Hong Kong Student in Taiwan: I Don't Want To Be Taken As Someone From China

Hong Kong Student in Taiwan: I Don't Want To Be Taken As Someone From China
Photo Credit:wonderjimmy@Flickr CC BY 2.0
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Submitted by a TNL reader (Born and raised in Hong Kong. Currently an exchange student in Taiwan)

After being in Taiwan for a while, I am gradually starting to experience another side of the Utopia the average Hong Kongese yearns for.

When we think of Hong Kong and Taiwan as friends, we are very amicable towards Taiwanese people and we see Taiwan as a free democratic society with a rich cultural atmosphere. Some people even regard Taiwan as the back garden of Hong Kong, perfect for a weekend of strolling through the night markets and relaxing.

But I have come across a lot of Taiwanese (especially students, of course varying from person to person, I would say about 50%), who are unbelievably unfamiliar with Hong Kong, which really took me by surprise. I will summarize some experiences of Hong Kong students living in Taiwan. Upon meeting you for the first time, some Taiwanese will ask questions like, “Can you use Facebook in Hong Kong?” “You need to bypass the Great Firewall, right?” (This happened to me quite a few times, too.) “You usually speak Mandarin, right?” “Can you read traditional Chinese characters?”

When you take part in any event and make clear that you’re from Hong Kong, they will still say, “We have a limited number of spots for Mainland students.” “China is super big, right? Which city do you live in?”

I have to emphasize, Hong Kong is different from China. Hong Kong has a capitalistic system and uses traditional Chinese characters. Information flows freely, we do not need to bypass any Great Firewall and we speak Cantonese. We have always been overseas Chinese students, not Mainland Chinese students.

I have been thinking if it might be some of our vocabulary and habits that are similar to those from China that makes the Taiwanese mistake Hong Kong people for people from China. I don’t think so. I think the problem is a question of pronunciation. Or when you’re talking and you say you’re not Taiwanese, the reaction of the person you’re talking to immediately changes.

I have come across many Taiwanese students who think (I might be generalizing slightly here), “Oh, you can speak Chinese, but you don’t have a Taiwanese accent, then you must be from China.” Or they say, “Hong Kong? Isn’t that across the strait as well? Aren’t you governed by the Communist Party, too?”

I kind of get the idea of the average NDS’s (students born in China, acronym of the Chinese phrase, “nei di sheng”) pitiful situation of living in Hong Kong or Taiwan. It makes me wonder, why would Hong Kongese students treat NDS completely different from Taiwanese students and why do some Taiwanese students confuse Hong Kong students with students from China? (Perhaps, this is a helpful reminder as well, for it makes us rethink our attitude towards NDS.) This kind of “crisis” is something you might not see on an ordinary trip to Taiwan (people working in the tourism industry will tell you that Taiwan, Macao and China are very different and why). But only if you really engage with many shu-min (a non-derogatory term for common people), you will discover that a lot of Taiwanese think Hong Kong and China are the same.

Photo Credit:Pasu Au Yeung@Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit:Pasu Au Yeung@Flickr CC BY 2.0

As someone from Hong Kong, I also undeniably have feelings of superiority

But this feeling of superiority is not directed towards the Taiwanese. I don’t think that the Hong Kong people are better than Taiwanese. I think in the minds of the Hong Kong people, Taiwanese are equal and we sometimes might even envy them. But if you were born in Hong Kong, you will feel that no matter what, Hong Kong is an international city, equally famous as New York and London, hence the portmanteau, “Nylonkong.”

Although we still do not have general elections, and even though our neighbors from the north are continuously infringing upon our core values, we did receive proper education and we think highly of manners and etiquette. But I, a Hong Kongese, don’t want to be thought of by anyone as a, “Mainland Chinese,” just like how the Taiwanese don’t want to be either.

When I started writing, I knew this article would arouse a lot of reactions, especially from Internet commentators like the 50 Cents Party. I have no intention to discuss the political situation of Taiwan, so please do not start labeling me arbitrarily. My article is not trying to stir up any China-Hong Kong conflicts, or advocate racism and such; I merely want to pose a question, and especially to invite the “big military powers” to think about this:

Just what kind of country would make its neighbors become so afraid of being identified with it?

Translated by Stijn Wijker
Edited by Olivia Yang