“When you enter a village, follow the local customs” (入鄉隨俗), advises a Chinese idiom equivalent to our “In Rome, do as the Romans do.”
This is the message that Xinhua News Agency tried to convey through its “Six Guidelines, Six Taboos” (六指南”, “六禁忌”), a guide for mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong (note). The guide was issued a few days after the infamous “Peeing Infant Incident” (童尿事件) that caused a new wave of anti-mainland sentiment in Hong Kong.
According to Xinhua, people who behave badly are just a small fraction of the over 30 million mainlanders who visit Hong Kong each year. However, the article acknowledges two problems: 1) the number of mainland tourists exceeds the number of Hong Kong residents, and therefore they are perceived like a huge tourist “army”; 2) mainlanders should adjust to Hong Kongers’ customs and sensibility, as the aforementioned idiom urges travellers to do.
The author of the article claims that following local customs is both a sign of respect towards mainlanders’ “Hong Kong compatriots” (尊重香港同胞) and that it also protects mainland travellers themselves ( 保护内地游客自己). The language used in the article is remarkable, as it appeals to two arguments mainlanders are thought to comprehend more than others: patriotism (calling Hong Kongers compatriots is supposed to do the trick) and self-protection.
Here’s the list of guidelines and taboos:
Six Guidelines (六指南):
- Don’t obstruct pedestrian traffic (不要阻路)
- Keep your voice down (放低声音)
- Don’t bump against other people (请勿撞到别人)
- Avoid greeting people from a distance in a loud voice (避免隔空大声打招呼)
- Treat service staff politely (礼貌相待服务人员)
- Avoid excessive price bargaining (避免过度讲价)
Six Taboos (六禁忌):
- Eating or drinking on the metro or public vehicles (地铁，汽车内不能吃东西或喝饮料)
- Smoking in non-smoking areas (在非吸烟区吸烟)
- Littering or spitting (乱丢垃圾、随地吐痰)
- Crossing the road carelessly (乱过马路)
- Taking the metro without a ticket or with the wrong ticket (坐地铁逃票)
- Not fastening sealtbelts in taxis (乘坐的士前座及后座需配带安全带)
Interestingly, the author forgets to mention public urination and defecation, which are actually the most important taboos broken by mainlanders. On the other hand, he mentions a few points that even native Hong Kongers are not so strict about (if I had to count all the times someone bumped into me or crossed the street when the light was red …).
The author also gives some interesting “psychological” explanations of Hong Kongers’ local standards of civility (read the original Chinese article).
But are these guidelines going to help?
I think they won’t. My impression is that anti-Chinese sentiment is a combination of a lot of factors. On the one hand there is the widespread dislike for certain categories of non-Hong Kongers (including not just mainlanders, but also people from Southeast Asia, whom many Hong Kongers look down upon). On the other hand, there are all the unsolved issues that Hong Kong has inherited from the ambiguous handover in 1997.
Political and economic issues, as well as the eternal question of whether Hong Kong’s government should be run and elected by the Hong Kong people, or whether it is and should remain a puppet of Beijing, are all crucial problems that – so it seems – mainland public discourse is extremely afraid to address and discuss openly. As a result, Hong Kongers’ anger easily flares up, and cases like that of the baby urinating publicly soon overlaps with other issues concerning Hong Kong-mainland relations.
To be fair, I would also like to point out that even among mainlanders the issue of public urination and defecation causes conflicts. For instance, in August 2013 a couple let his child urinate in the Shanghai metro, and some shocked passengers reacted furiously. An altercation ensued which was (obviously) filmed by someone:
One month later, another incident took place in the Shanghai metro. A man was assaulted by three people because he tried to stop a child from urinating in the train. He was badly injured, but the assailants were sentenced to just ten days imprisonment (note).