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As a 'Hong Konger,' what have I learned from living in the Chinese mainland?

By Charles Foster | CGTN | Updated: 2019-11-15 09:37

A night view of Shenzhen. [Photo/VCG]

Editor's Note: Charles Foster is an undergraduate student of History and Politics at Edinburgh University. Born in Hong Kong and raised there until the age of nine, the author wants to share his story as a "Hong Konger" and bring a positive voice to the current tensions in Hong Kong. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

As a child living in Hong Kong (1999-2008), I clearly remember that there was a strong sense among my classmates and many older acquaintances that as "Hong Kongers" we were fundamentally better than the "(Chinese) mainlanders across the border."

My mother was originally from Chengdu in Sichuan Province, so when I started becoming more conscious of such sentiments within my environment, I felt ashamed and unworthy about my heritage.

I did not want to be a target at school or mocked by my peers, so I did the cowardly thing of partaking in this negativity, hiding my true Chinese (mainland) heritage and pretending that I was a "Hong Konger" as well. I knew as a child that what I was doing was weak and pathetic, however, one should never underestimate the power of peer pressure.

After years of pretending to be someone else, it is usually the case that you no longer need to pretend, you become that person. In my mind, I was truly a "Hong Konger," knowing next to nothing about the people, culture and way of life in the Chinese mainland, it was easy for me to paint any negative picture in my imagination of the Chinese mainland to justify my sense of superiority in being a "Hong Konger."

With hindsight, it definitely seemed at that stage, my personal development was heading down a very wrong path. Having surrounded myself in this cycle of negativity, it came to the point that I honestly thought moving to the Chinese mainland would be on the list of the worst things that can happen to my life.

When the 2008 financial crisis sank the global markets, I was told by my mother that we had to move our home to Shenzhen. With hindsight, it was the best course of direction that my life has taken thus far. So, thank you, Wall Street, for that.

So why was moving to Shenzhen the best thing that happened to me? Quite simply, I started to learn. I learned about the inspiring stories of my local barber, who came from the countryside to Shenzhen at the age of 15 to raise money in order to provide for the studies of his little sister.

I learned about the beauty of the Chinese countryside when conversing with a local noodle shop owner during a heart-warming midnight snack, learning about his generosity when he excluded me the bill for "listening to an old man's rumble."

I learned the value of experience, through reflecting on what it took for myself to replace what was once a contempt for the mainland into a love for it and its people.

I am sure that all these stories that I listened to in Shenzhen and the feelings of admiration and love that it inspired in me towards my country are feelings not unfamiliar amongst the people of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

The events that have occurred and that are still occurring in Hong Kong are undoubtedly harming the notion of fellowship within Hong Kong society and in its relationship with the wider population in the Chinese mainland.

I hope those taking what could be seen as anti-social, violent or extreme stances in Hong Kong can reflect upon my story and think of how it can make their life more positive.

There is an old saying that goes "To understand all is to forgive all." I hope this philosophy will be the guiding principle in determining the course of action between the people of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland in the future.

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