Hong Kong became part of China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British colonial rule. British officials and the native Chinese, who trace their ancestry to southern China, built Hong Kong into an English-speaking financial hub. As part of the handover back to China, it agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s economy and ways of life until 2047.
Before 2003, Hong Kong only allowed group tours from the mainland, as a way to avoid too rapid of an influx of tourists. But when the SARS epidemic that year slowed tourism to a crawl, the government allowed individual tourists. Today, mainland Chinese make up two-thirds of visitors.
Now, Hong Kong is getting increasingly peeved at the downside to all of these tourists but finding it hard to complain as the mainlanders bring in so much money. Hong Kong is already upset about Beijing’s call for more nationalist education, per the protests there in September. There are also conflicts between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese over manners.
Among common flashpoints: Tourists crowd the metro lines, not always lining up as is custom in Hong Kong, but not China, or speaking quietly as expected in public among locals. Hong Kong dwellers say they increasingly feel pressure to learn Mandarin to survive in business. The small, sole-proprietor shops selling sundries, food, and jewelry with the sounds of the island’s native Chinese dialect Cantonese are increasingly being replaced by crowded name brand international sellers peddling in Mandarin.
“Most of the smaller enterprises need to learn more about Chinese mainlanders’ habits, buying habits, and their culture also,” says David Ting, president of the 1,500-member Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business. “There are some retailers who know but most don’t understand.”