Nativism, Political Radicalization, and Prejudice – Hong Kong’s Growing Independence Movement

This paper was written for my final undergraduate thesis.

Prejudice is a major part of any nationalist or independence movement. It starts out as a formation of an identity, an “us”, and always opposed with a “them”, those who do not belong. People no longer just form their identities around the cities they are from, but pronounce themselves as the citizens of specific nationalist identities that ultimately form states.

However, the glories and prides that come with nationalism always bring potential conflicts with those of a different identity. This identification of “us” and a need to rid society of anything that is “other” ferments itself in the form of racism, xenophobia, and at points ultra-nationalism. In its most extreme form that very few nations can even compare to, The Third Reich created a model for how their society should look like and went on to exterminate any citizens that they deemed to have “unfavorable qualities.” As a result of the holocaust, 13 million people of all background perished, including 6 million people of Jewish descent. Whether nationalists like it or not, xenophobia and the rejection of the “other” plays a large role in any nationalist or independence movement.

Hong Kong is not an exception. It’s grassroots political movements as well as legislative representation have continued to radicalize since at least 2012. Following the Occupy Central Protests and the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, voices calling for the support of an Independent Hong Kong Nation started garnering support around the city. As of 2016, 61% of Hong Kong University students said that they would support independence in a referendum.

Calling this situation bizarre would be selling it short. It used to be unthinkable to voice support for an independence movement even during the climax of the Umbrella Revolution, arguably one of the most impactful political movements sprung in Hong Kong. Within the following year, a number of newly founded political groups, such as Hong Kong Indigineous and Youngspiration, started finding support throughout the city with their right-wing, nativist, and populist rhetorics. By 2016, the Hong kong public elected six of these pro-independence politicians into their 70-member legislative branch, most of whom were barred to participate in politics by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Scholars of both Eastern and Western origins had written papers on their perspectives to this rise of political radicalization in Hong Kong. Some analyzed the situation politcally, naming the failed CCP policies in Hong Kong that allow unchecked growth in tourism and immigration as a major influence to this political radicalization. Scholars such as Joseph Cheng found his analysis in Hong Kong’s hyper-capitalist economy as well as the city’s ever-growing problem of inequality. Researchers such as Law Wing Saw even tried to argue that Hong Kong’s repatriation to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is just another form of colonialism, and was simply a transfer from the United Kingdom.

While all of the above plays a part in this growing frustration towards the government among Hong Kong’s public, none made a genuine effort to explore the precarious relationship between Mainlanders and Hong Kongers: the prejudices against Mainlanders by Hong Kongers that developed as a result of differing cultures from English colonialism. Scholars such as Ngok Ma had pointed out the existence of “superiority complexes” that exist among Hong Kongers; researchers like Eric Ma had gone into extreme details talking about the issue, using personal anecdotes from Mainlanders who were discriminated in Hong Kong. Almost all Western media had failed to cover this antagonistic relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland at all; some, such as Vice, even went as far as praising discriminatory rhetorics.

Prejudice in Hong Kong against Mainlanders has grown in recent years for several different reasons. An increased amount of interactions between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders due to relaxed government policies has led some Hong Kongers to believe that Mainland influence is eroding on Hong Kong’s specific culture and way of life. The nouveau riche from China’s economic miracle are also partly responsible in driving up real estate value in the city, drastically worsening the financial woes average Hong Konger need to shoulder. By estimates from the South China Morning Post, A Hong Konger now has to spend 14 years worth of his or her salary to buy a regular flat. The aforementioned points contributed significantly to a pre-existing prejudice against Mainlanders in the city, turning Hong Konger’s ambivalence not just towards the CCP, but also its Mainlanders too. This growing prejudice ultimately led to Hong Kong’s growing nativist and independence movements, which rhetoric is chalk full of discrimination against Mainlanders.

History and Hong Kong’s Culture

In order to understand where this prejudice came from, it is important to acknowledge Hong Kong’s history as a former British Colony.

The year was 1839, a time when China’s dynastic Qing government first began to tackle the country’s rampant addiction to opium, a popular narcotic the British used to trade with the Chinese for silk and porcelain products. Chinese national hero Lin Zexu, tasked by the emperor to tackle the nation’s addiction problem, made the decision to torch any remaining opium in the country as well as bar the British from trading with the Chinese, thus beginning the First Opium War.

The Qing government suffered a humiliating defeat which ultimately led them to sign one of their first “unequal treaties,” The Treaty of Nanking. Among conditions such as the opening of additional ports and war reparations, the Qing Government ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire as a colony. Various later agreements brought a compromise between the United Kingdom and the Chinese Government, when the two agreed on a stipulation that Hong Kong be returned to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997.

Hong Kong thrived under British rule after the Second World War. As war refugees escaped from Communist rule in China after 1949, they brought along with them much needed skills and capital to revitalize Hong Kong’s economy. The city blossomed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, where world powers made use of the city as a manufacturing hub as well as an important port city. Further liberal economic policies under the Thatcher years turned the city into an economic powerhouse.

More than a century of separation from the Chinese Mainland also created an enormous cultural gap between Hong Kong and their compatriots on Mainland China. This gap only widened after the Communists took over after World War II, where wages, living standards, and even culture continued to shoot off in different directions. Hong Kong people consider themselves ethnically Chinese, but an explosion of culture in the 1970s further divided Mainland and the city. It was also around this time when a distinct superiority complex started developing in the city. Hong Kongers, due to their political and economic freedoms in comparison to Communist China, saw themselves as more civilized, more put together, and in general a better version of “being Chinese”.,

It is also extremely interesting to point out that during the decades of Hong Kong’s economic boom, nationalist ideals were discouraged by both local business leaders as well as the British government in fear that nationalist fervor would disrupt Hong Kong’s growing economy. Hong Kongers, at this time, found their identities in two different ways. Firstly, Hong Kong’s incredible difference politically and economically from Mainland China had separated them from their nationalist Chinese identity; they identified themselves more as participants of the global, capitalist market, rather than of China’s state-led socialist economy. Secondly, culture played a huge role in shaping Hong Kong’s perception of who they are. The city’s film industry flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, the decades responsible for a number of classics from Hong Kong’s cinema industry. Pop culture throughout those two decades often characterized Mainlanders as stupid, illiterate, lazy and uncultured, further rooting Hong Kong’s identity as “other than China,” as well as reinforce this pre-existing superiority complex.

Hong Kong’s culture continue to serve as a voice in its identity today, and now a days part of the city’s political discourse. During the 2014 Occupy Central protests and the Umbrella Revolution, multiple celebrity stepped out of their usually a-political careers, giving the movement more legitimacy. Among the ranks were comedian Chapman To, actor Anthony Wong, and Chow Yun-Fat, a Hong Kong cinematic legend. When asked if he fears retribution from the Chinese government for his support of the movement, Chow simply replied, “I guess I’ll just make less [money].”

Other ways culture plays a large role in this current process of political radicalization could be seen through the numerous “localist (本土) art studios.” These studios are responsible for creating graphics, merchandise and works of art for nativist groups to use and sell, as well as promote the nativist message in Hong Kong. One such art studio named Radicalization Studio produced designed merchandises such as hats with the slogan “Make China Lose Again,” closely mimicking the slogan that United States president Donald Trump campaigned on, “Make America Great Again.” The studio also sells other merchandise that claim that the Chinese Government is fake, hats and clothing that support Taiwanese Independence, as well as ball caps that simply say “Hong Kong Independence.”

Apart from merchandises supporting the far-right Hong kong rhetoric, graphics and art pieces created by these local studios had caused a wave of controversies as well. In one of the most well-known cases of this, Local Studio HK published a booklet of graphics comparing Mainland/Mainlanders to Hong Kong/Hong Kongers, most of which was either challeneged the CCP’s tightening grip over the city, or simply derogatory towards Mainlanders. One such image compared the toilet habits of Mainlanders to Hong Kongers; the former was pictured to leave an absolute mess around the toilet bowl, the latter keeping the toilet bowl clean and pristine. The artwork was well received in Hong Kong but generated controversy in Mainland, with many accusing it of its discriminatory message.

China’s “Tourist” Policies, Sinicization, Economic Woes and Hong Kong’s Quality of Life

Examples of these messages and rhetorics increased significantly in recent years. This was arguably caused by the increase of immigrants and tourists from Mainland to Hong Kong. As an attempt to boost Hong Kong’s tourism industry after the SARS epidemic in 2003, travel policies were relaxed in July during the same year. The number of individual tourists from Mainland stood at around 4.2 million in 2004; that number jumped to around 47 million in 2014.

Part of the issue here lies with cultural development in Mainland. Many Hong Kongers lament on the “uncivilized” behavior of Mainlanders. This ranges from urinating and defecating in the streets, cutting lines, and simply being unruly in public. This gives way to more justification of Hong Kong’s superiority complex, since Hong Kong’s society as a whole is more in line with international norms of travel and decency than Mainland’s society.

Some Hong Kongers also see this influx of Mainland tourists not as a means to vitalize the city’s tourism industry, but as a component of China’s infamous Sinicization (汉化) process, a procedure in which the PRC government increases its support in certain areas by creating policies that encourage Mainlanders to move there, as well as inundating those areas with PRC cultural symbols. This had been criticized in the past as a form of cultural assimilation, and was seen prevalently in Chinese territories such as Xinjiang and Tibet. Some Hong Kongers fear the possible destruction of their culture as well as their unique way of life through sinicization.

In Hong Kong’s perspective, the fear is well founded. Groups such as Radio Free Asia has long criticized China for its sinicization efforts in Tibet, which the group and some Tibetans see as a means for China to destroy the region’s unique culture in order to facilitate faster and easier assimilation with the Chinese Mainland. In 2010, a protest spurred by Tibetan students erupted when the CCP introduced a new educational curriculum to the region that emphasized Simplified Chinese in textbooks over English and the Tibetan language. During the protest, Radio Free Asia released the following statement from an unnamed teacher:

“The Chinese are enforcing reforms which remind me of the Cultural Revolution. This reform is not only a threat to our mother tongue, but is in direct violation of the Chinese constitution, which is meant to protect our rights. For Tibetans, the Chinese constitution is meaningless.”

Hong Kong had experienced similar unrests in the past. Sporadic protests had occurred in 2012 over restaurants, in order to accommodate their Mainland customers,  provided menus with Simplified Chinese type — the type that Mainland uses — instead of traditional type, the type that Hong Kong and Taiwan uses. In a twist to the almost comical, protests and unrests flared up in Hong Kong in 2016 when Nintendo’s beloved character Pikachu’s name went from the traditional Hong Kong pronunciation, Bei-kaa-chyu, to the Chinese pronunciation, Pi-ka-qiu. Among the protesters are members of the radical nativist group Civic Passion, who raised banners saying “No Pi-ka-qiu Give Me Bei-kaa-chyuu.”

Aside from the Hong Konger fear that Mainland tourists and immigrants could destroy the city’s culture and way of life, many see a threat of even more drastic economic inequality in the city as well as a decreased standard of living as Mainland’s nouveau riche pour into the city.

Inequality had long been a problem in the city. Thatcher era policies transformed Hong Kong from a manufacturing hub and port city to a capitalist haven. Today, many of these policies remain and continue to strengthen. The income tax for an individual in 2012 capped at 17%, with corporate tax even lower at 16.5%. The city did not have a minimum wage until 2010, which currently stands at around four dollars an hour. Taxes continue to be slashed in 2017, with the cap for income tax falling to 15%. All of this has led to a poor social security safety net for the lower class as well as the elderly in the city.

The Mainlanders new buying power thanks to China’s economic boom has almost consistently caused upheavals in Hong Kong. Parallel trading in Hong Kong has become such a huge social issue that the city’s largest English newspaper South China Morning Post decided to incorporate parallel trading as a topic on their website. Hong Kongers have long voiced concerns on how the incredible number of tourists had been swiping Hong Kong empty of its commercial goods. This ranges from the newest iPhone to baby formula, with smugglers buying in Hong Kong in order to sell these products in Mainland at a higher price.

Violence had erupted a number of times due to Parallel trading. Fresh off the 2014 Occupy Central Protests, a wave of attacks and confrontations against Chinese tourists suspected of this parallel trading began to emerge. The situation had worsened according to Hong Kong’s tourism and hotel sector. In a 2015 opinion poll done on the sector, 55 per cent of the respondents blamed the decreasing number of Mainland tourists on the ongoing anti-chinese protests.

Real Estate proved to be a point of contention between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders as well. Many participating in the protests have blamed the rise in rent and property prices on the influx of Mainland money as they buy up Hong Kong’s real estate. There is merit in this fear, as Mainlanders increasingly buy up Hong Kong’s luxurious housing properties as a mean of retaining their wealth from a devaluing Renminbi (Mainland’s currency).

It is important to note that Hong Kong’s inequality has grown since its repatriation back to the PRC. Under the Hong Kong government’s definition of poverty, an individual who earns less than 463 USD in a month, the number of Hong Kongers living in poverty grew from 15.8 per cent in 2005 to almost 20 per cent in 2014. Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient also found itself at worrying numbers in the same year; it currently stands at 0.525, where most scholars advise caution when the number rises to 0.4.

All of the above occurred at a time when ambivalence against China’s Communist Government began to grow in Hong Kong. While trust in the CCP reached a peak in Hong Kong at the eve of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when 57.7 per cent of Hong Kongers responded that they either place “strong trust” or “somewhat trust” in the CCP, the numbers saw a nosedive as unique Mainland tourists rose from 9.6 million in 2008 to 47 million in 2014. Trust in the CCP also drop to a record low in 2014, where a little over 30 per cent of Hong Kongers place strong or some trust in the Communist Party.

The above data is also coupled with data on the Hong Konger identity. In a yearly survey that polls Hong Kong citizens on their identity by dividing the criteria into Hong Konger, Hong Konger in China, Chinese in Hong Kong, Chinese, Others, and Don’t know/hard to say, participants who solely identified as Hong Konger in 2008 drifted between 18 per cent to 21 per cent. That number peaked in 2014 at 42.3 per cent. It’s also interesting to note that the yearly candlelight vigil in Hong Kong for those who perished at Tiananmen Square in 1989, a point of contention for the CCP, has increased sharply since 2008 according to the event organizers. Attendance for the event jumped from 48,000 in 2008 to 180,000 in 2014.

In a fascinating study conducted in 2014, researcher Chan Chi-kit followed a similar strategy as the polls in the previous paragraph. Data from the Chinese University of Hong Kong was analyzed, where participants were asked to state their Pride for various subjects and ideas from a scale of one to five. The result showed widespread pride for Chinese cultural and broad nationalistic symbols, such as the Great Wall and the PRC National Emblem, but an extremely low number for Mainland subjects of a political and economic nature, such as the Chinese Police and the National Flag (Chan, 2014). The study concluded that even the early polls in 2006 had started to show signs of ambivalence towards “political China”, with the youngest generation at the forefront of this resistance against Political China.

Hong Kong’s Superiority Complex

Hong Kong’s youngest generation’s ambivalence towards Mainland differs from older generation in a significant way. While anti-establishment politicians in Hong Kong had been accused of being “anti-china” since the 1990s, they have always held on to the conviction that Hong Kong is part of China, that they are patriots, and mostly focused their rhetoric on liberating their Mainland compatriots by introducing the tenets of democracy into Communist China. This newest generation, however, holds their ambivalence not just towards China’s Communist political machine, but Mainlanders themselves as well. As the first generation of Hong Kongers who saw an incredible increase of interactions with Mainlanders, they blame the loss of quality of life in Hong Kong as well as the diminishing of the city’s unique culture on the influx of Mainlanders, strengthening an already existing superiority complex Hong Kongers hold against Mainlanders.

This complex relationship between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders, as well as the prejudice against Mainlanders in Hong Kong could not be discussed without talking about the root of Hong Kong’s superiority complex over Mainland. As discussed earlier, this phenomenon was first observed during Hong Kong’s economic rise throughout the 1970s, and has been well recorded through the media and research. One particular anecdote from researcher Eric Ma pointed out an interaction between a Hong Kong businessman and a waiter in Mainland that occurred in the early 1990s. Ma observed that the businessman accidentally dropped a fork on the ground, while the waiter stood around and did nothing. The boss responded to this lack of service angrily.

“Why didn’t you bring me another fork? You mainland bumpkins are so stupid! You wouldn’t stand a chance in Hong Kong,” said the businessman.

Lillian Cheung, a Hong Kong citizen who grew up in Mainland and later immigrated, said that she experienced this superiority complex in a similar degree. Cheung said this superiority complex in Hong Kong was very recognizable especially in the early 1990s, when she would be met with a cold shoulder or even an eye roll if she tried to talk to strangers in Mandarin Chinese instead of Cantonese. She also said that she was victim to prejudice when she was pregnant with her first child in 1994. Cheung recalled that the nurses would often treat the pregnant Hong Kongers in her hospital room with a much better attitude than when they treated her, when she was met again with cold shoulders and sometimes sarcastic comments.

“In the eyes of these Hong Kongers, we were from the countrysides (乡下人, an oftenly used term to discriminate against the rural and less educated Chinese).”

Interestingly, Cheung did see an improvement of the Hong Konger’s attitudes towards Mainlanders in the years following the British handover, which correlates well with Hong Kong’s growing acceptance of their identity as Chinese citizens at the time. However, following 2014, the year of the Occupy Central Protests, she saw the relationship between the two people decline as she was faced with the same cold shoulder, eye-rolling attitudes from Hong Kongers when she went back to the city, again correlating with Hong Kong’s growing sense of identity of being “Hong Konger” and Hong Konger alone.

It is clear from Cheung’s anecdote that this lingering superiority complex never went away. Similar rhetorics continue to find voices around the city. As previously mentioned, Local Studio HK published a list of highly controversial comparisons between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders, titled  Hong Kong is Not China. Aside from making jabs at Mainland, including the ‘uncivilized’ manner Mainlanders squat on the ground while they’re waiting, referring to Mainland’s food as poisonous, criticizing the lack of political freedom in Mainland etc, the list makes a point to brand Hong Kong’s culture as superior. Two items in the list had to do with the comparison of Hong Kong’s Traditional Chinese and Mainland’s simplified Chinese, in which the list creator labels simplified Chinese as a “four-tone system with more than 100 years of history,” and Hong Kong’s Traditional Chinese as a “nine-tone system with 2,000 years of history.”

In another highly controversial instance, this superiority complex showed its face in the form of a full-page advertisement in Apple Daily, one of the city’s leading newspapers. Paid for by a leading Hong Kong web portal, the advertisement railed against Mainlander “birth tourists,” pregnant mothers who come to Hong Kong to have their children in order to gain Hong Kong citizenship. The rest of the advertisement is translated below:

“Since we pity your poisonous baby formula, we tolerate you ‘stealing’ ours; Since we pity your lack of freedom, we bestow your tourists to come; Since we understand your education is lags behind, we shared our educational resources with you; Since we know you can’t understand the correct Chinese language (traditional type), we use the crippled type (simplified type) you know. Please respect Hong Kong’s culture when you’re here, you are all doomed without Hong Kong.”

The most glaring controversy from this advertisement was not its message chalk full of Hong Kong’s superiority complex, but the giant locust photoshopped over Lion Rock, a geographical symbol of the city. Locusts had been used in the past as a derogatory term against Mainlanders in Hong Kong, none too different from the racial slurs one can encounter in the United States. Locusts are known in Asia for their feasting habits on crop fields, leaving nothing but a wasteland after wards. The metaphor here compares Mainlander to locusts, who swarm Hong Kong on their shopping trips, destroying Hong Kong’s culture and way of life as a result. The slur could be traced back to Archibald John Little from England, who referred to Chinese people as “locusts”, and that they won’t leave an inch of green from the places they’ve been.

This wasn’t the first time the slur “locust” was used on Mainland tourists. In 2015, stickers with the slur “locust” was spotted in Hong Kong’s metro system, carrying slogans such as “No Locusts in Hong Kong” and “Say NO to Mainland Pregnant Women” with a forbidden sign over the image of a locust. In protests following the 2014 Occupy Central Movement, the slur was often slung against Mainland tourists who happen upon these protests.

Ernie Hao, a Hong Konger whose father is from Mainland, said that the situation is extremely complex. Relying on his unique experience with both Hong Kong and Mainland backgrounds, he lamented on the unruly nature of Mainland tourists. “They will often cut lines, and are extremely rowdy just to generalize,” said Hao, “this does bring disruption to a city that already experiences land shortage.” Hao however did also believe that to generalize again, Hong Kongers see Mainlanders as beneath them, and that a generalized Hong Konger’s mindset towards Mainlanders can be seen as discriminatory.

Nativism, Political Radicalization and Independence in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s already existing superiority complex as well as its prejudice against Mainlanders only worsened after the influx of tourists as well as the back breaking economic responsibility an average Hong Kongers have to endure. A mix between all the different attributes and reasons saw a more politically divided and radicalized Hong Kong than ever before.

The year 2014 saw a notable rise of right-wing rhetorics and a larger voice for independence in Hong Kong. When the Hong Kong University Student’s Union published a manifesto under their official publication The Undergrad in February, it called upon a myriad of different issues Hong Kong’s society must face in the future, including, to the ire of the Mainland Government, the possible establishment of a Hong Kong Nation. The manifesto outlined how “The Hong Kong Nation must decide its own fate” as well as separate articles on “Democracy and Independence in Hong Kong,” which drew strong criticism from Hong Kong’s then Chief Executive (executive branch of Hong Kong’s Government).

2014 was, of course, the same year pro-democracy protests sprung throughout the city, which by some estimates lasted from early-September to mid-December. The unrest erupted when the CCP introduced electoral reforms to Hong Kong, transforming the city’s electoral committee, which is hand picked by the Chinese government, to a nomination committee. Instead of electing Hong Kong’s executive office directly, the reform proposed the committee to nominate three candidates, be voted on by Hong Kong’s population through Universal Suffrage, and lastly must be confirmed by the Communist Party on Mainland.

Many in Hong Kong saw this move towards “democracy” as ingenuine, a cop out on a promise by the Chinese Government to bestow popular democracy on the city after its repatriation. The protest’s de facto leaders were Joshua Wong, a recent high school graduate, Benny Tai, a law professor, and Jimmy Lai, owner of the media conglomerate Next, also frequently dubbed “Hong Kong’s Rupert Murdoch.” The leaders lost control when the police first fired tear gas into the peaceful crowds, turning these localized protest into a full on unrest throughout major parts of the city.

2015 saw some of the most exciting, or worrying changes to Hong Kong society recently. Younger people, inspired by the political upheavals in 2014, saw to the creation of various new political parties, preaching beliefs from leftist socialist reforms to far-right populism. It’s interesting to mention that Joshua Wong’s political party, Demosistō, chose to took a moderate stance for “further autonomy in Hong Kong,” while newly formed parties such Youngspiration and Hong Kong Indigenous, led respectively by Baggio Leung and Ray Wong, called outright for Independence and a Hong Kong Nation. Both political parties had been described by the media as Localist and/or Nativist, and carry with it a strong, right-wing, populist message.

The situation continues to escalate in 2016, when six pro-independence were elected into Hong Kong’s legislative branch through popular vote. Due to the way Hong Kong’s legislative branch shaped its swear-in ceremony, legislators must agree to disavow independence de facto. As a result, most of the pro-independence candidates botched their swear-in on purpose, including one bizarre case when candidate Yau Wai-ching mispronounced “The People’s Republic of China” as “The People’s Re-fucking of Cheena,” not only swearing during her oath but bringing back distant memories of a racial slur used on Chinese people by the Japanese Empire during World War II. The candidate’s oath was rejected and lost her seat. The year also saw Hong Kong’s first massive pro-independence rally, organized by Hong Kong Indigenous and hosted by the party’s spokesperson Edward Leung. During the rally, political leaders, mostly from Hong Kong’s youngest generation, called for the need to “infiltrate” the Hong Kong establishment as well as to learn the establishment ways in order to further the independence movement. Leung also stated the city must take back the sovereignty that originally belonged to Hong Kong’s citizens. Support for these nativist political parties continue to grow in 2017.

Hong Kong Indigenous is open about its radical political platform as well as its perceived superiority over Mainland. In an interview BBC in 2016, Leung stated clearly that his party believes Hong Kong is more superior to Mainland. “Culturally, we are not completely separated from China … … We believe that Hong Kong’s Culture is more superior to Mainland’s culture, and that Hong Kongers possess higher political awareness than Mainlanders,” said Leung, “We possess both traditions and a higher quality culture than Mainland.”

Use of slurs against Mainlanders by Hong Kong Indigenous and its supporters had been well recorded as well. In a protests against against Mainland shoppers organized by the party in 2015, protesters marched down popular shopping spots in the city, chanting slogans such as “Locusts, go back to your Mainland.”

Use of the slur had not only been prevalent in these right-wing Hong Kong parties, but even defended from time to time. Passion Times, the mouthpiece of the nativist political party Civic Passion, published an article on the use of slurs on Mainlanders and Hong Kongers, interpreting the use of words such as “locust” and “cheena” not as offensive to Mainlanders, but as mere “insults to the fragile, bleeding hearts of the Chinese people.” Political groups that predominantly make use of these slurs, defend them, and are open about their perceived superiority have often been labeled as nativist by both the Hong Kong and Mainland media, as well as respected international media conglomerates.

Nativism, defined an United States framework by sociologist Norman L. Friedman in 1960, is a “deep-seated American antipathy for internal ‘foreign’ groups of various kinds, which has erupted periodically into intensive efforts to safeguard America from such perceived ‘threats’.” By switching out the words “America” and “various” in the quote for “Hong Kong” and “Mainland,” this definition of nativism fits Hong Kong’s growing nativist and localist movement like a glove. Just like the nativist American fears against illegal immigrants and terrorists today, Hong Kongers see Mainlanders in a similar way: they are ‘foreign groups’ in Hong Kong, the ‘threat’ is the possible destruction of Hong Kong’s unique culture with the influx of Mainland tourists and immigrants, and nativist groups in Hong Kong ‘safeguard’ themselves from these ‘threats’ by acting more radically and holding more radical political views.

This perceived threat of Mainlanders is reflected thoroughly in the policy agendas of these nativist political parties. By citing Hong Kong as an “international city,” Youngspiration believes that the city should be giving less Mainlanders the opportunity to immigrate to Hong Kong, reserving that for immigrants of a more international, multicultural background. Details of the policy include the formation of an immigration inspection system in Hong Kong, which will serve to vet incoming Mainland immigrants that had already been approved by the CCP. Youngspiration also proposes the establishment of a citizenship test for new immigrants, which would be largely modeled after the testing system in the United States. On the issue of tourism, the party also suggested to largely restrict the number of Mainlanders coming into Hong Kong.

It is important to iterate here that though the perceived threat of Mainlanders by these nativist political parties can be seen as overblown in Mainland’s perspectives, it would hard to argue that Hong Kong’s politics and way of life were not drastically impacted since the 1997 handover. As discussed in earlier sections, the influx of Mainland tourists had been blamed in the past for sudden shortages of essential goods in Hong Kong, the rising real estate prices, and of course the generally unruly behavior they exhibit here in Hong Kong. While it does not excuse the superiority complex and discriminatory rhetorics of these nativist parties, It would be ridiculous to attribute this increase in radical political fervor on Hong Kong’s problem with discrimination against Mainlanders alone.

To the credit of Youngspiration, they are making drastic, even radical policy suggestions to Hong Kong that might ultimately alleviate the problems of Hong Kong’s inequality. These policies include the establishment of additional profit taxes from large corporations in Hong Kong, implementing a pollution tax on heavy industry, and imposing inheritance taxes among many others as an attempt to rebuild Hong Kong’s social security system.

Youngspiration’s housing and land policies are centered around the establishment of more public housing. This includes a tax on vacant land and properties that the party proclaims to drive up real estate value, as well as passing laws that would regulate rent prices around the city. Youngspiration has very specific policy goals for Hong Kong’s housing problems, which differ immensely from the political platform of establishment parties such as Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). DAB’s policies towards issues such as housing are illustrated in broad strokes, simply citing the need to speed up construction of public housing with no real agenda on how to accomplish that, which is extremely reminiscent to Hong Kongers on broad stroke slogans from the CCP with no real methods of accomplishing those slogans.

These new, nativist political parties differ from the right-wing movements in Europe and the United States in significant ways. Their right-wing rhetoric is almost uniquely reserved for Mainlanders due to this unique relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland. Aside from their policies towards Mainlanders, the groups can almost be seen as left-wing. Large parts of  Youngspiration’s political platform is based on the equal treatment of LGBTQ Hong Kongers, as well as passing laws that allow same sex marriage in Hong Kong. The party also made a point to address the city’s environmental problems, suggesting the establishment of more wildlife sanctuaries as well as the protection of species indigenous to Hong Kong. Even though Hong Kong Indigenous does not explicitly state their policies and agendas, they frequently make posts on their FaceBook page acknowledging the different nationalities of people that helped build their city, giving praise to Hong Kong’s multi-cultural history. This, however, makes it all the more clear that these political parties were formed specifically to counter the threat they see as Mainland and Mainlanders, hence strengthening the argument that they engage in prejudicial treatment against Mainlanders.


The source of Hong Kong’s growing Independence movement is complicated and multifaceted: One has to take into account of Hong Kong’s colonial history, its citizen’s superiority complex derided off of that unique history, as well as an unsuccessful integration of Mainlanders into Hong Kong Society that diminished the city’s quality of life as well as added further economic burdens onto an average citizen’s shoulders. This recent burst of nativist political movements was a combination of all of the above: This increasing annoyance and anger towards failed CCP policies only contributed to Hong Kong’s prejudice against Mainlanders, which help form the radical political parties gaining traction today.

I’d like to take this chance to warn  my readers on the interpretations of this article. While prejudice against Mainlanders in Hong Kong is a very real problem, it is immensely, singularly important to remember that identity politics differ considerably from place to place, nation to nation. While this double standards by some Hong Kongers against Mainlanders might seem absolutely unacceptable to some in the West, it is Hong Kong’s unique history and circumstances that shaped this problem, and the solution must come from within. I ask everyone to not judge these nativists for their actions but try to understand their unique woes, and be solution driven instead of just simply being angry.

Lastly, a parting advice: The CCP and Mainlanders must stop seeing these political actors as mere hooligans, but start treating them seriously instead. The voice for independence and more radical politics is still growing in Hong Kong, with young people leading the forefront. It won’t be long before this younger generation becomes Hong Kong’s economic and political leaders in the future, which would give even more voice to their radical politics. The solution to this problem must be found swiftly and without violence.



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