One day, I was talking to a friend of mine that I had met at HOBY who used to live in Hong Kong. She was recounting unbelievable stories that I, as an American, have never experienced. My friend told me how Mandarin was her first language. However, in schooling, English was more favored, so overtime, she lost her Mandarin. Then, she told me that one time, she was in a store and picked up a toy to play with. The shopkeeper told her that she couldn’t touch it and took it away. When my friend suddenly asked her mom why she couldn’t play with the toy in English, the shopkeeper said, “Oh! You speak English?” and immediately gave her the toy back.
Yet, worst of all was the the medical attention in Hong Kong. My friend said that her mother was so sick that they thought that she might die. She went straight to the hospital. When they got there, the people working there didn’t seem to care much. My friend’s family waited in a dirty room, and her mom never got called to see the doctor. They kept waiting and waiting, and asking and asking. Finally, her mom told the receptionist that she was American. The receptionist asked her for proof, and her mom showed her her U.S. passport. Suddenly, her family was swept into a much more nicely kept, clean waiting room, and a doctor quickly saw after her.
She and her family were continually overlooked by others considering her to be a Chinese local. By then, all of this discrimination had gotten so bad that her family simply decided to move back to the United States. Each one of these experiences correlated with one thing: the British. At first glance, this made no sense to me. Why the British? I have never actually been to Hong Kong, but I’ve always assumed that there’d mainly just be a whole lot of Chinese people around. That was until everything I’ve learned in AP World History came rushing back to me.
Hong Kong used be be known as British Hong Kong. The events leading up to this and the period of British rule of Hong Kong are a long one. It revolved around the ideas of exploration, colonization, competition, and power. Since the Classical Period, China was known for its awesomeness. It was the best in everything. It had silk, porcelain, paper, centralization, a strong military–the best of the best at the time. European states hadn’t even been invented yet. China eventually did kind of screw up in a few big ways. It didn’t help that its government bureaucracy was corrupt, but it especially didn’t help that China’s Zheng He was one of the last explorers for a long while. Exploration just wasn’t a factor involved in China. China didn’t want to mingle–China wanted to stay isolated and maintain its Chinese culture (with the exceptions of champa rice and Buddhism). Outsiders were barbaric. When they did have that short exploring phase during the Ming Dynasty, they realized too soon that they wanted no part in it.
That would later be realized as a grave mistake. The Dutch and the British took advantage of exploration and exploited resources from colonies in other countries (e.g. gold, cotton, cloth, etc). Mercantilism. This whole colony thing is what spurred growth and most importantly power. On came the Industrial Revolution. They were already becoming more superior than the Chinese with their incredible weaponry.
The British East India Company wanted to trade with China, so they could get all of China’s awesome stuff. However, the Qing/Manchu Dynasty did not care for the British, their threat to Chinese culture, or their simple goods. The British came up with this idea of opium which not surprisingly became a huge hit in China. Suddenly, there was an item China wanted, and the government became full of hallucinated, lazy bureaucrats. Realizing this, the Chinese revolted by destroying opium. Angry, the British came to create the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 as a compromise with China during the first Opium War and finally took over Hong Kong. A Japanese take-over of Hong Kong during World War II was then swiftly taken back by the British after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Finally, in 1997, the British handed Hong Kong back over to the Chinese.
Interesting history, right? Just think about it. 1841-1941 and 1945-1997. That’s 152 years of British colonial rule. An extremely long time for British to consider the Chinese inferior. An extremely long time for the British to have all of the high official and governmental jobs while the Chinese locals succumb to lower-level tasks.
Even with Hong Kong now being a multicultural city, it is still far behind in the problems of racial intolerance and discrimination. Personally, when I think about, I feel like everyone is partly to blame. The higher-ranking British resulted in this ideal that the Chinese were lower class citizens, and the Chinese started feeling hostility and discriminating towards the British and other races as well perhaps due to resentment or lack of cultural awareness. With Hong Kong being officially a part of China, the Chinese surely are increasing their status. Over 90% of Hong Kong is Chinese, resulting in requirements for people to speak Chinese as well as English to get higher paying jobs.
Nevertheless, there are still major issues of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong not being represented. They are underrepresented in the government such as in the Legislative Council and hardly any of them are voting. Most of them either don’t know how to vote or couldn’t find someone who represented them.
Hong Kong might be less discriminatory than it was in the past, but it still exists through education, language, and professions. I can only hope that these people don’t stay invisible in the wake of a world with the potential for equal rights and less racial intolerance.