What Are Hong Kong People Truly Like?
Hong Kong people has a long-standing “reputation” in the world of being hostile, impatient and stressed. I used to have this conception at the back of my mind as well- that was before I started working in Hong Kong a few years ago.
My whole family is from Macau, just an hour boat journey from Hong Kong. In spite of the many similarities Macau and Hong Kong share- the language, international outlook, political status… Macau people are believed to have a more lay-back lifestyle in general. I started living and working in Hong Kong in 2015. Over the past few years, I have had an opportunity to meet and work with many Hong Kong people. This offers me a better insight into how Hong Kong people behave, and to examine whether our belief is true. Surprisingly, instead of the vices mentioned above, I have found more of the virtues in these people I have got to know in Hong Kong. Hereby, I want to share what I have seen as the “Hong Kong people” from an insider’s perspective, for any one of you who also want to get closer to the truth.
Why do Hong Kong people get a bad reputation?
If you are a tourist visiting Hong Kong, you would probably think that Hong Kong people match the bad impression you have heard of- they are easily annoyed, always complaining and rushing everywhere.
Let’s take getting around Hong Kong as an example. If you are driving on the road and you cut somebody off, the driver from the other car would often overreact, curse at you, and threaten to cut your head off; If you are travelling in the MTR, you would see people looking down at their phones all the time. They look miserable, sleep-deprived and would constantly complain about their lives, their jobs, even their current affairs.
Moreover, if you are looking at the comment section of Hong Kong news, you will see a lot of messages, with a disproportionate amount of them being hate comments, and often, without justification. All in all, their reputation is quite accurate from the outlook. Hong Kong is truly a miserable society on the surface, especially from the eyes of someone who is just passing by like most of us.
Behind the scene- Why are they like this?
You might be wondering: why are people living in a prosperous place like Hong Kong behave like this? What have been mentioned is what we see “on stage”- the Hong Kong people situated in the international arena, from an outsider’s point of view. Now, before delving into what I have discovered during my time living in Hong Kong, let’s take a step back and see what kind of a place they are living in “from the back stage”. To better understand Hong Kong people, it is important to first have a better understanding of their society. First, let’s take a look at its economy.
Since its inception in 1995, Hong Kong has been ranked as the world's freest economy in the Index of Economic Freedom of the Heritage Foundation for 24 consecutive years. The freedom of the economy is mainly because of the low tax rate, while one of the main reasons that Hong Kong can keep the taxes so low is that a large chunk of the revenue for the Hong Kong government comes from land sales. If property values drop, the government can’t generate as much revenue, meaning there’s little incentive to seriously curb Hong Kong’s cost of housing. Thus, apart from the prosperity in its economy which land sales have made possible, this also makes Hong Kong the most expensive place to live in around the world.
Hong Kong was recently ranked as the most expensive housing market in the world for the seventh consecutive year, according to the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. The survey, which divides median house prices by gross annual median household income, found Hong Kong to clock in at 18.1. So, on average, if someone makes $50,000 in annual income, the cost of their home would be $900,000. The 18.1 multiple soars above other markets around the world. The second least affordable city is Sydney which scored a multiple of 12.1. Even financial hubs like London and New York pale in comparison coming in at multiples of 8.5 and 5.9 respectively.
In simple terms, this means that if you work in Hong Kong and save 60% of your annual income up to buy a house, it would take you 30 years to afford a 350 square feet home.
The free capitalist market also makes Hong Kong one of the places that has the greatest income inequality in the world. This in turn means that Hong Kong is extremely competition-driven. There is a social consciousness that “If you don’t work harder, pushing yourself to the limits, you won’t be able to survive in this society”. And this pressure to simply survive in the society is what Hong Kong people have to deal with 24/7.
Next, let’s have a look at their education. After all, education is where the seeds are planted. One common trait found in Hong Kong people is that they would often compare themselves to others. This is not only ingrained into the educational system, but also to the parenting philosophy.
Hong Kong children have been situated in a competitive environment since a young age. The Hong Kong educational system is competitive and fierce, leaving no room for individuality and creativity. Well-known for its “spoon-filling” approach, it is purpose-driven, with excessive homework and rigid test oriented environment. It is rough and tough even to fight for a seat in a good kindergarten, not to mention studying for the many tests and exams ahead. What’s more, the class-rank system is extremely common at all grades, while the HKDSE, a public university entrance examination in Hong Kong, is criticized for placing too much emphasis on the four core subjects, causing some students to neglect the elective subjects. In short, their educational system is rooted in competition and comparison.
At home, Hong Kong children’s life is no better. Instead of teaching the children about life philosophy and how to live a fulfilling life, parents would pressure them to excel in the educational system, so that they can get a good job and fall out of this trap. Children are taught not to be considerate or kind, but to be selfish, materialistic, and status-conscious since a young age. In addition, due to the long working hours, Hong Kong parents become very impatient and would spend less time with their kids. Thus, very often, this future generation do not have the attention that they need in their childhood and upbringing, causing a negative cycle in throughout their growth.
For the children in Hong Kong, there is simply no freedom or room to experiment, to discover, to explore their true passion, whether in school or at home. What these children (and the adults whom they will soon grow into) left with are
Pressure, pressure, pressure.
The kind of competitive educational system and living environment, together with the very thought that you need to work your whole life away to buy a house, makes Hong Kong people of all age become very resentful, stressed and unhappy. On the surface, we might see a prosperous city which economy takes off rapidly, heading among all Asian cities. Hilariously, it is even ranked as the place with the highest life expectancy in the world. However, behind the scene, where no outsider can peep at, it is a society conjured with endless pressure and competition.
An insider’s view- Why Hong Kong people are good?
We can now briefly understand what a stressful place Hong Kong people have been living in. After living here for four years, I found that Hong Kong people, with the great amount of pressure they have to cope with every day, are a group of truly admirable people. Here is a list of virtuous qualities in Hong Kong people I get to discover:
There is one thing that Hong Kong people really strikes me- They fight for what is right. Protests are not uncommon in this pro-colonial city, from the Occupy Central (2011), Umbrella Movement (2014), to the latest protest against China extradition bill (2019), Hong Kong people always stand up for the right. A lot of Hong Kong people probably realize that they are powerless against the ever more powerful Chinese communist regime. Yet, they still voice their opinions when it violates what is right to them. The action of participating, sacrificing their time, energy and potentially their safety to stand up for what is right- despite they have realised the fact that it might not make a change- makes it even more admirable. It is like someone tells you no matter what you do, you will fail, and yet you still persist and say that you will not back down without struggle, and that you will not die without a fight. That's the spirit that Hong Kong people have.
The virtue of a protest, or the morality of a movement does not come down to the intent or the actions of the few. Hong Kong people show it in every way when a protest takes place. They are the ones sitting at Victoria Park for 4 hours despite heavy rain; they are the ones walking on the street on a Sunday, despite most of them having 10 hour workdays. What’s even more impressive is that they are also the ones who collect the rubbish along the streets after the vigil. Hong Kong protests are probably the most peaceful and ordered ones in the world.
In the recent extradition protest, which gather up to one million residents, Hong Kong people again show their spirits and their manners in protest. One in every seven residents stand out against the issue of the new law that might smash up their freedom, one out of seven residents on average stands out. Not one shop window is broken and car drivers jammed in the strike are provided with water and food until the police get involved. It is a collective sacrificing. It is a collective spirit that takes the courage to say no to what is against its virtue, with great consideration of other individuals in the society in mind.
The very fact that Hong Kong people don’t hide their opinions, voice for what is right, and do it in the most considerate way to everyone else in the society possible- makes them a truly respectable group of human-beings. These virtues in them, together with their spirit that they’d rather voice for the right then die in silence, should be taking into note when we determine what they are like.
Coda- What are Hong Kong people truly like?
It is never easy to comment a simple “good” or “bad” on any one thing, let alone any one group of people. As a person who have gone from an outsider to an insider in Hong Kong, I have much respect to these people- who are so hostile yet strong in whatever challenge they face, who are so impatient yet efficient and work their way out in a society full of pressure, and who are so stressed yet willing to sacrifice their time and rest to stand for what they believe in. So, what are Hong Kong people “truly” like? I hope you will get a fair answer by now.
Why is Hong Kong housing so expensive?