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Wednesday, Oct 20, 2021

‘Some people in Hong Kong may not like mainlanders’: how six months of protest hit China’s cross-border travellers

Regular visitors from the mainland China side of the border say the unrest has disrupted everything from shopping trips to schooling plans. Mass protests and violence have prompted regular visitors to reassess their relationship with the city

Over the summer, Fran Xie agonised over whether it would be safe for her 10-year-old daughter to start school in Hong Kong as she had planned.

The 38-year-old, who lives across the border in Guangzhou, used to visit the city every month but said the unrest had alerted her to the fact that “some people in Hong Kong may not like mainland people. We were not aware of that before”.

She continued: “As parents, we have to be worried if we send our children to Hong Kong.”

For almost two decades, many mainland Chinese, especially those who live just north of the border, have regarded Hong Kong as their second home, visiting regularly for shopping and entertainment, for business reasons, to visit relatives or for medical check-ups.

But the mass protests – triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill – and increasing violence have prompted some to have second thoughts about their southern neighbour.

Xie, a housewife married to a businessman, used to visit Hong Kong almost every month with her family – for everything from an annual medical check-up to a day out at the city’s theme parks.

But the six months of unrest made her so worried about her daughter’s safety that she even refused to take her there for a ballet exam.

Now she has abandoned a plan to send her eldest daughter to an international school in Cheung Sha Wan, and will instead look to the United States.

“Our daily lives used to be closely tied,” Xie said of the cross-border link. “Now it has become quite uncomfortable.”

Jade Shi, a video producer who also lives in Guangzhou, said she had decided to stop visiting the city because of the reaction of her friends to the protests.

Previously she had made regular cross-border trips – stocking up on everything from soy sauce and shampoo to clothes.
“I shopped at Sogo [a well-known store in Causeway Bay] every year when it put on its annual sales promotion,” Shi said. “I didn’t just come for the discounts but also because I liked the feeling of being a consumer in a cosmopolitan city.”

But now her friends have persuaded her to change her shopping habits.

“Some of my friends were shocked by the protests in Hong Kong,” Shi said. “They saw videos of the violence [in the protests]. I understand that the news may have been manipulated but you cannot argue with the people around you.”

For other mainlanders there is a real financial cost to the protests.

Ken Lee, who runs a “daigou” business, a type of shopping agency, said business was down by 20 per cent because he faced problems in getting items such as cosmetics from Hong Kong.

“The parallel importers were too afraid to go to Hong Kong and I couldn’t get new supplies,” Lee said. “Luckily the situation has improved after the district council elections [which saw the pro-establishment camp suffer heavy losses].”

But Lee had already started looking further afield for suppliers, saying: “I now source half of my goods from South Korea and Japan and don’t depend on Hong Kong as much.”

For others, the losses will be harder to recover.

Robin Wu, a 34-year-old insurance broker from Hong Kong, said she had lost about HK$100,000 (US$12,800) in commission income over the past few months because some of her clients in Guangdong would not come to Hong Kong to close the deal.
During one of her recent business trips to Dongguan, a boom town midway between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, she was told bluntly by business contacts that they would delay their investment decisions until next year, saying “who dares to go to Hong Kong now?”.

“I feel worried that I may lose my job [if this continues],” she said.

But the three mainlanders all said they hoped that Hong Kong would return to normal soon.

When she last visited Hong Kong in August, Xie was struck by the orderliness of the protesters and noted how clean things remained after a demonstration.

However, in the evening the city’s streets and restaurants were deserted.

“This was not the Hong Kong that I have known and I hope calm will return one day,” she said.

“I can understand what the young people want, although what they are calling for may be more complicated than what I can imagine.”


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