Blame the British colonial legacy for Hong Kong's racial intolerance

Victor Fung Keung says Hong Kong's colonial past is largely to blame for the high level of racial intolerance found among citizens in a survey

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 1:58am

Oh my goodness, we are racist! The World Values Survey shows that almost 27 per cent of citizens said they would not want a neighbour of a different race. Other intolerant citizens include those from Bangladesh, Jordan and India.

My gut reaction was: let's blame the British. They colonised us for more than 150 years until the handover in 1997. British people are notoriously racist, I thought. I was wrong. The survey finds that fewer than 5 per cent of Britons are racially intolerant. And Britain's other former colonies, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, have low scores of racial intolerance.

So, what is wrong with us? Should we simply admit that all Chinese are racist? No. The survey found that only between 15 and 20 per cent of people on the mainland are racially intolerant, a far cry from our 27 per cent.

So, if I can't blame the British or Chinese on the mainland, I'll turn to self-denial: Hong Kong scored such a high percentage of racial intolerance because we were honest and the Americans and Canadians lied in the survey.

This doesn't hold water, either. The survey is based on well-respected research and was reported in The Washington Post on May 15. The writer, Max Fisher, concluded that racial tolerance has nothing to do with economic freedom.

The survey also finds that people from free-market Hong Kong don't want their neighbours to be homosexuals, people with Aids, and those with a criminal record. There is only one bright spot: we don't mind living next to the emotionally unstable.

After some soul-searching, I went back to my gut feeling. Yes, the British are to blame. Deep in many Hong Kong people's subconscious, they hate the British because, for many decades, they occupied senior government and corporate positions in Hong Kong. Local people were treated as second-class citizens.

It will take a generation or two, I believe, for this psychological complex to fade out. Many people interviewed in the World Values Survey had lived under British rule. I wasn't one of those interviewed by researchers. If I had been, I'd have said that I'd love to have a neighbour of a different race; I am one of the few who benefited from colonial rule.

In the 1980s, the Hong Kong government sent selected ethnic-Chinese government officials to study at Cambridge or Oxford university, to groom them for the top. The British government also offered scholarships to a few locals to attend Oxford or Cambridge; I was one of those picked.

Apart from the British, many minorities living in Hong Kong are also targets of racial intolerance. Many from South Asia are employed in low-paying menial jobs. Worse, some African political asylum seekers live in Hong Kong on United Nations subsidies. Since they aren't allowed to work here, some can be seen drinking beer at any time of the day or night on the streets of Sham Shui Po and elsewhere.

I'm not trying to find excuses for Hong Kong people's intolerance. Certainly, we need to work harder to become less racist.

Victor Fung Keung is a Hong Kong-based commentator on political and social issues