When The RMB Dissolves Your Sense of Superiority

This is Tuesday and I picked up EastWeek magazine by habit.  The front page story is about Hong Kong consumers crossing the border to Shenzhen (China) and being stunned that their Hong Kong dollars are no longer being accepted by local businesses!  A year ago, the exchange rate of RMB to HKD was maybe like 103:100 and Hong Kong money carried a tip on a 1:1 basis.  Today, the RMB has become more valuable more than the HKD (especially if you add the service charge that banks charge for conversion).  Therefore, accepting HKD meant that the business is giving a discount.  Except for upscale locations (such as discos and KTV's) which earn large sums from Hong Kong visitors, most Shenzhen businesses are not accepting HKD anymore.

How shall a Hong Kong resident react?  The following is the translation of one such reaction.

(Diuman Park)  By Yip Yatchee (葉一知).  December 5, 2006.

[in translation]

The RMB has been increasing in value so that it will be worth more than the Hong Kong dollar.  Forget about helping your own people, because the Hong Kong-capital fastfood restaurants in Shenzhen were the first to decline payment with HKD.  Hong Kong has been terrific at castrating itself.  In less than ten years' time, the Hong Kong people have managed to pull Hong Kong close to mainland China and turned their place into another ordinary coastal city in China ...

Many Hong Kong people will agree that the people of Hong Kong have maintained a sense of superiority over mainland for the past few decades.  But we were only vaguely aware of it.  The devaluation of the HKD has quantified this sense of superiority and made us realize that we had been able to use our currency elsewhere, which therefore conferred a superior status.  Just like a romance, it becomes deepest when the moment of irreconciliable separation arrives.  But the times have changed, and it is the turn for the mainland solo tourists to enjoy the pleasure of using RMB in Hong Kong.

I believe that the Hong Kong sense of superiority of the past was well-deserved.  This might hurt the feelings of many Chinese people.  But before the angry young people toss excrement onto their monitor screens, they should think calmly -- the superiority of Hong Kong after the 1980's had not come solely through wealth.  At the time, Hong Kong had the rule of law, freedom, liberty, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the awareness of public health, various kinds of culture and a still crippled democratic system.  Overall, this is very civilized society.  We are fully aware that mainland China has improved greatly.  But even with all these improvements, there are still blackbox court verdicts, violent suppressions, cover-ups of epidemics, fake merchandise, poisonous food stuff, local criminal organizations, citywide butchering of animals, corruption, bribery, one-party-dictatorship and so on.  To put it simply, Hong Kong possessed a sense of superiority not on account of some sudden wealth or an array of economic hardware; rather, it was about the software better known as civilization.

Indeed, Hong Kong has many flaws.  I am often critical myself.  But if you make a comparison, you will know what the differences are.  This is not about making a list of everybody's faults.  This is about a self-proclaimed strong nation lacking the confidence to face up to its own flaws.  If you read this essay and clench your fist because you think that the feelings of the Chinese people have been hurt, then this is proof of the sudden breakout nature of that sense of national superiority.  Only someone who feels extremely inferior will employ extreme arrogance to protect their self-respect.  If you don't like what I say, you should turn your anger into force and improve the country.

I am also angry because more and more Hong Kong people cannot see their own flaws.  They are submersed in the illusory economic Viagra and nationalistic aphrodasiac.  I have no problem with Hong Kong being absorbed into mainland China and becoming just an ordinary coastal city in China.  But mainland China must progress to become the Hong Kong of twenty years ago with democracy, freedom/liberty and an enlightened government.  Then I won't have any problems.