to see what they want; for example, that mainland tourists eat on the train because they don't respect rules.

Mainlanders point out that Hongkongers are narrow-minded and know little about their motherland.

Everybody makes stereotypes

Despite the negative stereotypes of mainlanders, the act of stereotyping is not always bad. In fact, it's a natural thinking process.

When we meet someone new, we want an easy way to figure out what the person is like so we know how to communicate and interact. So we use stereotypes and assume a person will behave a certain way because of his or her background.

We all do it.

'The starting point of stereotypes is positive because one wants to know how to deal with somebody new,' Ladegaard said.

But he added that we should be aware individuals never actually fit the stereotypes.

'One has to understand that stereotyping is not fair and unbiased, and it is only a person's own version of reality.'

There is no right or wrong in stereotypes because they are usually not measurable. They are based on opinions, like people are stupid or loud or rude, he said.

'Hold stereotypes lightly and modify them gladly,' he said.

The news

School integration is a hot topic these days. Mixing local and foreign students in a classroom has had different results.

Academics from around the world met in Singapore last month to discuss the issue. Some said that not all international students have had positive experiences studying in a foreign land.

Hong Kong is a prime spot to see how integration works, or doesn't work.

The city is a destination for many exchange students and mainlanders. Sometimes, the local students do not get along with them, especially those from the mainland.

The large influx of mainland students has resulted in tough competition for education resources. Their different cultural and lifestyle habits have also caused conflicts with locals.

The recent uproar over the 'locust' label for mainlanders has spread to universities. In one classroom, local students had written the word 'locust' on the white board, leaving many mainland students feeling uncomfortable.

The insect label was used against mainlanders on an online forum and in a print ad recently. It fuelled a debate about mainlanders giving birth in Hong Kong and other issues.

The effect is troubling, especially for academics worldwide.

On the wall of Polytechnic University, a mainland student left this message: 'I thought the relationship between local and mainland students was close, but recent exchanges have left me feeling confused about how I should face my local schoolmates.'

Voices: What people are saying

'When you see mainland tourists, most of them talk loudly, push their way through, crouch in the streets and disregard others. You may argue that they don't have the opportunity to receive proper education. Wait, they can afford LV and Gucci but not proper education. Hong Kong people despise their behaviour, thus, don't want to claim themselves to be 'the same'.'

Denise, a student born and raised in Hong Kong to Taiwanese parents

'Hong Kong is part of China, not only geographically but also historically. And I must make another clarification [although Hongkongers may feel uncomfortable acknowledging this]: it is our motherland who gave billions of beneficial policies to help Hong Kong develop. Frankly speaking, could Hongkongers show some thankfulness?'

Huang, a student from the mainland

'The more you know, the more you think negatively of them.'

Hans Ladegaard, English professor at Baptist University, on why Hongkongers have a more negative perception of mainlanders than people in Europe and other far-flung places

How Westerners stereotype Asians

All of them are bookworms

All of them come from the mainland

All they do is study and play music

All of them act like smart alecs

All they care about are grades