On July 1, 1997, the power to govern Hong Kong was passed from the United Kingdom back to the People’s Republic of China. For the people of the Chinese mainland, the event was part of the healing process spurred on by the century of humiliation. To some people in Hong Kong, the event meant the reunification of a land divided, and to others it represented a step back in time.
At the time of the handover, it was understood that Hong Kong would operate just as she had under UK rule. The idea was to run Hong Kong as an administrative region to lessen the ‘shock’ of the handover. The concern, at least from some in Hong Kong, was that the steel grip of communism would be too much to bear after their time under a ‘rule of law’ country. In recent years, the long arm of the party has made itself felt, to the consternation of many.
The impact of an increase in the presence of the party and migration of mainland Chinese has created a hotbed of dissension and rancor. Over the past year, the incidence of anger with the ‘mainland invasion’ has increased to the extent that people from Hong Kong are comparing the mainland Chinese to the Biblical locusts. They have gone so far as to take out a full page ad suggesting that the Chinese stay away. (1) To many people from Hong Kong, the mainlanders are changing the face of Hong Kong, and they are not pleased.
The mainlanders, for their part, were enraged and humiliated by the ad and other instances of anti-mainlander sentiments. Things escalated to where a professor of one of China’s most prestigious universities said that the people of Hong Kong were ‘lap dogs’ for the British (2) and ruined by their colonization (3). With tensions rising on both sides, it has become obvious that the mainlanders’ presence in Hong Kong is straining relations.
Tension in Hong Kong
As part of the handover, communist China promised to allow Hong Kong to operate as a ‘ special zone’ and to maintain the status quo in terms of governance and localized democracy. What this meant was that the communists would not be intrusive in the governing of the island. While the mainland promised to allow Hong Kong to operate as an independent entity and not mettle in her affairs, the good times are over, or so say many in Hong Kong.
Aside from the problem of communist governance, some people from Hong Kong resent the mainland Chinese presence in three areas: 1) an increase in the cost of housing, due to affluent Chinese purchasing prime real estate, 2) mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong to obtain special privileges, 3) differences in how some mainlanders carry themselves, their hygiene and comportment, as compared to people from Hong Kong.
Housing and Mainland Chinese
Since China has opened her doors, there has been in increase in Chinese purchasing property across the globe, and this phenomenon is not confined to Hong Kong. Reports of angst with Chinese purchasing prime properties from France (5) to Canada (6) abound.
There are many reasons for Chinese to buy houses abroad. Owning a house abroad allows a person from China to emigrate, and also provides a safe haven or refuge should China implode.
The problem is that there is an overabundance of Chinese looking to purchase foreign property, thus they have to look elsewhere. Hong Kong is a good compromise. Since Hong Kong is a ‘special zone’, a mainland Chinese can avoid many of the restrictions forced upon inhabitants of the PRC.
Hong Kong is a ‘special zone’ and thus Hong Kong residents have ‘special rights’. The internet, for instance, is not bogged down by the Great Fire Wall of China, and even things like voicing one’s displeasure with events such as the Tienanmen massacre of 1989 (7) will not land one in a black jail on the side roads of Beijing. Aside from this, it is generally felt that Hong Kong is much safer than the mainland with a violent lock down on civil rights.
With pockets filled with newly obtained cash, the mainlanders have gone on a buying frenzy leading to record high housing (8) prices in Hong Kong. In late 2010, Hong Kong suspended offering residency rights to mainland Chinese property buyers. And by late 2011, housing prices had climbed upwards of 20% y-o-y (9). Some have claimed that due to the infusion of mainlanders, many ‘pure’ Hong Kongers can no longer afford a home.
“But for some Hong Kong residents who now find themselves on millionaire’s row, thanks to a doubling of high-end property prices in the last five years, the boom is more like blight…
Even if I sell my house I can’t buy the space that I enjoy. I have to buy a smaller place and live further away not near my family. It means you got stuck in a place and you have no choice, even though the price is high.”
A modest 1,200 square-foot (111 square-meter) apartment in an “old” building in Mid-levels can easily cost around 15 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.9 million); newly built high-end apartments can easily be double that amount. (10)
Another irritant is the increase of ‘birth tourism’ by expectant mainland mothers.
Why a Hong Kong Birth is Preferred
The reasons for giving birth in Hong Kong include Hong Kong citizenship and all the benefits it implies. A mainland baby born in Hong Kong will have a Hong Kong passport, access to superior health care, ease of travel and the ability to purchase a home in Hong Kong. In addition, babies born in Hong Kong can partake of a free Hong Kong education, which is more progressive than education in the mainland. Another plus is that babies born in Hong Kong are not subject to China’s one-child policy.
The incidence of mainland mothers giving birth outside of the mainland has stretched Hong Kong’s resources to the breaking point. (11) Some Hong Kong hospitals can no longer provide service to Hong Kong citizens due to the number of mainland mothers giving birth there. (12)
Some hospitals which have been unable to meet the surging demand caused by the mainland pregnancies, are now refusing to allow mainland mothers to give birth in their facilities. (13) And the Hong Kongers are clamoring for more of the same. As it stands right now, over 40% of all babies born in Hong Kong are children of mainland mothers14 and the numbers are on the rise.
As far as education goes, it is estimated that over 10,000 Hong Kong- born Chinese children cross the border each day to attend Hong Kong schools. The influx of mainland mothers, some Hong Kongers claim, has lead to a paucity of resources for Hong Kong residents, which they claim, is unfair.
Chinese tourists were notorious for consciously breaking rules.
“You’ll see people flouting ‘no smoking’ signs in luxury outlets, knowing few will complain when they’re spending $10,000. There’s also a feeling that foreigners have been trampling on us for 200 years, and now it’s our turn.” (15)
The general sentiment of the disaffected is that the Chinese have invaded their land and something need be done. The icing on the cake lies in cultural differences. As most visitors to the PRC have noticed, practices of some of the mainland Chinese can seem unsanitary. (16)
It is claimed that in mainland China the hygiene standards are not the same as in Hong Kong. (17) Due to China’s cloistered past, cultural taboos such as spitting and urinating (18) in public (19) are not uncommon in mainland China. (20) To the people of Hong Kong, these behaviors are upsetting and have created a cultural chasm.
A Hong Kong newspaper even went so far as to run a picture of a mainland mother helping her child pee on a wall at Hong Kong Disneyland. The paper also reported that many benches at the theme park were unusable because middle-aged Chinese men were sleeping on them. (21)
To make matters worse, a recent poll has shown that fewer than 20% of all Hong Kongers consider themselves to be Chinese. This factoid ruffles the feathers of Chinese who feel as if people from Hong Kong look down upon them.
Mainland Chinese- ‘Locust People’
Two incidences show the depth of enmity that some Hong Kong people harbor towards the mainland Chinese. A video calling the mainlanders ‘locust people’ was uploaded to YouTube.
The video is called the “locust song” and depicts how some Hong Kongers view their kin on the mainland. The words to the song, coupled with the images, paint a dramatic picture at the roiling tensions between the two groups. Things have gotten so bad that some Hong Kongers have been known to prowl the areas mainlanders frequent and sing this song to them.
Another flash point occurred when a Hong Kong resident chastised a mainland woman for allowing her child to eat on the subway. (22) The mainland mother, along with her cohort accused the man of being rude and mocked his Mandarin skills. (23)
As stated earlier, barbs were tossed back and forth and led to Kong Qingdong, a Peking Univeristy professor and heir of Confucius to:
“rail against non-Mandarin speaking Hong Kongers, denounce their rule of law system, and call them ‘running dogs,’ a Maoist-era epithet that typified the class warfare of the 1950s and 60s. (24)”
Not Isolated to Hong Kong
The problem is that China has too many people for her land and resources. This, coupled with the memories of China’s tumultuous past, lead many Chinese to seek safe haven abroad. Many countries have tightened up their restrictions on Chinese immigrants which only exacerbates the situation.
Will Chinese birth tourism boom in the coming years on American soil as the Obama administration has streamlined the Visa process for Chinese visiting our land? In the past, extensive interviews were necessary in order to obtain permission to enter the US.
The reasons for the interviews were to make sure that the applicant would return to their homeland and that their intentions in America were legal and honorable. Streamlining this process, some say, will allow for an increase in birth tourism in the USA.
References & Image Credits:
1 Wall Street Journal
2 Global Voices Online
3 Global Voices Online
5 IB Times
9 Global Property Guide
11 NY Times
12 USA Today
13 http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-02-14/chinese-mainland-pregnant-women-hong-kong/53159886/1 13″>USA Today
14 USA Today
15, 16, 17, 18 Facts and Details
19 Green Economics
20 NY Times
21 Facts and Details
22 China Hush
23 People from Hong Kong speak Cantonese, not Mandarin