Mall madness

More Hong Kong anger at the motherland

The flags of China and Hong Kong are seen in front of a large banner at Lion Rock in Hong Kong

Flagging enthusiasm for mainland

Election campaigning is notoriously cut-throat. For example in 2002, Republican operatives jammed the phone lines in New Hampshire so as to hamper Democrat efforts to shuttle voters to the polls in a hard-fought Senate race.

Somewhat less expectedly a student from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) found herself in the centre of a smear campaign after she ran for a position in the college’s student union. Why? She is a mainlander. In mid-January, Guangzhou-born Ye Lushan (also known as Eugenia Yip) decided to run for social secretary of HKU’s student union. But online comments quickly spread, making much of Ye’s earlier membership of the Communist Youth League of China (CYL). That wasn’t all: magazine photos of a scantily clad Ye from her time as a freelance model soon made their rounds on social media.

The controversy surrounding Ye grew and even stoked fears that the Communist Party was attempting to infiltrate Hong Kong’s top college. Moves to block Ye’s electoral prospects soon extended beyond campus, refuelling an anti-mainland sentiment that has been on the rise in the territory in recent years.

Ye responded by publishing an open letter: “This is heartbreaking. I can’t help but offer a defence on behalf of all the mainland students. Many of them, like me, chose HKU because we thought it was a land of freedom… I can’t choose my background but I have the right to choose HKU as the place where I study.” Still, Ye lost the elecion in a landslide vote.

Hong Kong has been a popular destination for mainland students. Their number has increased from 2,800 in 2003 to 11,376 in 2013, says Wen Wei Po, a newspaper based in the city. That has become a source of tension between the locals and their mainland counterparts.

Critics say the accusations against Ye are unfair. That’s because membership of the CYL is commonplace in China since the majority of high school students on the mainland belongs to the league.

The Global Times even invoked Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaigns of the 1950s to seek to protect Ye: “HKU must not let McCarthy enter the gates… If Hong Kong people don’t work together to prevent this McCarthyite unhealthy trend, then that could accelerate Hong Kong hitting rock bottom.”

In the meantime, anti-China sentiment continues to brew in the former British colony. Early this month, hundreds of local residents gathered in Tuen Mun to protest against shoppers who have been snapping up everything from iPads to milk powder. Many of them are so-called “parallel traders” who buy goods cheaply in Hong Kong and then resell them at a higher price on the mainland, taking advantage of lower prices, wider choices and better quality in the city, as well as dodging hefty tariffs. (Statistics from the Hong Kong government, ironically, have pointed out that 90% of the parallel traders are Hongkongers.)

“Every time I walk home I can’t get by because I am blocked by a horde of mainlanders with luggage on the pavement,” one Tuen Mun resident complained to the South China Morning Post.

That sentiment shows no sign of going away. Just last weekend, 200 more people protested against visitors from China in a shopping mall in Sha Tin, which sits alongside a border-crossing rail line. One protester waved a colonial-era flag while others yelled at shoppers to go home. Again, police were forced to intervene.

Many of the protestors are increasingly frustrated that mainland tourists are starting to deluge residential districts – such as Tuen Mun and Sha Tin– and not only the prime retail spots in the city. Some neighbourhood shops now appear to cater primarily to mainland consumers, to the detriment of locals. One resident told the Apple Daily that it is now easier to buy gold bars than a broom.

One local frankly admits that she resents mainlanders. “I’m protesting today with my daughter hoping that the Hong Kong government will change its policy and put a restriction to the number of mainland tourists,” she told Apple Daily.

The incidents are fresh signs that the anti-mainland sentiment that also drove Hong Kong’s widely publicised street blockades last year may not be abating.

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