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August 04, 2009

Is Hong Kong Turning Red?

Hong-Kong-Four-Seasons-lobby
The lobby at the Four Seasons
in Hong Kong.

Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons

by Dinda Elliott

Is Hong Kong turning Communist? Or are the Communists turning capitalist? I was staying at the city's ultra-chic Four Seasons hotel recently, at $500 a night, and the lobby was filled with mainland Chinese flashing Rolexes as they spoke Mandarin into their expensive cell phones. (Cantonese, totally different from Mandarin, is the local dialect in Hong Kong.) Once upon a time, some ten years ago, mainlanders were relatively rare in the former British colony, which China reclaimed in 1997. Hong Kong people both feared and looked down on the Communist country bumpkins from the north and cracked jokes about how they spit and blow snot on the street instead of blowing their nose into Kleenex.

But those times are long gone. These days, Hong Kong friends tell me, the mainlanders are the big spenders. They flock to Hong Kong to buy bags at Louis Vuitton and Chanel boutiques. (Those stores exist in Shanghai and Beijing, but there are so many fakes in China that people don't trust that the stores themselves carry real merchandise.) Thanks to China's decade-long economic boom, mainlanders these days have money--lots of it--and they want to prove it with flashy brand-name goods. "If you speak Mandarin, you get much better service in Hong Kong," says Laura Cha, a member of Hong Kong's cabinet, who recently helped select a mainlander, Charles Li, to be the new head of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The Hong Kong government no doubt hopes Li will have the kinds of connections that will help persuade Beijing to let more mainland Chinese companies list their shares in Hong Kong. Will the real capitalists please stand up?

Further reading:
* The U.S. economy may still be in a slump, but Hong Kong was partying last Wednesday night.
* Dinda's Dispatches from Malaysia: "Sexual Politics, Malaysia Style," Penang's Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Obama-mania, bargaining at markets, and an interview with Anwar Ibrahim.
* Hong Kong Reloaded(CNT, October 2005).
* Dispatches: On the road.

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