With divergent values, it’s increasingly difficult for Hongkongers and mainlanders to understand each other
- As Hongkongers take to the streets to fight for their freedoms, young people on the mainland embrace nationalism, having seen only China’s impressive economic growth
- With such discordant perspectives, and a lack of shared history due to the Great Firewall, it’s no wonder that mistrust is on the rise
As someone who calls Guangzhou — the Cantonese-speaking city neighbouring Hong Kong — home, it is heart-wrenching to witness the deterioration, bit by bit, of the relationship between the two sides over the past decade. The result is that cultural, emotional and information gaps have widened significantly.
A survey conducted two months before the Beijing Olympics that year showed roughly half of Hongkongers identified themselves as Chinese: 41.2 per cent of those aged 18 to 29, and 54.5 per cent of those 30 and above. Since then, the figures have dropped dramatically. According to a University of Hong Kong survey released last week, the number of Hongkongers identifying themselves as Chinese has fallen to a record low, at around 11 per cent.
Information about the pro-democracy demonstration was heavily censored and twisted on the mainland. In the thrall of the official narrative, internet vigilantes view anyone seeking to preserve civil liberties and promote democracy as “separatists” and target them with online bullying and boycotts.
In the past 20 years, almost 1.5 million Chinese people have moved to Hong Kong seeking education and employment. This influx raises local fears that the city’s already limited resources and services are in danger of being overwhelmed.
Then there are the complaints about Mandarin-speaking tourists’ behaviour in the city, include littering, spitting and shouting in public.
The attitudes of Hong Kong’s younger generations are also hardening as the conventional strategies of the traditional pan-democratic camp appear less relevant. And, as a place where commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown is still tolerated, Hong Kong has seen many young students becoming increasingly indifferent to China.
Meanwhile, the younger generations on the mainland embrace nationalism, having grown up alongside China’s impressive economic growth. They are mostly unfamiliar with Hong Kong’s unique role as a major international financial hub and its stunning cultural soft power, and are sensitive to what they perceive as Hongkongers’ bias against them.
Many mainlanders now share the impression that Hong Kong is on the decline, and the reason people there still enjoy the lifestyle they do is because of the motherland’s generous special treatment. Thus, they despise Hong Kong people for being “ingrates and lackeys of the West”.
The vicious circle is complete and thanks to the ever stronger Great Firewall, there are few common spaces for both sides to communicate, clarify misunderstandings, debunk stereotypes and rationally debate common concerns.
Recently, I saw a screenshot of a WeChat dialogue: a Hongkonger talks about the protests with a mainland friend, who had known nothing about them and was shocked, responding: “Well, maybe it’s time to converge the ‘two systems’ into one, then it would be much more convenient for us to visit Hong Kong”.
I hope it was dark humour. But underlying it is a stark divergence in values: most mainlanders value stability and development more, and do not understand why their neighbours in the south stir up trouble time and again, instead of simply enjoying what they have — which already includes many more freedoms.
I don’t know whether such differences can be reconciled any time soon. I can only hope that Hong Kong keeps, in what is described in the ode Pearl of The Orient, its fabulous style and romantic ideals.
Audrey Jiajia Li is a nonfiction writer and broadcast journalist