Fear at heart of Hong Kong-mainland tension

Michael Chugani believes the real source of Hong Kong's ire at the mainland hordes is fear that the city's very character is being eroded

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 7:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 12:15am

A friend called to say the growing animosity towards the flood of mainlanders in Hong Kong is a time bomb waiting to explode. I told him I had warned about this numerous times. But what makes it a time bomb? Don't droves of Hongkongers also go to the mainland? Of course they do. They made a 10-year record 73.2 million trips there last year. Every weekend, hordes head off to sample the mainland's many affordable pleasures - karaoke, massages and restaurants.

So why are mainlanders coming here derisively called locusts but Hongkongers don't see themselves as such when they flood across the border?

Answering that question requires brutal frankness: Hongkongers think they're superior. Just look at what they're demanding from the Philippine government over the killing of eight Hongkongers by a deranged ex-policeman. They'll settle for nothing less than a formal kowtow by the country's president. They flew into a rage when the seating arrangements at a Bali meeting between Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying and President Benigno Aquino suggested our leader was not accorded equal status.

At one time, Hongkongers could credibly claim to be superior to mainlanders. That was when our currency ranked above the renminbi in value, when the poverty-stricken mainland had yet to open up, and when mainlanders risked even shark-infested waters to flee here as illegal immigrants. We derisively called them ah chaan and considered them inferior.

But the tables have been turned. Mainland China lags behind just the US in economic might. It is rapidly producing millionaires. Countries around the world compete to lure free-spending mainland Chinese tourists. The renminbi is worth more than our currency. Our retailers would collapse without mainland visitors. And we are being derisively called "Hong Kong chaan" by some mainlanders.

Mainlanders now have more right to see themselves as superior to us than we have to treat them as inferior. Yet we still do. A mainland friend put it down to Hongkongers being in denial. That's part of it, but it's also that locals don't measure themselves against mainlanders only in dollar terms.

We see ourselves as more civilised. We're proud of our city, its clean government, independent judiciary and rule of law. That's why Hongkongers feel superior when they mock mainlanders who urinate in the streets, jump queues and acquire wealth through corruption.

The time-bomb element and the locust labelling come not from Hongkongers believing they are superior but from them feeling they are being overwhelmed. When locals stream across the border, they are not as visible as when mainlanders flood into our tiny city. They don't compete with mainlanders for baby milk powder or school places. They don't virtually take over amusement parks or shopping districts like mainlanders have done with Ocean Park and Causeway Bay. They don't change the character of mainland cities. Hongkongers feel the very character of their city, including the Cantonese dialect, is being threatened by the influx of mainlanders. That's the time bomb.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host [email protected]