Localism against nationalism: Resisting being Chinese in Hong Kong

*/ Comic of how to tell the difference between Hong Kong people and mainland Chinese

Curator's Note

Micky Lee, Suffolk University, Boston

Hong Kong was a British colony for 150 years before it was returned to China in 1997. Beginning in the 1960s, media stereotypes about mainland Chinese soothed the Hong Kong psyche by portraying mainland Chinese as culturally backward, morally bankrupt, and shamelessly materialistic. Even though the former colony had become a Special Administrative Region of China for more than two decades, some Chinese populations in Hong Kong still see themselves as different from mainlanders. Some turn to localism and nativism to assert the difference.

Online platforms offer opportunities to assert a local(ist) identity: op-ed articles in online publications, forum, and YouTube videos are some of the most popular. Mainland Chinese are said to be different because of their choices of technology and apps, appearance and clothing, manners and body postures, as well as preferred language. These differences reinforce earlier stereotype such as being culturally backward (talking loudly in public), morally bankrupt (such as taking advantages of Hong Kong public welfare), and materialistic (such as showing off brand names). While some complain that they do not assimilate themselves to a Hong Kong way of life, others think they attempt to “pass” as Hongkongers.

Media texts use a range of discursive strategies to mark the difference. For example, written texts would use colloquial Cantonese characterised by local expressions such as “AA” (go Dutch) and “in” (trendy); mixing English words and phrases in Chinese. Differences are also reinforced by using derogatory terms such as da ma (middle-aged female from the mainland) and ah suk (middle-aged male from the mainland); the use of “we” and “they”. In videos, the narrators would exclusively use Cantonese. One person used the resistance icon Pepe the Frog to show his Hong Kong identity.

These posts illustrate what Bakhtin calls “multivocal” speech: they tend to borrow from multiple sources without citing the original sources. The image collage illustrates that pictures are used without crediting the photographers and explaining the context. The absence of context implies that someone in the know should be able to spot the mainlanders in Hong Kong.


Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

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