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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 8:02am
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PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 3:18pm

Zadig & Voltaire shouldn't get away with discrimination

Alice Wu says blatant discrimination, whether it involves a Hong Kong storefront or a Paris hotel, deserves our strongest condemnation

BIO

Alice Wu fell down the rabbit hole of politics aged 12, when she ran her first election campaign. She has been writing about local politics and current affairs for the Post since 2008. Alice's daily needs include her journals, books, a multi-coloured pen and several lattes.
 

We are taught not to judge a book by its cover. We understand it as the logical and right thing to do. So when luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana made headlines with its discriminatory policy of banning Hong Kong residents from taking photographs of its storefront, it caused a storm. But when Zadig & Voltaire announced plans to launch a hotel in Paris that would be closed to "Chinese tourists", all was quiet in Hong Kong.

Zadig & Voltaire's founder and owner Thierry Gillier, who made the remarks in an interview with a trade magazine, has since backtracked and his comments amended to "busloads of tourists". But the blatant racism still rankled.

Some say he was referring only to mainland tourists. But I can't see how mainland Chinese tourists can be easily distinguished from other "types" of Chinese tourists. Gross generalisations won't help to identify which Chinese-looking individuals are mainland Chinese and which are Taiwanese, Hongkongers, Macanese, Singaporeans or other Asians, for that matter. Vincent Chin, a Chinese American murdered by two men who apparently mistook him to be of Japanese descent in Detroit in 1982, comes to mind.

"No Chinese Allowed" doesn't come with footnotes - looking "Chinese" would be enough to get one banned. And do we believe that all the busloads of loud tourists hail only from mainland China? On my last trip abroad, I distinctly remember seeing and hearing a lot of rowdy tourists who bore no resemblance to the Chinese race.

Social psychologists say there are three components to prejudice: emotional, cognitive and behavioural. Resentment and anger (emotional) are usually created when there is a scarcity of resources, which creates competition among groups of people. In Hong Kong, everything from maternity beds and baby formula to the roof over our heads and our personal space have become scarce. Pitched against mainland tourists competing for necessities, we burn with resentment and anger. We even go so far as to call mainland Chinese "locusts".

Yet policies that don't discriminate can be implemented and the dangerous leap from negative sentiments to hate need not be made.

Stereotyping is a cognitive function. Most of the time, we recognise the stereotypes we hold for what they are. While we cannot and should not control such "free thought", and such prejudice cannot be eradicated by enacting laws, we must be alert to any discriminatory speech or actions towards any group of people. We must speak out against such behaviour and not condone it.

This requires constantly and vigorously questioning the prejudices we hold and seeing ourselves beyond the identity we feel we belong to.

Zadig & Voltaire deserves every bit of the venom that Dolce & Gabbana received, and we need to understand why it hasn't, at least in Hong Kong. We proclaim democracy, rule of law and human rights to be our core values. Allowing others' and our own prejudices to taint them would make them hollow values.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA

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This article is now closed to comments

jeannieh
come on, Ms Wu, this is not discrimination. You don't behave, you are not welcome into my property, this is pragmatic. It's only a pity that we are also Chinese in origin. We are treated badly thanks to the Mainland Chinese. I think this is logical how other peoples think of the Chinese. Thanks to the Mainlanders, all other Chinese, no matter what their nationality is, receive the same treatment from foreigners. People cannot distinguish the difference. It's a shame that Hong Kong is related to Mainland
mymak
You don't behave, you are not welcome into my property is pragmatic and it is discrimination. If I go to the supermarket and buy a different brand of rice because the last brand I bought was not nice, then this is pragmatic and discrimination. But what Ms. Wu is complaining about is prejudice. Discrimination is present in almost every aspect of our lives. But Zadig & Voltaire by saying 'No Chinese Allowed' are showing prejudice against anyone who looks Chinese or anyone who has a Chinese name, be they from Beijing, Vancouver, London or Hong Kong.
I am just constantly surprised that people continue to try and justify their (Z and V) racist stance by reference to the divisions between Hong Kong people and people from other parts of the country. In ancient times the Greeks carved statues of the Persians as half-man half-horse in an attempt to justify their racial superiority. This was thousands of years ago. More recently the British in Hong Kong hung signs outside their private clubs saying 'No Chinese or Dogs'. These signs were not targeting people from other parts of the country, but Hong Kong Chinese. What were the feelings of Hong Kong Chinese then? Did they honestly believe that they were inferior to the British? Of course not. They were offended and insulted. These signs were racist and prejudicial towards all Chinese people in the same way that Z and V's sign is now.
mymak
The **** word refers to the 3rd Reich and in the context of the comment should not be censored.
mymak
mr goodkat,
My wife is Chinese. We have a daughter. It is better for you to hide your real identity. It is shocking that your racist rant should be published.
Actually, for your information European countries have quite robust anti-discrimination laws and the business in question does not have the freedom to behave as it likes. Furthermore, it is generally accepted in Europe that such overt racism is contrary to what a civilization should be. This in part is due to the history of European nations; France, UK, Belgium, Holland, Spain, etc. inflicting their own ideals of civilization on foreign nations and peoples through colonization. Such outdated ideals led to the subjugation, murder and terror throughout the world from the 16th to the 20th century. It is also in part due to their own experiences at the hands of the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s when racism led to the murder of over 6 million jews. China (including Hong Kong and Hong Kong people), itself suffered at the hands not only of European colonization but also at the hands of Japan.
I hope that this Forum does not become a haven for the less educated bigots and that issues can be discussed rationally and with some thought given to the feelings of all people.
spunkyjj
I haven't seen mainlanders speaking out en masse against Zadig & Voltaire. Neither was there any protest from the now "strong" Chinese Government against such blatant act that hurt the "feeling" of the Chinese people. I'm willing to bet that mainlanders are still buying upscale fashions from Zadig & Voltaire. Why then should Hongkongers suddenly carry the moral burden of taking it up with Zadig & Voltaire? Make no mistake. I think the guy is a racist jerk. But I don't agree that Hongkongers have any moral responsibility in the matter.
tobychun
If it were HKers being targeted, mainlanders wouldn't blink an eye.
mercedes2233
Alice Wu has given the hotel unpaid publicity. If she hadn't written about it, I wouldn't have known a hotel with this name existed. I am happy to take my business elsewhere.
shouken
This essay shows that at least some HKers are just cheap parochial bigots hiding behind a hollow facade called "core values". Hypocrites really!
tobychun
Alice can't differentiate between mainlanders and HKers? Is this the best writer SCMP can come up with? Talk about lowering the bar...
mrgoodkat
Any business should have the right to enter into contracts with whomever they want. If they don't want to have Chinese staying in their hotel, then that's their right. Zadig&Voltaire is a private enterprise and can do as they please. If you don't like it, don't do business with them (I.e. buy stuff in their stores). I for one will happily check into their Chinese free hotel the next time I'll be in Paris.
About time that someone shows the Chinese that money isn't everything. I sure hope more hotels and shops will follow suit. Contrary to the treatment they receive in HK, where the staff in watch and jewellery stores won't say anything if their Mainland customers light up a cigarette, as long as they buy a Rolex.
While surely not all Mainland Chinese are rude and uncivilized, the notable majority is and that's the reason bans like that happen in the first place.

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