By Sam Beatson.

The recent overreaction of a Hong Kong resident towards a mother and daughter breaching “no eating” rules on the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) was met by the response of a Peking University academic. Professor Kong Qingdong branded some Hong Kongers “dogs” and “not human.” banned Kong’soutbursts as a hate speech, highlighting the low tolerance levels on both sides of a new gin-drinkers’ line.

The assertion made is that in Hong Kong society, one must abide by Hong Kong rules and social etiquette. As a requirement and not an option, this begs the question: why is Hong Kong so different from the mainland and what does this mean?

Hong Kong citizens have been privileged for generations by a system of socio-ethical values stemming from the British influence (i.e. the rule of law) in addition to their preserving their own brand of Chinese culture. This doesn’t mean they’re “running dog traitors” to China. Quite the contrary. They have respect for administrative systems that continue to serve and prosper Hong Kong society.

Various Chinese have become wealthy over the last 5-10 years and have begun to displace less well-off Hong Kong citizens; yet in terms of behaviour, etiquette and adherence to rules of natural law, some visitors from the mainland have not caught up with the standards expected from them in a developed region like Hong Kong.

However, Chinese people are often unequipped with the facts surrounding Hong Kong. For example, many propagate the erroneous belief that the first Sino-British war was about opium and greed. However, as a Harvard scholar points out, the British went to war because of  the Qing military threats to defenceless British women and children; a refusal to adhere to principles of fairness as regards diplomatic treatment and the refusal to open ports other than Canton to trade for all countries desirous of trade with China.

The point Professor Kong fails to make is that Hong Kongers can be racist as well as determined to uphold principle. Hong Kongers set an example of harmonious relationships between British and Chinese culture and want to hold on to what they have achieved by way of the legacy of British administration, but even when frustrations with aspects of China are warranted, no excuse exists for generalized racism.

It would be for China to take the victim mentality to argue that it is always a case of discrimination though. It would be mindful for China to see a man who cares about the rules of his region and feels passionate enough about his society to oppose flagrant disrespect for that society, its culture and values, even if he does aggrandize his position with respect to the extent of the misdemeanour.

Natural justice rules (the behest of the rule of law) are designed for facts to be established and then indiscriminate fairness served on the basis of a rational decision given all available evidence. If one person breaks the rules and there is no rebuke, it says to others that they can break the rules, too, and that such matters are inconsequential.

However, without an independent process which utilises the human faculty to work with the full and proper facts and stand up to the rhetoric, rational thinking remains absent. People begin acting like sheep with a chimpanzee leader. It is no wonder then that Hong Kong people can find themselves frustrated by the behaviour of their mainland relatives and vice versa.

The appearance given to the casual observer is that like us all, mainlanders excel at spitting out their dummies, but are not so good at picking the dummy up and placing it back into the mouth. If China wants to break away from any hint of “unity” and “no-independence” for regions such as Hong Kong, it should keep raising contention and encouraging the masses to respond with irksome rhetoric.

It’s a simple matter of integrity and experience that Hong Kongers reject the rhetoric, not that they are the “bastard” children of Kong’s China. However, the solution lies in understanding the value systems and expectations from both sides of the border. Hong Kong’s independent spirit and successful marriage of British and Chinese culture are a role model of Chinese traits; yet China’s growth, change and need for time to adapt also warrant respectful treatment.


MTR Incident:

Kong’s Response:

Sam Beatson is a Ph.D. Candidate at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. ‘as a Harvard scholar points out, the British went to war because of the Qing military threats to defenceless British women and children‘- that is bullshit! The British were shameless drug dealers back then. There was no excuse for that.

    1. Well, unfortunately Sam hasn’t put who the scholar, but it would be nice to read that document.

      However with events like the Boxer rebellion only a few decades after, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if it was true. Also with people like Professor Kong (Racist scum) it is obvious that there is still a lot of anti-foreign sentiments left in contemporary Chinese society which is a shame.

  2. Thanks for both of your comments. Jeremy, the article author, Gelber, and the title, “China As Victim: The Opium War That Wasn’t.” The reference was included in the original draft and I’m happy to share it with you. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re willing to work on beliefs about the so-called Opium War.

  3. Overreacting? You have made the same mistake as Kong; you didn’t actually find out what happened on the subway. If you search in Chinese you will find that the Hong Konger asked the family to stop eating in Mandarin, upon which the family ridiculed his bad pronunciation. That is why the HK residents started to get angry.

    1. Hi John, I accept your position on this. I would ordinarily concede the point, but you have misunderstood where I am coming from. I am well aware of what happened from the Cantonese and Mandarin version of events. That is why I have said: “It would be mindful for China to see a man who cares about the rules of his region and feels passionate enough about his society to oppose flagrant disrespect for that society, its culture and values, even if he does aggrandize his position with respect to the extent of the misdemeanour.”

      To clarify, the “flagrant disrespect” is referring to precisely what you mention (the ridiculing); the overreaction was the sense that it may not have been necessary to stop the train and call staff as though the situation was an emergency. That paragraph would read better I think if it said “With respect to the MTR issue,” otherwise it could imply I am talking about Kong, which I am not, it is he whom I am criticising.

      All the best.

  4. A very interesting article on a hot topic. As someone who was brought up in Hong Kong and left in 2001, I can confirm witnessing such incidents of the flagrant disregard of rules by mainland workers. I would like to add though that these people represent a minority. Hong Kongers enjoy living in a linguistically and socially distinctive society based on the one country-two systems policy (still got 35 years left!) with many of the western democratic personal and political freedoms unknown to mainlanders. My opinion is that always ‘When in Rome do what to Romans do’. As for Kong, he is clearly a lapdog to the ruling Communist party himself with his antagonistic xenophobic rhetoric

    1. Thanks for making these points, Tim. Part of my experience of Hong Kong was that rules were many and held important in the minds of the people I met, both Cantonese and long-term ex-pats. I believe this firm belief in the importance of rules and sticking by them stems from experience of the establishment and adherence to rule of law and that this has actually transformed the psyche of Hong Kong Chinese/Cantonese living on Hong Kong island and New Territories. It’s instilled from early age education. I remember during time in the Hong Kong Club located opposite the cenotaph and Mandarin Oriental hotel, that I was not allowed to use a notebook in the club as there was a rule forbidding the use of notebooks. In the Ladies’ Recreation Club, it was frowned upon by members that children had been allowed to passage through the restaurant on a previous day, both rules with probably a century or more of history. At some level, part of the problem is a difference in mainland Chinese and Hong Kong understandings of what constitutes the difference between right and wrong. There is a middle ground. Professor Kong, whilst acting out inappropriately, which seems to be part of his style, or lack of it, bless him, does make a point as regards appropriate ways to rebuke when laws or rules have been broken. The absolute crux of the issue though, as JohnD brings up above, is how to deal with the disrespect/arrogance towards the Cantonese/Sino-British culture from the occasional mainland visitors. What is causing the attitudes shown in videos, like the YouTube video: “Mainlanders in Hong Kong,” (I won’t publish the link as it is somewhat in bad taste)? Moreover, how can it be remedied?

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