Lunar new year culture clash

2 minutes estimated reading time

Just before lunar new year an incident happened on Hong Kong’s MTR mass transit system between a group of ‘mainlanders’ and Hong Kong natives.

So what drove this flare up around lunar new year? There are a number of points at which friction occurs between the two societies.

The modern city of Hong Kong has largely been built on the rule of law. It has the second largest police force in the world in term of number of police per member of the population. The ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) cleaned up Hong Kong bureaucracy for the past four decades to a standard that surpasses countries like the UK and the US.

Hong Kong runs on rules that are designed to keep things civil but without the rigidity of say Singapore. China is a bit different. It has gone through enormous wrenching changes over the past three decades and societal norms and customs have struggled to keep pace. Wider altruism that was fostered during Mao’s era is frowned upon and there are legal implications around being a good samaritan that are an unintended consequence of Chinese case law. That doesn’t mean to say that the civic society doesn’t exist, but that it exists in a more laissez-faire environment which can be good in terms of less barriers and more experimental approaches to social problems.

As a Chinese friend once told me:

In the UK you can largely say what you like, in China you can largely do what you like

This is a foundation for some of the very different world views. Then there are specific points at which friction arises, some of which is similar to the kind of inter-territory rivalry you see between London and other UK cities, or different counties in Ireland:

  • Perceived levels of sophistication and urbane living versus ignorance, a lack of taste and poor manners
  • Perceived focus on money and consumerism over everything else in life
  • Culture or the lack of it (language and food being the main fault lines)

Some of which is legitimate, to name two:

  • Mainland Chinese desperate to ensure their kids have a Hong Kong identity using underhand techniques to have their children born in Hong Kong. One can understand the desire to do the best for one’s child, but I can also see the Hong Kong side to this as well. In addition, all of this running around cloak-and-dagger style adds additional risk and stress – which can’t be good for mother or child?
  • Over exploitation of Mainland tourists being forced to shop in certain stores and spend money. This is partly due the subsidised business model that tour operators used to get mainland Chinese to go on shopping trips to Hong Kong. The subsidy came from ensuring that they purchased from certain Hong Kong shops. It is similar in nature to the cheap or free holidays offered to sell timeshare properties in Spain and Portugal – immoral but the rational consumer would realise what they were likely to be stepping into

Here is the video on Tudou without English subtitles:

More related content here.


One response to “Lunar new year culture clash”