A full page ad was published in a Hong Kong newspaper today, depicting a giant locust perched on a mountain overlooking the Hong Kong skyline.
The text asks: “Are you willing for Hong Kong to spend one million Hong Kong dollars every 18 minutes to raise the children born to mainland parents?”
The locust is now synonymous for some very unwelcome mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong. Web users coined the term to describe the 28 million Chinese visitors now looked upon as marauders, bringing chaos to Hong Kong’s order and rule of law and consuming precious resources in the city.
Hong Kong residents are particularly vexed about the tens of thousands of pregnant mainland women who cross the border every year to give birth, obtaining Hong Kong benefits for their children and putting a strain on congested public hospitals. There is also much resentment towards the nouveau riche who come to the territory and splurge on luxury goods and apartments, driving up already exorbitant rents in the property market.
In less than a week, an online group raised $100,000 HK dollars to place the ad in The Apple Daily newspaper.
The advert, I fear, now signals that the gloves are off in an already vicious and long simmering dispute, dividing Hong Kong residents and those who come from the Chinese mainland.
But maybe the gloves were already off. Last week,a Beijing academic went on an internet talk show and went on a 15 minute rant, calling Hong Kong people “bastards,” “thieves” and “dogs” for insulting mainland Chinese visitors.Since Hong Kong returned to the Chinese mainland in 1997 after 100 years of British rule, and since cross-border travel rules were eased in 2003, the Hong Kong/China divide has been a contentious issue.
But this recent blow up can be traced back to an incident in January when more than 1,000 people protested outside a Dolce & Gabbana shop. The fashion store banned locals from taking pictures outside, telling them only mainland Chinese visitors could do so.
Later, a video of a group of Hong Kong people angrily confronting a mainland Chinese family for eating on the city’s underground train network where food is banned went viral.
I totally get why the Hong Kong people are pissed. It’s a bit of an invasion. Out of the 42 million visitors Hong Kong gets each year, 28 million come from China. Though Hong Kong is now officially part of China, the two places couldn’t be more different. I have always marvelled at how clean and orderly Hong Kong is (even by Canadian standards) compared to cities in mainland China. Just crossing the border from HK to the city of Shenzhen gives travellers a stark comparison to see just how different the territory is from the mainland. The clean toilets disappear and we are met with dirty squatters. The orderly line ups in Hong Kong give way to frantic clambering and pushing. Everything changes. Even the air quality.
At Harbour City in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui, where many mainland visitors shop, it is easy to spot who comes from China and who is a local. Some of the worst stereotypes come true. The mainland shoppers move in loud, boisterous packs, line up outside Chanel and LV, squat on the sidewalks instead of finding a nearby bench, and they spit, a lot.
We lived in Hung Hom, where there was a train station directly connecting Hong Kong to Shenzhen. We watched as the apartments in our neighborhood were bought up by the Chinese. Our land lady was one of them and she was impossible to deal with. She dropped by unannounced. Even stayed a night at our place after handing us the keys and signing a one-year contract with us. In the end, she refused to return our deposit and we left Hong Kong a few thousand dollars short. The real estate agent apologized profusely to us. “These mainland Chinese,” she said. “I just can’t deal with them. They don’t listen.”
And that’s why the noodle incident caused such a big uproar. I think the Hong Kong locals shouldn’t have gotten so worked up about it, but when the family was confronted about eating on the subway, the Chinese mother of the family was defiant and unapologetic. “So we’re eating? What’s it to you?”
I get that a lot in China. “Um, there’s a line up here,” I would meekly say. “What’s it to you?” is the answer I usually get. “You line up if you want. I’ll do what I want.”
So obviously, I think the mainlanders need to be more respectful of Hong Kong’s rules. I don’t know how we can do this, how we can go about mass educating and enacting some kind of mass change of behaviour. It’s also important to remember not to hold all Chinese mainlanders accountable for the unruly behaviour of some and the hate speech of one loony professor. And finally, I can say for certain, that taking out a full page advert depicting locusts isn’t going to help.