Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Cantonese is Hong Kong’s heritage, but not the sole definer of Hongkongers’ identity 

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2018, 9:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2018, 9:30am

Cantonese is definitely part of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage. However, it seems that recent debates on whether or not Cantonese should be seen as the mother tongue of Hongkongers have put too much emphasis on the importance of Cantonese in the “Hongkonger” identity. 

A number of Facebook users are adding the frame “Cantonese is my mother tongue” onto their profile pictures and some university student unions are advocating the so-called New Hong Kong Literature Movement. This is all leading to an extreme localist ideology, which resembles protectionism and requires Hongkongers to be able to speak Cantonese. 

The languages of Hong Kong include Cantonese, English, Chinese dialects, and even some South Asian dialects

What concerns me is that this will narrow down the definition of a Hongkonger and deprive the minorities of their rights to claim Hong Kong identity. 

Saying that Cantonese is the language of Hongkongers is definitely an oversimplification of the diverse language environment of Hong Kong. There are actually many languages of Hong Kong. Although a majority of Hongkongers speak Cantonese, some of them speak Chinese dialects at home and a small number may not speak Cantonese fluently. 

In this sense, the languages of Hong Kong include Cantonese, English, Chinese dialects and even some South Asian dialects. 

If we simplify the languages of Hong Kong into just Cantonese, members of the minority population may lose their right to identify themselves as Hongkongers. As for the Chinese, unless they are indigenous New Territories villagers, they should be the descendants of immigrants from other parts of China. In fact, a lot of elderly people who have lived in Hong Kong for decades still fail to speak Cantonese fluently or do not speak it at all. Are they Hongkongers? 

Anson C.Y. Chan, North Point