Wednesday 1 February 2012

One country, two cisterns

Letter to South China Morning Post:
There has been a lot of correspondence recently about clashes between Mainlanders and Hongkongers over public manners.
Regina Yip says we should "learn from each other" (Opinion, Jan 29) and Anthony Cheung says “we must not live on past glory” (Insight, Jan 31).  Fine as those principles sound, we must ask: who has more to learn from whom?
Speaking as one who has studied, lived and worked in China, and now lives in Hong Kong, I believe it’s the Mainland from Hong Kong.
I had my own experience recently of Hong Kong’s public manners coming into conflict with those of the mainland.  In a shop in Pacific Place  a group of mainlanders was smoking (in Pacific Place!).  I said to them -- in Mandarin -- that they ought to stub out their cigarettes as there was a stiff fine for smoking indoors in Hong Kong.  With some bad grace they did so.  When they left, the shop staff thanked me. They said that whenever they told mainlanders they should not smoke, they were ignored...
There are other public manners we take for granted here, but which are not so on the mainland: orderly queuing, not spitting in the street, standing on the right on escalators, not eating on the MTR, and so on.
The mainland does have campaigns from time to time, to promote “spiritual civilisation”; in other words, “public manners”.  But we already have them here.  We should not feel ashamed to stand up for them. Why go backwards, only to need our own “spiritual civilisation” campaigns when public manners have deteriorated?
This goes further than the arguably trivial matter of public manners. Hong Kong’s success has been based on the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, transparent and clean bureaucracy, a robust ICAC, and so on.  These are all issues the mainland is still grappling with.  But we’re already there.  Why should we be ashamed of that?
We should stand up for our public manners and for what’s made our success and not give them away because of well-meaning but mistaken notions of “learning from each other” or assuming that our “past glory” is somehow irrelevant to our present and future success.

Yours, etc,

[PS: the "two cisterns" is a play on "One Country, Two Systems", the basis for government in Hong Kong, where we are very independent of the Mainland/Beijing and to the very different public toilet situations in China and Hong Kong.  Hong Kong has the best-kept and cleanest in the world.  China, mainland, the opposite.  I didn't point this out in the letter....]