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  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:18am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong should live up to its tag of 'world-class city'

Victoria Sung says the embrace of a Hong Kong identity should not mean rejecting the multicultural realities today, if we aspire to be 'world class'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 4:56am

I attended the July 1 protests, braving the rain to observe the scene in Victoria Park. It was exciting to be in a place where civic engagement was energetic, especially when compared with my experience of living in democratic countries where politics is treated with either apathy or frustration.

But, as I walked among the other protesters, I noticed something disturbing. One of the chants taken up by the protesters was, "Hong Kong people are great!"

Hong Kong is a world-class city, or so we're told by the city's slogan. Yet at the protests on July 1, the pan-democracy movement was painting an image of Hong Kong that appeared to be very exclusionary, because it is safe to say that the "Hong Kong people" referred to in the chant excluded those who are not Han Chinese Cantonese speakers.

A truly world-class city is one that is multicultural and has a strong sense of what it means to be a citizen, regardless of race, gender or class. If Hong Kong wants to be respected on the world stage, we have to expand the definition of a Hongkonger.

The refusal to acknowledge those who are not Chinese Cantonese speakers as Hongkongers is dangerous. It is understandable that people are afraid of losing what is unique about Hong Kong - it was reflected in the uproar over the 2008 Olympics announcements being made in Putonghua and not Cantonese.

But the issue goes beyond language. It was truly shocking to see the hatred in public opinion aimed at the Filipino domestic workers who sought Hong Kong residency after living in the city for 25 years. The popular view is that Hongkongers "allow" workers from other countries to come here and that migrant workers are "privileged" to work here.

It is an attitude that would not be readily tolerated elsewhere.

To illustrate this, just replace "Hong Kong" with any other nationality or race. "White people are great!" The result is something that sounds supremacist. To say that one ethnicity or race is superior to others is patriotism at its most extreme.

If we are to say Hong Kong is a world-class city, we cannot stand for this sort of supremacy or intolerance. We have to be more open about what it means to be a Hongkonger.

Throughout history, it has been demonstrated time and time again that people become more fearful and discriminatory during uncertain times. A recent example is the increasingly difficult situation of North African and Arab immigrants living in Europe. Prioritising one group of citizens over another is not simply a matter of pride. The promotion of supremacy, be it of Cantonese-speaking Han Chinese or any other ethnic group, can easily lead to the discrimination and even persecution of minority groups.

Hong Kong has yet to achieve the confidence to exist without the fear of others diluting our cultural identity. We have to ask ourselves: do we really want Hong Kong to stay the way it is? Or, should we continue to evolve and follow the global trend of becoming more multicultural, multiracial and tolerant of differences?

Victoria Sung holds a master's degree in media, culture and communications from New York University and is the founder of Meanwhile in China

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This article is now closed to comments

stephleung5199
Thank you Ms Sung, and I think I agree too, to a certain extent. I keep hearing people saying that Hong Kong used to be more international, and that they used to take on more languages in hopes of seeking jobs instead of taking on the streets begging for money. I think that internationality can lead to open mindedness, which is incredibly important in a society. Diversity will also enable people to be more grateful for what they have.
sino.capitals@gmail.com
of course its good if a city can be the most up to date and most modern but how vistors will feel is not based only on that , when vistors will feel better in other backward cities then the latest presentation must have other surrounding problems
sino.capitals@gmail.com
of course its good if a city can be the most up to date and most modern but how vistors will feel is not based only on that , when vistors will feel better in other backward cities then the latest presentation must have other surrounding problems
sino.capitals@gmail.com
not all cities in the world are modern enough some are too old but still what makes visitors feel good conclusively is not based on that , you can feel fine and wonderful even in a old city more than in a modern city it all depends on factors its not true that modern concludes everything
sino.capitals@gmail.com
when we go personally inside all those cities then we may feel that nobody is really world class we still lack too much and still did too less, even in the most modern places we can still feel the rural part of something, the real thing is to keep improving and to behave better and to develop public virtue
ianson
Ms Sung is suffering from a bad case of confirmation bias as she creates in her own mind an illusory correlation between the chant and racism. I absolutely consider myself a "Hong Kong person", was one of the marchers and an absolutely Caucasian. There was not even the slightest semblanced of a moment in which I was other than welcomed as a member of the crowd. There is ample racism in Hong Kong, Ms Sung is right in that, but it wasn't to be found in this chant.
mi99amigo
"A truly world-class city is one that is multicultural and has a strong sense of what it means to be a citizen, regardless of race, gender or class." Such a statement begs the question: Who made up such a definition?
MANY countries have very strict immigration laws to protect their own citizens. Even the US, after 20+ years of history, has strong limits to who can 'get in'.
ejmciii
But they let people in from pretty much every nation.
Sticks Evans
I think they meant 200+ years of history. Yes coming from NY they let everyone in and support them in transition and many people by the second generation have done quite well. There was a very good study by racial breakdown of success in the U.S. by immigrants and Asians in their first generation did the best. They were given total access to opportunity and supported in many ways and excelled. Many in Hong Kong like to reject the U.S. examples and now it is popular to trash America but the opportunities are still there. I saw many immigrants end up doing better than locals through hard work. The thing in New York is that is such a mix the laws within the city are protective of immigrants unlike the rest of the country.
Many people are afraid of open borders because their way life is threatened in their minds. Tribalism is alive and well in many places and retards the progress of world progress. SInce now the amount of foreigners other than Mainland Chinese is small in Hong Kong it is hard to maintain an international flavor. Most expats are on 3 year contracts and although they may mix sometimes with local people they do not stay for decades any longer. I do not think people go to the U.S. to work only a few years normally. They go to build new lives. Hong Kong is a city not a country so it is not in the same position to support international immigration and their associations protect the interests of the locals and only allow foreign talent occasionally in for membership
HK_eh!
Huh? She's joking right? Coming from NY too.
- Chanting HK People are great is not the same as chanting Cantonese speaking people are great.
- Agree Hongkongers should be proud of HK, so people who want residency, do they want to be Hongkongers or just want residency? HK is a city-country, not enough space to open immigration gates and undo mistakes. No different than Singapore.
- White people are Great? No, saying HK people are great is like saying Americans are great.
- Not tolerated elsewhere? Look at the country where you studied, and tell me it doesn't exist. or in Japan. or elsewhere. Just because it's passive, hidden, accepted, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. motherhood statement.
Singapore is Asia's World City only because of better PR/marketing. Really? No problem, HK will take Cathay's slogan... Hong Kong - the Heart of Asia...

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