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  • Dec 19, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Time for an honest debate about Hong Kong's place in the nation

Stephen Vines says the vitriol directed at mainlanders signals a need

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 2:04am

I was born in London, north London to be exact, where most people are close to perfect and certainly more intelligent than those in south London. I have lived in three countries other than Britain and, in each, I discovered regional prejudices, ethnic differences and linguistic divides.

Yet what is so remarkable about the current debate in Hong Kong over the influx of mainlanders is how little people acknowledge that the response to this mingling of people from different places is unremarkable and similar to what happens elsewhere.

Thus, we have idiots calling mainlanders locusts, foul-mouthed louts and the like. This is hardly pleasant, but it is the way of the world.

Hong Kong has long experience of tuning the collective antennae to differences among its population: the majority Cantonese have often expressed views on those from Shanghai; the Chiu Chow people find themselves subject to negative associations even though they come from part of Guangdong province; and those originating from the Indian subcontinent will have little difficulty telling you the racial epithets aimed in their direction.

What is different about the widespread disparaging of people from the mainland is the abnormal political context in which it is taking place.

First, some history. The existence of a colony in Hong Kong produced almost 150 years of apartness from the rest of China. Although it is now distinctly unfashionable to say so, the relative lack of contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China bred something approaching envy north of the border and a sense of superiority to the south.

Now the roles are reversed as political power in Hong Kong firmly resides north of the border and part of the influx of people from the mainland consists of wealthy individuals who can buy things locals cannot.

The politically correct response is to say that, now Hong Kong is united with the motherland, Hong Kong people should embrace their compatriots with open arms and do their very best to fit in with the new order.

The reality is that, while integration is gathering pace, some aspects of it alarm people here who fear the evaporation of the advantages they have enjoyed. To the north, the unique nature of Hong Kong is viewed with suspicion and disdain, as it is believed that the people are haughty, severely compromised by a colonial mentality and generally not prepared to accept their status as being Chinese.

Of course, these sweeping characterisations are not universal. However, it is overall impressions that matter and things are turning ugly.

It might be thought that, in these circumstances, the role of community leaders would be to encourage greater harmony and provide reassurance where troublemakers seek to ferment unease.

This is not happening because our local leaders are helplessly compromised. Their bosses in Beijing expect them to speak endlessly about further integration and to stress their loyalty to the ruling party. Meanwhile, the bosses' representatives down here send alarmist reports back suggesting that those who disagree with government policy are basically unpatriotic and un-Chinese. Thus, instead of helping to overcome misunderstandings and distrust, political leaders exacerbate the problem.

Hong Kong needs a grown-up debate about its place in the nation, to ease some of the tension. Suspicion and mistrust will not disappear, but there is no need for this to overshadow relations between people who, at the end of the day, all come from the same country.

Come to think of it, even I believe that there must be some people from south London who are not that bad.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur


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An event I will never forget. On landing at an airport, many passengers unbuckled their seat belts even thought the sign "seat belts on" was still enforced. An announcement by the pilot said "please buckle back your seat belt when the plane is still in motion. If you do not, we can all stay in the plane." No compromise, however trivial, you are here to do a job RIGHT, by the role designated to you. Mr Stephen Vines's comment - "It might be thought that, in these circumstances, the role of community leaders would be to encourage greater harmony and provide reassurance where troublemakers seek to ferment unease" - are they carrying out their role for interest / betterment of HK people, like the pilot, the safety of his passengers in the plane he was in charge of?
A Hong Konger
Mr. Vines has been a long time commentator and friend of Hong Kong for many years. However, I am surprised at this article as it reads like it was written by someone who had just arrived. But the point he raises bears examining: It is true that anti-mainland epithets are unacceptable as they are beneath our dignity as HKers to use them, but it is true that there are underlying causes of which ethnic (at this stage it is true to say Sino-HK tension are becoming, if not already, ethnic) mudslinging is merely symptomatic. From grass-roots issues (powdered milk) to politics (Beijing's interference) to philosophical (cultural/value) to identity (who we are), these all stem from the structure we inherited that denies us real self-determination, which is dangerously simmering at the core of the issue. I hope Mr. Vines' article is a clever way of oversimplifying the argument so as to encourage what is truly needed: real debate. Not a debate about 'our place in the nation', but a debate about who we are, what is important to us, once these are established we can better discuss the political and socio-economic structure, and our 'place in the nation' or whether we want one at all. Frankly, I think, if we are truly honest with ourselves, greater autonomy or outright independence will become, if not a reality, then a permanent feature in our political landscape. Only then we can deal with the mainland in an atmosphere of mutual respect on all levels. This current reality is untenable.
Michael Lee
How about a debate on Hong Kong's place in the WORLD? Then, some INFORMATION gathering and some strategic thinking. Maybe then Hong Kong will get some well deserved LEADERSHIP and VISION.
Hong Kong can lead China by being a sustainability exemplar and champion for the region.
If China does not design & develop itself sustainably, the world will be in very serious trouble indeed, with biosphere collapse and economic ruin being inevitable.
This can be our key mission moving forward, and our enduring value to China, the region and the world.
We know how, with the Asynsis principle-Constructal sustainability-led design law of nature and culture. This principle & law was both inspired by, and is being further developed in Hong Kong.
Nigel Anthony Reading RIBA.
This "writer" is CLUELESS about what's really going on in Hong Kong and the issues at stake. To reduce it to some kind of superficial snobbery or class war is about as ignorant and off-base as claiming the troubles in Northern Ireland were about the English introducing carrots and turnips into the recipe for Irish stew.
An infinitely better researched and written article that explains the TRUE reasons behind the currently rising tensions between Hong Kong locals and Chinese mainlanders can be found here:
Stephen, you and I live in many countries, but have you lived in a country except HK setting up a press area for its government chief, in our case is Leung, to always speak in a background that scream and yell that mostly you couldn't hear what he said? Worst on radio. And you never see our efficient civil servant come up with a more civilized place for our chief to speak to the publics, assuming at least 49% people still want to hear him clearly or another 51 % can hear him clearly before screaming and yelling again? This is another international joke similar to milk powder rush?
"This is not happening because our local leaders are helplessly compromised. Their bosses in Beijing expect them to speak endlessly about further integration and to stress their loyalty to the ruling party." Really? no and no. It is all about money. mainland mom was supported for years by Doctors and developers making tons of money for delivering babies and selling flats. Without GDP per capital increase but simply increase the head count will benefit also the developers and the landlords as they sell more flats and charger higher rents for the landlord with more shoppers. A simple math. Also government benefits a lot as they made more money on lands and duties on resales etc. their objective is to increase the top line like running a biz.
who is loosing out? Most HK people unless you own more than one flats or planning to cash in to go somewhere. Otherwise you will have to pay more for everything and to breath more polluted air.
why don't SCMP first do a poll & ask if HKers wants to be part of this present day China - corrupt and so "Animal Farm"!!!.........................otherwsie, such a debate may lead to another revolution. And as a HK born, who spent his teens in South London, we regard only thicko resides north of the river. Therefore, I fully understands why most HKers, I know, reckons everyone north of Shenzhen are either "farmers" or corrupt partyers.
I agree that the role of community leaders should encourage greater harmony. The problems here is that the Hong Kongese themselves feel arrogantly superior, just like the Indians, as if being the old British colonizers little poodles somehow elevates them above other more genuine Asians.
Under China, Hong Kong’s economy greatly prospered and with extensive prop up from China, managed to escape from several otherwise fatal financial crisis. In general, Chinese government has always treated Hong Kong kindly because as compatriots it deeply appreciates and understands the pain of being colonized.
It seems that as a typical frail little Hong Kong poodle you deeply cherish being shamelessly dominated, violated and manipulated by white puppeteers like a bunch of good house ****. It is indeed the saddest sight of ignorance as bliss.
A Hong Konger
jenniepc: Your shocking statement is so full of disgusting racist bile, painful contradiction and ignorant nonsense it shows that even the most arrogant HKer is no match for a Mainland apologist like you.
Hong Kong was build by our own hands over 150 years (nearly a century older than the PRC), Hong Kong gave safe refuge to hundreds of thousands of PRC nationals while being bombed and terrorised by the Red Guard during the 60s (thereby corrupting the legitimate grievances the HK people had at the time), and remains the largest investor in China to this date. Our most proudest moment is now as we develop our own culture and cultivate world class values. HK is not without our miserly and arrogant, but we are tired of being subjected to this nonsense by mainland apologist who feel we should sacrifice what WE have built and silence OUR OWN culture and values to a country that murdered more of it's own people than any other in the 20th century.
China treats us "kindly" and props us up? Utter nonsense! China refused to hear our opinions before and after the handover and maintains HK as a colony, seeking to keep us "shamelessly dominated" today so they can slowly integrate HK to China starting with our economy. Sino-HK relations is best viewed through a 'realist' International Relations lens than the absurd romantic ethnic fantasy you have.



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