When you ask Hong Kongers where are they from, you will get a very typical answer of “I’m from Hong Kong”. You barely hear them say “I’m a Chinese”. Even though Hong Kong has been returned to the sovereignty of China for almost 14 years, Hong Kong people still consider themselves separately from Chinese regarding language, culture and living standard. Why don’t Hong Kongers think of themselves as Chinese? What’s wrong with being a Chinese for them?
Different Languages Used
Imagine, Cantonese is harder to learn than Mandarin (9 tones in Cantonese vs. 4 tones in Mandarin) and less people speak Cantonese than Mandarin, so Hong Kong people think Cantonese is a more exclusive and prestigious language and it creates some kind of language pride to Hong Kong-ese because they’re speaking their “own” language. (Although Guangdong people also speak Cantonese)
Hong Kong was much Richer than China
Hong Kong is a capitalist economy while China is a (partially) socialist one. The economic system had made Hong Kong economically more affluent than China in the old days. Hong Kong was doing well at making clothing, watches and jewellery in the 1960’s-1980’s, though the main economic sectors have been switched to retail, banking and real estate after because of the rising wages and rents in factories. Hong Kong people’s higher income and living standard created their mentality of being more high-status than “Chinese”.
Hong Kong is still continuously using the old law and tax systems as it was when being a British colony, which are different from what China is using. Hong Kong people also think that their economic and political systems are one that is more “civilized” as there are less corruptions and black-market transactions. Hong Kong’s being less corrupted and more transparent has also made Hong Kong people to think that they’re more superior.
Hong Kong People Had Whiter Skin
Don’t laugh, they do think it’s important. White skin represents being more rich in the Greater China (and also Asia) because people with whiter skin don’t need to work outdoor and do physical work where they would expose themselves under the sun. As China was still an agriculture-based economy before, people in rural provinces usually worked in a field and got tanned easily.While in Hong Kong, people usually worked in a factory (in the old days) or office with little exposure to the sun so people in Hong Kong had white skin.
However, tanned skin is getting more popular these days (although white skin is still a predominant measure of beauty and wealthiness) and Chinese people are getting less and less exposed to the sun. Hence, this reason is getting less important in contributing to Hong Kong people’s unwillingness to consider themselves as Chinese.
Fear of Change: Self-identity Crisis before 1997
Before the important year 1997 – where Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China – approached, many Hong Kong people started to migrate to other countries like Canada, Australia, the United States and New Zealand before of the fear of a chaos created by the big political change. During that time they always questioned about their identity, but the more they doubted about it, the more they reckoned themselves as a Hong Kongese because Hong Kong was still much more wealthy than Mainland China which was still developing at that time. The fear of change and the pride of their own economic development only reaffirm Hong Kong people’s identity as being a “Hong Kongese” but not Chinese.
How About Now? China is Doing Good!
Nowadays, Hong Kong people still regard themselves separately from China. But, interestingly, a lot of surveys found that Hong Kong people would be more willing to say they’re Chinese when China performs well in its international image. For example, around the time of the Beijing Olympics Games in 2008, more Hong Kong people were willing to say they are Chinese. But when China was having troubles in issues like food hygiene and human-rights, Hong Kong people wouldn’t say they’re Chinese.
In essence, Hong Kong people’s self-identity is based on the mutual benefits and influence between Hong Kong and China. When China is having good reputations, they don’t mind being a “Chinese”, otherwise they stick to their old “Hong Kong-ese” pride.
Now, more people are learning Mandarin and migrating to China for opportunities, Hong Kong will be likely to greatly benefit from this change. Would Hong Kong people become more willing to regard themselves as a Chinese? It’s still a question.