Posts Tagged 'BBC'

The Price of Identity

A student came to me a few weeks ago with a problem (as many 18-21 years old have) of money. They were basically in a predicament of having to buy their own passport as a young adult. For Hong Kongers who were born in British Hong Kong pre-1997, they were legally classed as ‘British Nationals (Overseas)’ or BNOs. This was an option available by application and was non-transferable to a different category – the deadline for applications being 31 December 1997.


The student who had this problem is very interested and enthusiastic about Britain. They ask me a lot of questions about the UK and would like to visit one day, if not study or live for a longer time period. They ended up paying a lot of money to secure their identity as a BNO so they could fulfil their dream.

This got me thinking about the problems people here may face in getting the official identity status that they feel they are.

1) The Practicalities

Dennis Chong  wrote in the South China Morning Post on 15 August 2012 about the threat of cost increases  for HK-ers to apply for BNO Passports. The threat of increases is due to the Coalition Government’s cost-saving measure to close Hong Kong’s British consulate’s passport centre by April 2014. On a pragmatic basis, this means that HK-ers wanting to apply for a BNO passport (renewal or otherwise), will have to apply directly to Britain – sending their important documents 600 miles away to London – and be without them for much longer than if they applied to the office in Hong Kong. This is just one of the forces acting against people here, who want to remain BNOs as oppose to just solely Chinese Nationals.

2) The Cost

This was the main issue for my student. Basically, the cost difference between wanting to remaining  a BNO is astonishing and can be a huge financial barrier to people who want to remain a BNO. 

For a British passport, the current application fees are HK$1,600 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,932 for one with 48 pages.

With recorded delivery postage and other costs after the closure of the British Consulate’s passport centre, this would be relatively higher.

From June 2006, the cost for a HK SAR Passport was HK$370 for a 32-page passport and HK$185 for a child’s passport.

Furthermore, the cost of a straight-out People’s Republic of China Passport is HK$430.

In Pounds Sterling, for an adult over 16 years old, we’re basically looking at:      British Passport: £137     HK Passport:  £32     Chinese Passport: £37

3) The Numbers

Even if you’re the sort of person who gets a passport to keep in a drawer and visiting other places isn’t your thing, the cheaper options are clearly the most attractive and practical to get. We can see this through the statistics. Chong’s article provides some useful information:

  • About 250,000 Britons live in Hong Kong
  • 3.2 million British Nationals (Overseas) passports had been issued (to people who applied pre-31 Dec 1997).
  • The number of Hong Kong SAR passports in circulation by year is as follows:
  • 2010: 4,261,263
  • 2009: 4,088,337
  • 2008: 3,934,288
  • 2007: 3,920,780
  • 2006: 3,670,115
  • 2005: 3,326,200
  • 2004: 2,959,900


To summarise, the laws of the status of British overseas citizens are highly confusing: there are so many, their names change and the acts mean different things in different places. The stats show though, how limited the 7 million people who live here, are when choosing an identity. There are people here, like my students, and a colleague of mine (Who once had a conversation with me in his Marks & Spencer’s suit, “I miss Chris Patten!”), who don’t have a huge issue with the cost, as their identity means so much for them. These people are clearly in a minority when it comes to the practicalities of applying for a passport though.

I don’t really know what I think about the topic, as I’m lucky to be a full British citizen with the right to abode in the UK: the biggest issue for me was when my passport photo made me look like a scally. The Coalition Government really isn’t making it easy for people here to be officially a BNO with such costs and impracticalities, which I find the hardest thing to accept. If someone feels they belong to a certain identity, surely governments and the relevant departments should support their choices and make it easy for them to be recognised as it. But then again, the whole area of national identity, passports, visas, immigration is such a complicated area, you can see why it’s so complex. In the end though, if people feel their belonging strong enough, nothing can really stand in their way of it.

This One’s for the Hong Kong Ladies

The BBC published an article on 21st February 2013, telling how single women in mainland China, aged 27 and above are considered ‘the leftover women’ – insinuating they are too old to get married and start a family, and in another, subtler, sense that ‘there’s something wrong with them’. The article interestingly interviewed a radio host called Huang Yuanyuan who is about to turn 29, and asks her opinions on this.

The classic “Family vs Career” balance (or imbalance?) is raised as a bigger issue in China and the East than it is in the West. Several factors adopted from the West such as the emancipation of women, gender equality and independent living are becoming increasingly popular in China, but with obvious conflict with the traditional role of women that the majority still adhere to.

We know that China sees time in a different light to the West – dynasties are small epochs of different rulers in Eastern eyes, while in the West we like to categorise our historical periods. Tudor men wore codpieces, Caeser wore robes, and the Georgians wore big fancy white wigs. And that is that. This cannot be more different in China. When asked by Kissinger in 1949, what he thought about the French Revolution, the new PRC Premier Zhou Enlai answered ‘It is too early to tell’. The remarkable reply Enlai gave the impression that the West forgets stuff and changes far too often in history. This was more than a literary bitch-slap: it demonstrated the cool nature of Chinese tradition – they are still living with the same values they had centuries ago, because it is seen to be perfect and self-satisfying, with no need to change.

Therefore one of the biggest concepts in Chinese tradition – family – comes into conflict with these Western ideals.

Being a “sheng nu” or ‘leftover woman’ is a concept I can’t say for sure exists in Hong Kong. 156 years of British rule brought with it 156 years of changing ideas, mirroring the changes in society that the mother country. Hong Kong was seen widely as a beacon of difference in the middle of Asia. Some saw it as better in terms of economics, some as a political haven (as a base for the underground Chinese Communists in the early 21st Century), while others simply as a Western outpost, displaying all things different to China and Asia.

Yet Hong Kongers, were and are, always Chinese. I’ve been here for 7 months now and seen the very, very Chinese traditions that still take place. Hong Kong has one of the highest amounts of public holidays (17) because of its recognition of both Western and Eastern traditions. And family is one of these traditions.

I teach 18 to 21 year olds and like every young man in this age group, still at college, they have problems with the girls. One complains that Hong Kong girls his age are too “Buy my things!” and “I’ll have to ask Daddy first”, while others jsut aren’t interested in finding a boyfriend. Another of the lads put them into 2 categories ‘BOYS BOYS BOYS!” or “WORK WORK WORK!”, which clearly shows they are taking sides in this balance. I have students who have realised what they need to do in a competitive job market very early on – they are always keen to add another certificate into their file, or another student body position to their CV. Then I see students who have no interest in my English activities that we run; sitting outside watching the basketball players, giggling and dressed more in a Japanese/quirky style.

Talks with colleagues have led me to believe that a popular option is for young women to get a job, secure a few promotions before being financially stable, whilst dating and living at home. Then when marriage bells are ringing, move into a flat with her new husband. This is of course a generalisation, as everyone had choices. But with Hong Kong’s limited space, and highly competitive labour market, you can see why this is popular.

All in all, I’d say the Hong Kong equivalent of these ‘Leftover women’ doesn’t actually exist. Everyone here is on the same path, wanting similar end results. Most students I talk to say they would like to visit – not emigrate to – Europe or the USA before coming back to Hong Kong. The property market is an industry with eye-popping amounts of HK$ being circulated in it every day. Land is bought, built on and people live there – a big cycle of space to live. Most young people are waiting to find that special someone, and move out of their parents’ place. Single living in an apartment would be a financial self-slap.

Whatever is happening ‘north of the border’ is hard to see in Hong Kong. Their freedoms, equality and Basic Law are the keystones to Hong Kongers’ happiness in the face of the communist regime in mainland China. I’d say most are proud of their differences, with this example particularly.

Original article by the BBC (21-02-2013):

It’s kicking off…

I found an interesting short clip on BBC about Hong Kong identity. It was published, funnily enough, on my 22nd birthday in 2012 – the day we rented one of the old British-style trams for a Tram Party.

The on-going, sporadic displays of the British colonial flag at anti-China, anti-Beijing-influence protests is mentioned, as is the weird, subconscious feeling of fear that China will come out in force in 2047 and completely take over the city. Starting to get more and more information on this feeling, and what predictions there are for 2047, especially after this year’s protests against the National and Moral Education programme. That will have to wait for a while and a huge blog post, but for now, this video offers a nice reminder of the SAR’s unique identity – not British, not Chinese but Hong Kong.