The Conflict of Hong Kong vs. China

What's All the Fighting About?


Hong Kong is a part of China, but it has a unique history that affects the way people from Hong Kong (also known as Hong Kongers) interact with and perceive the mainland today. To understand why Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese often don’t get along, you need to first understand the basics of Hong Kong’s modern history. Here's a breakdown to help you understand the longstanding feud.

The History of Hong Kong

Hong Kong was occupied by the British army and then subsequently ceded to England as a colony as a result of the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century. While it had previously been considered a part of the Qing dynasty empire, it was ceded to the Brits in perpetuity in 1842. And although there were some minor changes and periods of upheaval, the city remained a British colony, in essence, up until 1997 when control was formally handed over to the People’s Republic of China.

Because it had been a British colony during the formative years of the People Republic of China, Hong Kong was quite different from mainland China. It had a democratic system of local government, a free press, and a culture that was deeply influenced by England. Many Hong Kongers were suspicious or even fearful of the PRC’s intentions for the city, and indeed some fled to Western countries prior to the takeover in 1997.

The People's Republic of China, for its part, has assured Hong Kong that it will be allowed to retain its self-governing democratic system for at least 50 years, and it is currently considered a “Special Administrative Region” and not subject to the same laws or restrictions as the rest of the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kong vs. China Controversies

The sharp contrast in system and culture between Hong Kong and the mainland has caused a fair amount of tension in the years since the handover in 1997. Politically, many Hong Kongers have grown increasingly resentful of what they see as increasing mainland meddling in their political system. Hong Kong still has a free press, but pro-mainland voices have also taken control of some of the city’s major media outlets, and in some cases have caused controversy by censoring or downplaying negative stories about China’s central government.

Culturally, Hong Kongers and mainland tourists frequently come into conflict when the mainlanders’ behavior doesn’t live up to Hong Konger’s strict British-influenced standards. Mainlanders are sometimes derogatorily called “locusts,” a reference to the idea that they come to Hong Kong, consume its resources, and leave a mess behind when they leave. Many of the things Hong Kongers complain about—spitting in public and eating on the subway, for exaple—are considered socially acceptable on the mainland.

Hong Kongers have been especially annoyed by mainland mothers, some of whom come to Hong Kong to give birth so that their children can have access to the relative freedom and the superior schools and economic conditions in the city as compared to the rest of China. In past years, mothers also sometimes came to Hong Kong to buy massive quantities of milk power for their infants, as the supply on the mainland was distrusted by many following the tainted milk powder scandal.

Mainlanders, for their part, have been known to lash back and what some of them see as “ungrateful” Hong Kong. People's Republic of China nationalist commentator Kong Qingdong, for example, caused a major controversy in 2012 when he called Hong Kong people “dogs,” a reference to their alleged nature as submissive colonial subjects, which led to protests in Hong Kong.

Can Hong Kong and China Ever Get Along?

Trust in mainland food supplies is low, and Chinese tourists are not likely to change their behavior significantly in the immediate future, nor is the People's Republic of China government likely to lose interest in influencing Hong Kong politics. Given the significant differences in political culture and systems of government, it is likely that tension between Hong Kongers and some mainland Chinese will remain for some time to come.