Enough of Canto-chauvinism: Hong Kong’s non-Chinese residents should not vote for lawmakers who refuse to use English

Yonden Lhatoo argues that if lawmakers can’t be bothered to reach out to non-Chinese voters in English, they don’t deserve their votes in the September election

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2016, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 June, 2016, 7:11pm

It’s time to make a stand this year. I refuse to even consider supporting any candidate from my district who puts a Chinese-only pamphlet in my mailbox to solicit my vote for September’s Legislative Council election.

It’s as simple as that, all you politicians out there. If you can’t be bothered to explain your election platform to me in a language I can understand, why the heck should I vote for you?

Of course, my lone ballot may be insignificant by itself, but keep in mind that there are many, many registered voters in Hong Kong like me who can’t read Chinese. If all of them took a similar stance – and I dare say many of my friends do – their support could make all the difference to some parties.

Keep in mind that, this year, we’re expecting the most fiercely contested election in our city’s history, in a changed and highly polarised political atmosphere. It looks like every vote is going to count – including mine.

Yes, I’m sure residents of The Peak or Discovery Bay are sent bilingual or English pamphlets, but let’s not forget that there are many more of us in not-so-white neighbourhoods across Hong Kong who would appreciate similar treatment. My estate in Hung Hom is full of non-Chinese residents.

It reflects the wider problem Hong Kong has with maintaining English as this city’s official language, along with Chinese. Charity begins at home, but try telling that to our allegedly bilingual government.

Most top officials have no qualms about conducting entire events, including media briefings, in Cantonese only. They will reluctantly and grudgingly repeat a couple of sentences in English if you press them.

They’ve been named and shamed for years over this, but they just don’t seem to care. From press releases to personal blogs, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his ministers still think it’s perfectly fine to release information in Chinese only.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, really. Hong Kong pretends to be a bilingual city, because it can’t be an international centre of commerce without English. But it has no real interest in the language as it becomes more inward-looking and the means of communication is dictated by Cantonese chauvinism.

Some of that was evident last week when an Indian teenager lost a lengthy court battle against a police officer he had accused of giving him nightmares by arresting him on racial grounds. The case stemmed from a dispute in 2010 when, as an 11-year-old, the student was accused of assault by a Chinese woman when he bumped into her at a train station.

While the judge did not agree that the policeman had taken the woman’s side on racial grounds, he found it “perplexing” that officers were only trained to caution suspects in Cantonese.

Well, your honour, the rest of us have been perplexed about this for years. Back in 2009, when a policeman responding to a “nuisance” complaint about a homeless Nepalese man living rough on a hillside shot him in the head and killed him, he did shout out warnings in Cantonese only. It’s nothing new.

But, like I said, it’s time to make a stand. A promise is a promise, and I’ve already binned a couple of Chinese-only campaign brochures slipped into my mailbox.

So far it’s looking pretty grim: the only bilingual pamphlet I’ve received from a politician for September is from annoyingly pro-establishment incumbent Priscilla Leung Mei-fun. For those of you who don’t know her, she’s the lawmaker who wants to build an offshore detention centre for South Asian asylum seekers.

I hope I haven’t painted myself into a corner.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post