No, there is no death penalty in Hong Kong

I have been finding it difficult to explain, to those who haven’t been, the difference between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Until I came here, almost everyone I know understands that there is a difference. However, to lots of people here, Hong Kong and China are one and the same.




Recently, in reference to my poor bike riding skills, someone asked me:

But don’t you have, like, a billion bicycles in China?

Yes….but I’m from Hong Kong…

But isn’t Hong Kong part of China?

Well, yes…..

This is usually when I pause and struggle for something brief, concise and easily understandable. But that is also when conversation moves on and people probably just think that I don’t make sense.




Since I’ve come to London, I realise that my face no longer represents just Hong Kong, but China as a whole.

People ask me questions about China. They ask if it is true that we don’t have access to Facebook. Commentors on the Times website thinks that the HK government will provide “swift justice” a la China, aka the death penalty, to a man who hurled acid on to crowded shopping streets. They ask what people think in China. They ask if we have this and that in China.

Hong Kong doesn’t have the death penalty. There is no internet censorship whatsoever. No, I don’t know if people in China can use Facebook.




Sad to say, but a lot of what I know about China, I know from an Englishman, or experienced with the Englishman. I never ventured more than three hours beyond the HK border into China until I needed to see the Englishman.




Another common exchange here goes like this:

So where are you from?

Hong Kong.

Oh, you mean China?

I want to say, yes, it’s a part of China, but you can’t imagine HK as like the rest of the country. It’s very different.

But then people get bored.




So now, I’m trying to come up with a prescribed answer for when someone asks anything similar again.




Hong Kong: Imagine a giant Canary Wharf, spread over the entire area of Greater London, just much taller and a lot denser and hillier, with the same British roads, traffic lights and signage. Same double-decker buses, but a much better Underground. Replace black cabs with red Toyotas as taxis. All the food here is available, just add a lot more Chinese restaurants and greasy-spoons, less curry houses, and then replace white people with the Chinese, then dot a few housing estates here and there. Voila. An overly simplistic How To Turn London into Hong Kong.




Because of my looks, people automatically group me together with 1.3 billion other people and assume me to know stuff ranging from Chinese consumer culture and education to language and government.

Having spent most of the last decade there, I admit I am not proud of my ignorance and disconnect, esp. now that HK depends more and more on mainland China, economically and politically.

Prior to coming here, few people expected that of me.




However, that is not the case now, and I struggle to explain the difference. The most concise I’ve come up with is: Well, remember that Hong Kong was ruled by the British. But people usually don’t remember, or think that fact is irrelevant to how differently Hong Kong has developed from the rest of the country.




If you haven’t been to either mainland China or Hong Kong, Nasty thinks the difference is most obvious and significant if you travel to the mainland first, and then go to Hong Kong. He thought it was a bit like being in the UK, only with more Chinese people. Suddenly everyone speaks English, he could get around easily, he could get proper western food, and in his words, compared to the mainland, it’s like someone’s lifted a fog and everything is clear and easy again.

Sometimes, I wonder why I get annoyed that people don’t understand. Like a Scot I know who hates it when people ask if she’s English, everyone is entitled to a sense of pride of where they’re from. It’s a case of having people constantly misunderstand a very fundamental part of your identify.

All I’m saying is, I’m just annoyed, and I wish people would understand. If you have a better idea of what I should say, do let me know.

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10 thoughts on “No, there is no death penalty in Hong Kong

  1. haha, same thg here, ppl asked me where am i come from, then i will say HK, but chinese around me would correct me, its CHINA, not HK…which q annoy me.
    I have no problem of identity, i am chinese from Hong Kong. HK cannot compare to other places, its not a country but its unique because china is still too far away from “international standard”. I donno, maybe 100yrs later, when china become a modern open country, hker no longer say they are from hk instead they would be more proud to say, i am from china. Who knows? but now, i will keep telling ppl i am from Hong Kong.

    besides, i guess american in NYC is more easy to accept that i am from HK instead of china, i guess becoz ppl notice the difference? or maybe there are so many HK chinese and mainland chinese here they can tell the difference?…just the mainland chinese here cant get it, hahah

  2. I think the reason why the mainland Chinese like to correct us is because they’re miffed that we see HK as different from the rest of the country. That we think because we’re more developed, we’re better. They want to emphasise that we belong to them now, so stop this bullshit about being different.

    I’m not going to go into the debate of who’s “better”, but regardless, the fact is we ARE different.

    At the same time, I can see where they’re coming from though. If I were them, I might do the same too.

    But now, notice the “us” and “them” terms that we use. *sigh*

    Because I am sensitive to their sensitivities and in order to avoid awkward moments, if a Chinese asks me where I’m from, I’ll usually just say “China”. Or I say “China, Hong Kong” in the hope that that appeases them.

    Thinking about it, maybe I should just say what I want and go all “Hong Kong” on them….

  3. That’s very interesting cos I have quite the opposite experience. I tend to say I am Chinese (I have no problem with that), but people (non-Asian) I met tends to say, “But you are from Hong Kong, isn’t it? That’s different.”

    When my British friends introduce me, they tend to say I am “HK Chinese” but honestly I have no problem with them saying I am Chinese, because I am. I do tend to say I am from HK though, I guess that’s just a habit and also because I know if I say I am from China, people will ask “Where in China?” Cos even if I say I am from HK, many people still ask, “Where in HK?” (and I’d think, HK is tiny and no I am not giving you my HK address…)

    I heard that the “cityscapes” of many cities in China (eg Shanghai) are very much like Hong Kong now, although I haven’t been so I can’t say. I guess the major difference is China has this one-country-two-systems thing, and HK is a SAR that is under a different system with the rest of China (apart from Taiwan).

  4. Ah, I have no idea you’re from Hong Kong too!

    Maybe you just have more worldly friends than I do. Hahah. (I hope no one I know here reads this!)

    But seriously though, it is indeed very interesting that your experiences are quite the opposite from mine! It just goes to show how wrong it is sometimes to over-generalise, or assume that your experiences apply to everyone else as well. (Which I think I do a lot.)

    If people ever ask me “where in Hong Kong”, it’s usually because they’ve been/lived there before. But I live so remotely, and expats congregate in the usual areas, they have no idea what I’m talking about….

    The last time I went to Shanghai and Beijing, yes, they are building ever taller buildings, but the difference in people and culture is unmistakable. City infrastructures are still very different. And like you say, the differences in the “system” as a whole just….changes it all.

    Maybe it’s like trying to say that London and Paris are the same. Although both are world-class European cities with great history and architecture, they are still different in many ways…..

    Ok…this is getting too intellectual for my brain now….

  5. I was born in Hong Kong when China ruled it however my brother was born when England ruled it. i havent been back since 1999 when we left. persuading my parents to take us back!!

    • Come back when you can Charlotte! Politics aside, there’s a reason why a lot of expats stick around here. Great public transit system, amazing assessible country parks and beaches, cheap taxis, cool places to hang out, great restaurants etc. I think it would be very interesting to see what you and your brother think of the city you were born in!

  6. actually I am proud to say I am a HKer, period. I will never say I am Chinese because this suggest I condone what the PRC and its CCP does. I rather say I am Han instead.

    actually Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou never look like HK in terms of cityscapes because Beijing have butt ugly pieces of s— building like the CCTV and Shanghai new town have buildings that looks like a tobacco bongs. While either Shanghai or Beijing there exist a building (Xinhua?) take looks like a male genita that should go well with the CCTV building in Beijing. Guangzhou have their river and the White Cloud hotels. HK is unique.

    I can always tell ppl from the mainland, vs. HK, vs. Taiwan and the ppl from mainland China should be shot on sight for their arrongance, their annoyance, and their lack of manners (like urinating and defecation in front of restaurants, cutting in line, treating others like garbage thinking PRC owns the world.) PRC is a world bully.

    @Charlotte, just be content you are where you are…HK isn’t the same as 1999 anymore, more locusts/viruses than ever…

    • If China is a bully, I’m pretty sure we can say the same of the US and other countries.

      But I agree, I make a point of differentiating myself as a HKer when speaking to people from other countries. For better or for worst, Hong Kong IS different from the rest of China, not just that we look different, but our government and legal systems are different.

      Too much of anything just…sucks.

  7. the mainland is like a annoying mother from a small, remote and awful village. i guess she will be better in the future, then admitting her is not so embarrassing…

    escaping may not be a positive attitude, but as a youngster, i’m confused and want to know how to change her. i clearly know that China is not equal to CCP, but will CCP be overthrown? will there be a violent revolution? or slow reformation is better?…

    i don’t want to give up.

    • No, don’t give up.

      But don’t think the CCP is gonna be overthrown tomorrow, or next year, or the year after. Or maybe aim for gradual meaningful changes instead. Power is eroded bit by bit, just as people’s rights are eroded little by little until it becomes too much.

      We fight for freedom of speech, we support the fight against corruption, we demand our right to protest. Some think this is all pointless because they’re not getting anywhere, but personally, I think it’s a long road, and it’s got to start somewhere.

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