It’s funny the things that siblings fall out over, one minute you’re the best of friends and the next you’re beating the heck out of each other over a plastic lightsaber. Or at least that’s how it was in our house when we were growing up, I’d wind up my little brother until, in a fit of rage, he tried to tear my head off. But this may be the first time a country has fought with itself over a bowl of noodles.
In the past week or so, Hong Kong and the Mainland have been engaged in the kind of sibling strife better suited to brothers behind closed doors. It started on a tube (subway) with a mainlander stuffing down a bowl of noodles, you’re not allowed to eat on the subway in Hong Kong (with good reason, it makes for poor hygiene and some of the things people eat really don’t smell nice to other passengers either) so someone stepped in to remonstrate. So far, so normal, right?
But then it turns out that someone else was recording the incident with one of those ubiquitous mobile phone cameras that everyone carries now. The video ended up as these things do, on a file sharing site – and it’s been watched a lot. The Hong Kong Chinese have been using it to berate their Mainland counterparts for a perceived lack of manners , culture and a rule-breaking attitude and the Mainlanders in turn have pointed out that they feel it speaks volumes about the contempt they are shown by their island brothers.
Then a survey comes out – showing that fewer Hong Kong people identify themselves as Chinese now than when they lived under British rule. This causes an angry lecturer from a top Mainland University to denounce all islanders as “dogs” – he then offers a prompt but not very convincing apology reducing the number of people he thinks are “dogs”, to just those Hong Kong citizens who won’t learn Putonghua (Mandarin to you and me).
In the interim, both sides take to releasing offensive comments on social networking sites, graffiti begins to appear in public places with less than amusing stances on the debate and insults are flung with gusto. Then yesterday, it’s announced that a Hong Konger (where did that come from anyway? The people I know from Hong Kong refer to themselves as Honkies – which let’s face it is far more catchy) has spent $100,000 HKD (around $13,000 USD) taking out adverts in Hong Kong press targeted at mainlanders denouncing them as locusts. The picture is of locusts pouring across the border from Shenzhen and consuming Hong Kong. That chap has been told he’s no longer welcome on the mainland (something he should perhaps have considered before his advert – as most of his business is in China).
Neither side seems ready to back down at the moment, and it all seems faintly ridiculous to the outsider. Yes, it’s true that mainlanders sometimes aren’t as worldly as the people of Hong Kong, it’s no big surprise – most Chinese people are only just learning to integrate with themselves let alone the outside world – isolation does that to you. And yes it’s true that Chinese people are buying up much of Hong Kong making the place more expensive to live in than it once was – and it is very, very expensive.
But the flip side is, that China is Hong Kong’s biggest draw and biggest money maker. Chinese citizens spend millions of dollars every day in the stores of Hong Kong, Chinese companies list on the Hong Kong stock exchange drawing billions in investments and fees that in theory trickle down the ladder in some part to Hong Kong’s citizens by way of spending and taxation.
The deadlock needs breaking before things get truly out of control, China for its part has left Hong Kong alone as a Special Administrative Region honoring the deal made with the British when they left. But if this slightly sad row continues Beijing may feel it has no choice but to intervene to save face. So it’s time for these siblings to admit that despite their differences, they’re both better off for each other and that shaking hands and working together is better than fighting in public.