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The call of nature spurs a call to arms

Hong Kong resists mainland Chinese manners.

By: New York Times |
May 6, 2014 1:48:52 am


A mainland couple’s decision to let their child urinate in public last month set off a video-recorded tussle on a street in Hong Kong, igniting a social media uproar that became a proxy battle for a larger question: Is Hong Kong, a former British colony, now being colonised by mainland China, whose visitors increasingly flood the territory with their money and alien manners as Beijing seeks to impose its political control?

The video started a cross-border debate over Beijing’s dominance of the territory and Hong Kong’s fealty to its political overlord, and came just as China is considering whether to grant Hong Kong more say over choosing its leaders, with protest groups prepared to act if China does not loosen its grip.

In the video, the toddler’s parents confronted a man who used his cellphone to record the urinating child. After the mother was charged with trying to steal the man’s cellphone, mainland Chinese initially accused him of perversion for recording the child, and then veered into a larger indictment of Hong Kong residents as lacking patriotism for being inhospitable to the tens of millions of Chinese whose money fuels the territory’s robust economy.

“I bet most of these ‘proud’ HK-ers with their indignation of China rule would be only too happy to lick the boots of ‘proud HK’ former master, Britain, and kiss Queen’s hand while at it,” wrote one commenter on The New York Times’s Sinosphere blog.

The argument about the child’s behaviour comes as local attitudes toward Beijing appear to be hardening. A poll of Hong Kong residents conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project showed rising dissatisfaction with Beijing’s handling of the territory’s affairs, particularly among young adults, with four-fifths of respondents ages 21 to 29 saying they were dissatisfied, and a strong majority of them identifying more with Hong Kong than with China.

Underlying local hostilities toward mainland Chinese are the economic pressures brought by a flood of cash into the territory. Not only are wealthy mainland Chinese accused of driving up real estate values, but their free-spending ways — encouraged by the absence of sales taxes in Hong Kong and favourable long-term currency valuations — have been blamed for widespread inflation.

Rachel Cartland, a former Hong Kong official who once oversaw its social welfare system, said local residents had seen their shops increasingly stock higher-priced items geared toward mainland Chinese buyers. “People find that the shops they used to go to, the composition has changed,” she said. “They’ve turned into shops dedicated to mainland Chinese.”

The recording of the child’s behaviour was the latest in a string of videos and pictures that have documented questionable behaviour, with Web pages like “Spot the Mainlander” drawing torrents of angry commentary. Last week, a protest against mainlander behaviour drew 30 people who mimicked the toddler’s act; social media sites said a counter-demonstration was in the works by people who planned to relieve themselves in the street. Even the prospect of such a protest led to warnings from local officials.

“The law in Hong Kong prohibits anyone from littering or urinating in public,” said Ko Wing-man, the territory’s secretary for food and health. “I am not criticising any race or nationality. The law and this principle will be implemented fairly.”

Last week, in a reflection of concern in Beijing about the passions in Hong Kong, the state-run media on the mainland chimed in. The Global Times newspaper said in an opinion piece that “skinheads” had organised last week’s protest, and that “in Hong Kong social media, slapstick postings about ‘toddlergate’ are going viral again.”

“This incident, which should have been over and forgotten, was surprisingly reignited by some Hong Kong radicals,” the piece said. “Humiliating mainlanders must be the only aim these protesters were trying to achieve. But it turns out that who they embarrassed and humiliated was nobody but themselves and all of Hong Kong society. Hong Kong’s image was badly tarnished by them.”

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