A dispute between mainland Chinese tourists and locals over a toddler urinating in a Hong Kong street has once again become a flash point in already tense cross-border relations.
This time, the dispute ended in a scuffle that led to the arrest of a mainland couple, the parents of the toddler, and a massive online uproar in both Hong Kong and the mainland.
Several video clips that have been widely circulated online did not capture the scenes of the toddler urinating, but show the young couple, carrying their two-year old boy, locked in a fierce quarrel with two local Hong Kong young men, as one of whom took photos of the scene at Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok.
Watch one of the video clips:
During the scuffle the couple snatched the memory card from the young man’s camera and tried to leave the scene. The young men stopped them from leaving and called the police.
Surrounded by onlookers on the street, the woman desperately explained to the crowd that they had found a public toilet but saw there was a long queue, so had no other choice but to let their child to relieve himself on the street instead.
“The kid was going to pee in his pants, what do you want me do?” the mother asked the young men. Her enraged husband repeatedly asked the two men: “Do you have a kid? Do your children take pees?”
The two men held onto the pram to stop the couple from leaving, prompting the woman to hit one of the men on his arm. The video clips ended when a police officer arrived at the scene.
The husband and wife, both two-way permit holders, were subsequently arrested on suspicion of theft and assault respectively during the incident, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong police told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.
She added the woman was later released on bail and was due to report back to police in mid-May for a pending investigation, while her husband was released unconditionally.
The incident occurred last Tuesday but the video clips only drew public attention over the weekend, immediately going viral on mainland social media sites.
Numerous mainland media agencies reposted the news on their official accounts of China’s most popular social media platform Weibo, drawing more than a million comments or reposts by Wenesday.
Online reactions were very much polarised. The majority of online users in mainland China say they found the parents’ behaviour understandable as they had tried to find a toilet for their child.
“How many toddlers can hold on long enough when they want to relieve themselves?” said a commentator, who asked critics to show more tolerance of the parents.
Some pointed to a photo of the child relieving himself at the scene, which appeared to show the mother using a paper nappy to catch the urine, rather than simply allowing the toddler to relieve himself on the ground.
Other online users took a step further and condemned critics of the parents for “taking the moral high ground,” adding that their expectation of tourists unfamiliar with the city to find a public toilet in a short space of time was over the top.
A number of others even questioned if the photographers could be accused of taking indecent pictures of a young child.
But still many blasted the parents for their lack of basic public decency.
“This is such a humiliating act of mainland tourists in Hong Kong,” one comment read. Several others posted photos of mainland parents letting their children relieve themselves in public from other occasions.
Others blamed the parents for not taking enough precautions when taking their toddler out onto the street, saying that being unable to find a toilet was not a legitimate excuse.
According to the Public Cleansing and Prevention of Nuisances Regulation: “No person having the care or custody of any child under 12 years of age shall permit, without reasonable cause, the child to obey the call of nature in any public street.” Subjects found violating the regulation could face a fine of at least HK$2,000.
But those defending the parents said that trying but being unable to locate a public bathroom could be considered a reasonable justification in this case.
The latest row underlines mounting tensions between Hongkongers and mainlanders which has given way to simmering anti-mainland sentiment in Hong Kong.
While some Hong Kong residents have labelled mainland tourists as having “uncivilised behaviour”, mainlanders have in turn accused Hongkongers of being “discriminating” and “patronising”.
In the past months the city has seen several anti-mainlander protests held in crowded shopping spots such as Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui, both of which are often flocked to by mainland tourists and shoppers.