Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong – Smriti Roy, India

HONG KONG – A vibrant city. Bright lights, exquisite food and a blend of traditional values meeting modern efficiency.

Under the lights, the financial hub, and the catchy slogans – “Asia’s World City”, “Global Hub” – lies a hidden, ugly secret. While Hong Kong prides itself on its so-called diversity, its “inclusiveness”, the practical reality of it does not manage to shine through the dark cracks of its pristine pavements. Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities face discrimination on almost every level of life in Hong Kong.

With a large range of nationalities and regions represented, Hong Kong has minorities from all around the Asian continent, notably Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians and Filipinos. Alongside a Han Chinese population of approximately 95%, minorities face not only language barriers, but discrimination on the grounds of their perceived lack of “contribution” to Hong Kong. This brings into question Hong Kong’s severe lack of integration, and its complete blind eye to issues that affect ethnic minorities.

Yet if we look at the history of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, we see that Sikh soldiers who fought for the British during colonial rule settled in Hong Kong as some of the city’s first policemen. One of the most renowned civil servants in Hong Kong’s past was a Sikh man – Mr Harnam Singh Grewal. South Asians in particular, have been eminent in many of Hong Kong’s century-old institutions, such as in the founding of the University of Hong Kong with funds from Sir H.N. Mody, a close friend of the then governor.

Ethnic minority students today must find a way to navigate Hong Kong’s mainly Cantonese speaking education system. Public schools’ main language of teaching and instruction is different to that which they use at home, but the teaching of Cantonese as a foreign language rarely happens in an effective way. Due to this, there is large segregation between local, Cantonese-speaking students and ethnic minority students. The spillover effects for these students can be seen when they go onto having trouble finding employment, being discriminated against for their language or skin colour.

However, it’s not a blanket issue. There are several ethnic minorities who have picked up the language through interactions and managed to find work, especially those who went through the public education system and learnt Cantonese in their teenage years. This advantage, often milked by Government representatives when questioned about the treatment of ethnic minorities, still carries a problem within itself. While many pick up the spoken language, the written and reading components prove to be a challenge to many when looking for work. In response to this issue, the government decided to register ethnic minority students and allow them to sit for foreign/second language exams such as the Edexcel IGCSE foreign language Mandarin paper. This paper does not provide adequate written preparation for ethnic minority students as it is only designed to test competence as a foreign speaker, and thus does not begin to enable any student, let alone ethnic minority students, to be able to fully comprehend and use the language without further study.

While there are a few representatives such as Devi Novianti, from Indonesia who works as an Equal Opportunities Officer at the Equal Opportunities Commission, looking at the percentage of ethnic minority representatives in Hong Kong government to local Chinese shows a shocking divide. Another powerful player for ethnic minority rights in Hong Kong is Shalini Mahtani. Mahtani is the founder of the Zubin foundation – a social policy think tank in Hong Kong that focuses on local social issues. The Zubin foundation has produced the city’s first “diversity” list – a comprehensive list of profile of ethnic minorities who are both qualified and willing to join government advisory boards. It also revealed that a shocking 0.4% of 1500 people on 100 government advisory boards were not ethnically Chinese or non-white. This list is one of the key components of showing ethnic minorities commitment towards Hong Kong as their home. Many discussion topics in recent times can easily relate to ethnic minorities and their treatment in Hong Kong, such as education and employment.

A fast growing, efficient and bustling city, carrying within itself immense culture and tradition mixed with modern day technology and beautiful scenery, Hong Kong is not just a hub of social and cultural issues. As one of the fastest growing cities in Asia with a strong sense of local culture and the most impressive food, Hong Kong is capable of becoming one of the world’s international hubs. However, Hong Kong will need to further ensure the treatment, the rights and basic respect of its ethnic minorities before it can strive to become the truly “international” city it would like to be.

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