I am from Hong Kong, Not China

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Frances Hui, an Emerson College student is getting negative and at times threatening backlash from mainland Chinese students and others she’s encountered both in-person and online after penning an article for the college’s student newspaper titled, “I am from Hong Kong, not China.” 

The article was prompted after a mainland Chinese on board a bus in Boston asked, “Where are you from?”.

When she eventually replied “Hong Kong,” the man started to get aggressive, Hui recounted. He insisted that she should define herself as “from China” — which was handed control of the former British colony in 1997.

Hui’s piece published in late April on the website of the Emerson College newspaper, the Berkeley Beacon. It cited experiences of students like her from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and other places that have struggled to assert themselves against China. 

As an Asian-American psychotherapist specializing in multicultural issues and shame, what I see occurring here is the impact of China’s communistic propaganda impacting millions of Chinese regardless of where they live. These citizens may have a distorted understanding of history as the Chinese educational system has inundated them with a biased and false perspective of the historical struggles of countries that China refuses to acknowledge.  

In Hui’s case, she cites having a Taiwanese friend, who felt compelled to adopt a “Chinese” identity despite her love for Taiwan, too afraid to “fight over her identity” with her Chinese friends. For myself, I am also from Hong Kong and depending on who is asking and how much time I have, I may answer “Chinese” for brevity. But in instances when there is more space of understanding, I will explain my identity is tied to being native to Hong Kong and not China. This is not about ethnic superiority as some of Hui’s detractors have claimed.  If anything, mainland Chinese have often looked down on those of us from Hong Kong as Hong Kong is predominantly a Cantonese-speaking population where the language is often viewed as a “peasant” language.  

The controversy is similar to those who are from Okinawa or descendants of Okinawa. For example, most Westerners would view Okinawa as a part of Japan since Japan annexed the country in 1873.  If you ask anyone from Okinawa what is their identity, they may initially say “Japanese” as people may not be familiar with the cultural and political differences between the two. While officially part of Japan, it remains very unique in terms of culture, food, language, and its sense of identity.  

It’s the same for those of us who are from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet or any other country that has been impacted by China politically, culturally, or socially. Regardless of a country’s legal status to the world, we know who we are and should have the freedom and respect to share our identity to others without fearing backlash from others.  In short, one’s identity belongs to the identity-bearer and should not be dictated by by an outsider.

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