Hong Kong not so racist after all as survey errors revealed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 10:31am

Relax - Hong Kong and Bangladesh may not be as racist as suggested by the world map on racial tolerance published last week.

The map, made by The Washington Post based on data from the World Values Survey, showed 71.7 per cent of Bangladeshis and 71.8 per cent of Hongkongers did not want a neighbour of a different race.

"In both cases, World Values appears to have erroneously posted the incorrect data on its website," the US newspaper wrote in a correction this week. "The figures for Hong Kong and Bangladesh should be substantially lower at 26.8 per cent and 28.3 per cent respectively."

While the results are less startling, they are still high by comparison with much of the world, alongside Malaysia, the Philippines and France. China and Japan are still marginally more tolerant, while India and Yemen are also high on the list.

The error has raised questions about the validity of the entire exercise and in particular polling in Hong Kong, a subject recently explored by the Post.

"I think the Hong Kong and Bangladesh figures were misinterpreted due to a mistranslation of the answer codes," said University of Hong Kong sociologist Ng Chun-hung, who conducted the Hong Kong survey for the project in 2005. "I have written to the World Values Survey team [asking it] to withdraw the Hong Kong tables for the moment and upload amended ones later on." He added it was a "bit dangerous," to use just one question to draw a conclusion, because different cultures could interpret answers differently.

"[World Values] is a rather loose network of scholars and the way the surveys were done would depend on the resources available to each scholar," he said. "

The error in the Bangladesh results was discovered by Ashirul Amin, a PhD student at Tufts University in the US. The Hong Kong error, found by Chinese-speaking users of internet forum Reddit, was flagged by Engadget Chinese editor Richard Lai.

Open data advocate Fu King-wa said it showed "the beauty of open data" because anyone could check information.

"That's why I've been one of those lobbying the government for open access for data," said Fu, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong involved in Weiboscope, which shows what Sina Weibo users are discussing.

While people on social media sites were quick to point out examples that supported the original results, experts had another view.

"It's a fair representation of what was going on eight years ago," said Paul O'Connor, assistant professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, when he was approached after the story was first published last week. "But in the last few years things have changed, with tension between mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese."

Because cosmopolitan and Western influences are qualities Hongkongers use to distinguish themselves from mainland Chinese, instances of racism are now less common against those who look different, he said.

"I also think this example doesn't give Hong Kong people enough credit. There are a lot of things that Hong Kong people are more tolerant of that other people aren't elsewhere in the world. For instance, Islam isn't a contentious issue in Hong Kong."

But he added: "It's still the case that the darker the skin colour the greater the prejudice ... It's still tough for ethnic minorities here."