Can HK embrace a multicultural future? | Global News

Can HK embrace a multicultural future?

01:04 AM August 14, 2011

HONG KONG—It didn’t need a study by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to reveal what foreigners in the territory have known  for some time: that racial prejudice is rampant, even among the youngest inhabitants of this prosperous Chinese city.  Children as young as three were recently asked for their attitudes towards different skin colors.  Their answers gave the highest ratings to persons of white and yellow skin, and the lowest scores to black- and brown-complexioned people.  None of this is a surprise.  Indeed, some years ago when I asked a 10-year-old boy I was tutoring in English to describe the different nationalities, it was an eye-opener to hear him call Indians smelly and Filipinos thieves. One could only surmise he was spouting his parents’ prejudices.

Survey results

Reacting to the recent EOC survey, a professor at a local university sounded  clueless by expressing surprise at the survey’s results.  She told Hong Kong’s main English-language paper South China Morning Post that “These attitudes do not exist by nature, it has more to do with their education,” suggesting that parents and teachers should “be more sensitive and careful about their own behavior.”  That’s easier said than done since Chinese Middle Kingdom attitudes towards outsiders have long relegated foreigners in their midst into categories like ghostly devils (Westerners), smelly darkies (Indians, Sri Lankans), sly cheats (Filipinos, Thais) or dummies (Indonesians).  This was underscored by veteran journalist Philip Bowring who called “unnerving” the “blind hatred of outsiders and their cultures” being drummed up by certain sectors in Hong Kong.


A test case mounted last month by two Western lawyers is seeking a judicial review on behalf of five Filipino domestics who’ve worked in Hong Kong for over 20 years.  They call the discrimination against the migrant workers  unconstitutional and a violation of the Basic Law agreed upon by China and the UK during the 1997 hand-over.  But a legislator has called for the matter to be decided by the Beijing authorities who, as everyone knows, can change  laws arbitrarily.


All this has produced a heated debate on whether this Special Administrative Region of China (SAR) should grant the right of abode to its long-staying migrant workers.  There’s a fine distinction between the menial workers in the territory and the other foreigners, known as “expatriates.” The latter are made up of professionals working in this metropolis who automatically become permanent residents after seven years’ residence in the territory.

Income and taxes

Those opposing this move cite the fact that a permanent resident has to  have an individual residence, have a reasonable means of income and pay taxes. It’s also felt that allowing Filipino maids the same rights will burden the local system because they would bring in large numbers of their clans.

Mr. Bowring highlighted the “nasty rabble-rousing” and “repulsive scaremongering” which have raised fears of population pressures and job losses for locals, as well as welfare costs for local taxpayers if the maids are granted residency.  He said such irrational and racist attitudes “apparently view the helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia as a class of people with few rights but many duties to mind their children, scrub their floors and clean up after their incontinent old folks.”  He also pointed out that Hong Kong has long imported servants from the Philippines but never considers contracting its nurses to fill the long-standing nursing shortage, even though Western countries have had no problems inviting Filipino nurses.  Indeed, if Indonesian domestics are put through a crash course in Cantonese before being shipped out of Jakarta, having Filipino nurses likewise take the language courses would be the sensible answer.

Court hearing

Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance is expected to give its first ruling on this vexing matter in late August, with the other cases to be heard in October. At that time it will be seen whether this Chinese enclave will welcome other nationalities so as to conform to its self-appointed label of “Asia’s world City.”  Indeed, just as the major Western and Asian cities have their Chinatowns, Hongkongers still need to be educated into tolerating other cultures which they consider inferior to theirs.


The fact that Chinese immigrants, and other nationalities, have been accepted in many countries around the world shows that multiculturalism is something most civilized societies embrace.

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TAGS: Hong Kong, Migration

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