Saturday, 1 June 2013

Word of the Day: 本土 Bentu

Locals want to protect what's left of Hong Kong's identity and institutions
In the past week the word 本土 (ben3tu3) has been used when a row erupted between one of the organizers of the upcoming June 4 candlelight vigil in Hong Kong and the founder of the Tiananmen Mothers group.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China decided to use the slogan, "love the country, love the people, that's the Hong Kong spirit; vindication of June 4; never give up".

However, Professor Ding Zilin, whose son died in the crackdown 24 years ago criticized the slogan as "stupid" and not in sync with mainland people's thinking.

Then Tsui Hon-kwong of the Hong Kong alliance retorted, accusing Ding of not understanding the situation in Hong Kong and that she had developed "Stockholm Syndrome" in becoming more sympathetic towards the Communist Party.

Ding warned this row could split the movement and could affect her group's cooperation with the one in Hong Kong.

Subsequently Tsui resigned and Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the alliance apologized to Ding in a phone call and said the slogan was now: "Vindicating June 4; Never Give Up".

It seems bizarre that the alliance would choose "love the country, love the people", but to the group it was about not loving the Chinese government, but fighting for democracy.

However, for many locals, this slogan would not do -- they do not want to have anything to do with China except to remember the victims of June 4 and the fact that they can do that in Hong Kong is what makes the city so special.

And so the word 本土 has been used lately to describe the invasion of mainlanders in Hong Kong and how their strong buying power has literally changed the landscape of the city: snapping up luxury goods and eating expensive foods like shark's fin and abalone, greedy landlords seeing dollar signs and kicking out mom-and-pop shops and replacing them with jewellery and watch shops paying astronomical rents.

The result is that Hong Kong people feel like they are second-class citizens in their own city and so they are calling for 本土, or what has been translated into English at "nativism", but basically trying to hold onto the Hong Kong identity and values to distinguish themselves from mainlanders.

At the same time, Hong Kong people are seeing their own institutions fall apart around them. First it is their disgust with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but really it's the system that's to blame.

Of course Beijing wants to make sure it wins every time and so whoever becomes CE will have to kowtow to his mainland bosses if he wants to keep his job no matter how much Hong Kongers hate him/her. The other is that the Hong Kong government is too weak or lacks any kind of integrity to make decisions on its own without consulting Beijing.

And now we are watching the latest saga unfold -- the former head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption forced to explain why he spent more than HK$724,000 on wining and dining as well as giving gifts to mainland officials.

Why is this institution -- which is supposed to crack down on corruption -- currying favour with the mainland?! And former chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming believes he has done nothing wrong and that his actions will not affect the integrity of the ICAC. May we also add he was appointed a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference after he retired from the ICAC?

So basically this has been a s***y week for Hong Kong and the only bright spot is the large rubber duck cheering people up in Victoria Harbour -- but only for one more week.

We hope Tuesday's candlelight vigil will put aside squabbles and everyone can join together for the main reason of the event -- to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre and openly challenge Beijing to vindicate them.

We don't want this Hong Kong institution to end and neither should it be politicized either.

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