Eric X. Li wrote a great piece today in the South China Morning Post. It really got to the heart of two of the most controversial issues currently facing Hong Kong: helpers wanting permanent residence like anyone else receives after living here for 7 years and the overcrowding of hospitals due to mainlanders wanting to give birth here because of both the superior medical care and the right of offspring of Chinese (not foreign nationals) to receive Hong Kong citizenship and benefits. These pregnant women are being called locusts by locals wanting to preserve the status-quo. Eric brilliantly captures the tension the city is facing:
A specter is haunting Hong Kong. And it is not communism. It is the sight of undesirable women roaming the streets of this acclaimed world city. They exhibit specific physical attributes. First were the Filipino maids of dark complexion, three-hundred-thousand strong along with the Indonesians. Then came pregnant women from the mainland. Both are making unwanted claims on the good life which Hong Kongers seem to feel is their own and look determined to guard jealously….
….Perhaps it is high time for the people of Hong Kong and its elites to self-reflect. Is the law an abstract principle that exists above and beyond society, like the commandments received by Moses, or an organic part of society at the service of its people? Should politics be conducted based on ideological correctness or pragmatic functionality?
In a healthy and well-functioning polity, practical issues such as immigration can be deliberated and resolved in practical ways. But the state of Hong Kong is such that since 1997 an ideological narrative constructed by a few has been sold to the people of Hong Kong by means of demagoguery. Now the Hong Kong people are in an unenviable quandary: give up on a narrative that has been baked into their self-identity to protect the actual welfare of their society, or hold high that ideological banner and risk their way of life. To do both would be hypocrisy of the highest order.
Just to put my personal view out there: I completely agree with Eric that the maids deserve citizenship after seven years, just like everyone else. I realize that the long-term effect of that would mean that Hong Kongers would have to seriously re-evaluate their maid system and likely be forced to pay more than $450 a month for their live-in, round-the-clock help… but I’m more than okay with that. After seven years of indentured servitude, literally, I believe you’ve earned your freedom. I feel less strongly about mainlanders coming to give birth… I see how that puts a ton of stress on a very good public system, but I also respect that mothers are willing to move countries to ensure a better life for their offspring. I would just point out that it is the rich that are really able to take advantage of this opportunity in the first place.
It’s interesting to me how Hong Kong is adamant about being different than China, but will be a part of her in just 35 years. I wonder how she will go about making the transition… it seems like she will have to become more like China in years to come, but time will tell.