"Hong Kong people are dogs!"

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That was the headline on the front page of the Saturday, January 21 Dōngfāng rìbào 東方日報 (Oriental Daily): "Xiānggǎng rén shì gǒu" 香港人是狗 (Hong Kong people are dogs). See here and here (with video).

So, who is this person that is calling Hong Kongers "dogs"? It is none other than Kŏng Qìngdōng 孔庆东, associate professor in the Chinese Department at Peking University, who also just happens to be the 73rd generation descendant of Confucius (Kǒng Fūzǐ 孔夫子 ; Kǒng Qiū 孔丘), or at least he claims to be a descendant of Confucius. We might, then, interpret his name, Kŏng Qìngdōng 孔庆东, as "Scion of Confucius who Celebrates the East". He also goes by the moniker Kǒng héshàng 孔和尚 ("Monk Kong"), which is laughably ironic.

Kŏng Qìngdōng was also in the news recently as one of the judges for the Confucius Peace Prize that was awarded to Vladimir Putin and for representing the First Sage at the ceremony.

Kŏng Qìngdōng is notorious for using foul language and for inciting violence, so much so that last November Peking University students circulated a petition requesting that school officials dismiss him for being a danger to the public and an embarrassment to the University.

This is certainly not the first time that Kŏng Qìngdōng has uttered profanities and made threats.

Aside from being a bully and party hack, Kong Qingdong has a checkered past, having participated in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations on behalf of democracy, but then switching over to become an ultra-nationalist and anti-Western polemicist.

The problem with Kŏng Qìngdōng's outrageous antics in the present instance is that they come at a time when relations between Hong Kong and China are strained to the breaking point, and Kong's vitriolic abuse was directed solely and squarely at the people of Hong Kong.

First I shall analyze exactly what he said about the people of Hong Kong that is so insulting, then I shall explain that there is a vital linguistic issue at the basis of his hatred for the people of Hong Kong. I should note that Kong's rant is so inflammatory that many of the websites that carried video recordings of it later took them down because what he said is considered hate speech. The Shanghaiist website has a good video (with English supertitles) of the web news interview in which Kong excoriates Hong Kongers, although sometimes I have not been able to access it.

A few newspapers in the West have reported Kong's incredible stream of abuse against the people of Hong Kong, but the growing friction between the PRC and Hong Kong has gone largely unnoticed by the public at large.

The part of Kong's diatribe that so infuriated practically every citizen of Hong Kong is where he called them "dogs". After Hong Kong erupted with outraged demonstrations against him and China (there are also many other festering issues, some of which I shall touch upon later in this post), Kong backtracked and complained that the media were distorting what he really said, that he never really said "Hong Kong people are dogs" (more on that below). I should mention that Kong's tirade against Hong Kong was prompted by viral videos of a conflict between local passengers on a Hong Kong Metro train and mainlanders who contravened regulations by eating noodles on the subway.

So, let us see what Kong actually said.

At 0:42-43 of the video that appears above, Kong states that Hong Kong people who do not recognize themselves as Chinese are used to serving as the "running dogs" of the British imperialists: "dāng zǒugǒu dāng guànle 当走狗当惯了".

This is immediately followed at 0:45 by the accusation that still to this day "they're all dogs" and "you're not human": "dào xiànzài dōu shì gǒu 到现在都是狗" (N.B. the subtitles on this video are not entirely accurate, hence my transcription may vary slightly from what is in the subtitles) "nǐmen bùshì rén 你们不是人".

Immediately on the heels of that last accusation comes another rephrasing of the assertion that Hong Kong people are dogs: "Wǒ zhīdào Xiānggǎng yǒu hěnduō rén shì hǎorén, dànshì yǒu hěnduō Xiānggǎng rén zhìjīn háishì gǒu 我知道香港有很多人是好人,但是有 很多香港人至今还是狗。" ("I know that there are many good people in Hong Kong, but there are many Hong Kong people who still today are dogs").

Kong then at 1:12 reiterates with extraordinary vehemence that many Hong Kong people are dogs: "Wǒ zàicì shuō, Xiānggǎng rén hěnduō shì gǒu 我再次说,香港人很多是狗!" ("I repeat, as for Hong Kong people, many of them are dogs"). The form of this topic-comment denunciation is irregular and is calculated to put maximum emphasis on the word gǒu 狗 ("dog") at the end of the exclamation. Even someone who does not know Chinese can hear the angry stress that Kong applies to the word gǒu 狗 ("dog") at the end of the sentence. He achieves this not only through the unusual syntax of the sentence, but also by altering the third tone so that it rises higher than it normally would, and by his finger-pointing gesture and bobbing head.

Putting Xiānggǎng 香港 at the beginning of the sentence also follows the rhythms of the previous clauses, several of which begin with Xiānggǎng 香港.

The normal word order of the blast at 1:12 would be "Wǒ zàicì shuō, hěnduō Xiānggǎng rén shì gǒu 我再次说,很多香港人是狗!" ("I repeat, many Hong Kong people are dogs").

In a follow-up program, Kong claims that he never said "Xiānggǎng rén shì gǒu 香港人是狗" ("Hong Kong people are dogs"), which is true. He actually said, "Xiānggǎng rén hěnduō shì gǒu 香港人很多是狗!" ("As for Hong Kong people, many of them are dogs!"), and other variations on that theme.

In Western society, where dogs are man's best friend, it might not be a terrible insult to call someone a "dog", but in China, where dogs are eaten and kicked around (except by pet owners and lovers), calling someone a "dog" and saying that they are not "human" is about as vicious an insult as one can imagine. Many people who have watched this video of Kong's fulminations — both Chinese and Westerners alike — feel that Kong is more despicable than any dog, except perhaps for the meanest pit bulls, to which he bears a remarkable resemblance.

Let us move on to the linguistic issue that lies at the heart of Kong's denunciation of Hong Kongers. Before he gets to the part about Hong Kong people being dogs, he decries their unwillingness to speak Mandarin and insistence upon speaking Cantonese. Here I shall give only a rough English translation-summary of the relevant portion, but — to save labor and space — will forego transcription of the Mandarin.

"Two different kinds of language; this detail that you mention is very important. One is Mandarin, the other is a topolect. Right, huh? Mandarin speakers don't have any responsibility or necessity for mastering any of the topolects. Right, huh? Chinese people have a responsibility to speak Mandarin, but they don't have any responsibility to speak any of the topolects, such as Northeastern topolect, Sichuanese, Pekingese, Tianjinese. Right, huh? Maybe you can only master the topolect of the area where you grew up, the mother tongue of your homeland. You have no responsibility to speak the topolect of some other area. But every person, huh, has a responsibility to speak Mandarin. Huh? But what do you do when you meet someone who speaks a topolect that is different from yours? Both sides should speak Mandarin. Huh! What sort of person stubbornly refuses to speak Mandarin? Bastard! [wángbādàn 王八蛋] They certainly must have some other purpose in mind. For example, Hong Kong people, do you accept that they are Chinese? But according to what I know, many Hong Kong people don't consider themselves to be Chinese. When they open their mouths, they say, 'We Hong Kongers, you Chinese.' They are bastards!"

From here, Kong starts to lambast the Hong Kong people for being "running dogs" of the British imperialists, and so forth, which I have already covered above.

These sentiments, the anger and indignation over the alleged stubborn resistance of topolect speakers to speak Mandarin, are directed not just at Cantonese, but also against Shanghainese and anyone else who allegedly refuses to speak Mandarin. Having visited Hong Kong scores of times and having lived there for longer periods up to a year, I can verify that there are many people in Hong Kong who don't speak any Mandarin or speak it very poorly. Kong Qingdong must be extraordinarily obtuse if he thinks that everybody in Hong Kong or elsewhere in China can speak Mandarin.

The conflicts over language and eating in subway cars are just two of a multitude of frictional issues that exist between Mainlanders and Hong Kongers. The causes of tension between the two groups are endless: Mainlanders coming in droves to have their babies in Hong Kong hospitals and buying up safe milk powder for their children, soaring real estate, favoritism toward mainlanders at Dolce & Gabbana, the rule of law (which Kong Qingdong scoffs at and says that only an uncivilized people like Hong Kongers needed to have imposed upon them by the British imperialists), and so on.

The atmosphere in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as expressed by one of my most thoughtful and sensitive friends there, does not bode well for the future:

The suffocating feeling I get, both literally and figuratively, when having to wait four trains at the Admiralty Station just to cross over to Tsim Sha Tsui, or doing a breast-stroke walk through a sea of sneaker-shopping teenagers in Mong Kok at eleven in the evening, is of 1.3 billion Chinese desperately trying to squeeze themselves onto Hong Kong territory for the freedom, decency, opportunity and prosperity it still has to offer, while, at the same time, this freedom, decency, opportunity and prosperity is gradually being eroded and curtailed with each passing day. I think the conflict and resentment between Mainlanders and Hong Kong people can be traced back to this untenable situation.

Whatever happens in the coming years, we can be sure that language issues will be at the center of the controversies between Mainlanders and Hong Kongers.

[Thanks to Joel Martinsen, Bob Bauer, Arif Dirlik, Perry Link, Haitao Tang, Mandy Chan, Genevieve Leung, Nelson Ching, Erling Hoh, Leander Seah, Bonlap Chan, Bin Qing Zheng, Maiheng Dietrich, Zhou Ying, Gianni Wan, Jing Wen, Rebecca Fu, Jiajia Wang, Zhao Lu, Sijie Ren, Denis Mair, and Brendan O'Kane]


  1. Jamie Hopkings said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    I'd like to make sure I've got this right. Kong is claiming that Hong Kongers know how to speak Mandarin, but irresponsibly refuse to do so. Is that it?

  2. Tezuk said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    In the subway incident Kong is talking about, the local Hong Konger did tell the Mainlanders that eating is prohibited in Mandarin (Kong didn't bother finding out the full story)! The Mainlanders laughed at his Mandarin pronunciation and that is when the argument broke out and also when the camera began to record.

    The story according to the man himself is in the link below(lots of HK people now consider him a hero). It is a shame Kong has exacerbated an already difficult situation


  3. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

    "Dog" is supposed to be a pretty bad insult in Arabic too. And in English we have "bitch." I wonder how much the offensiveness of these words really has to do with attitudes towards the animals themselves.

  4. Matt said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

    I found your translation of "方言" (I think) as "topolect" quite thought-provoking. Obviously there are major problems with the characterization of Cantonese and so on as "dialects" of Chinese, but the use of "topolect" lends Kong's words an air of technical sophistication and scientific objectivity that does not seem at all deserved. An equivalent rant in English would surely be about "dialects" — in fact I would be surprised if someone with such narrow views on the issue even knew the word "toplect."

  5. Ian F. said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

    A Cantonese-American friend of mine showed this to me. Truly disgusting.

  6. arthur waldron said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    From a broad historical viewpoint, we are not far from 1918 when northern dialect became standard by accident, when a switch in voting rules led the southerners to leave the language unification meetings. (Incidentally one of the northerners mistook a southerner's saying of 黃包車 for 王八蛋 and prepared for fisticuffs–this is all in DeFrancis, 1950 I have not yet seen Elisabeth Kaske on all this–looks like a must read). So difference over topolects and inability to enforce a single one is an old and highly conflictual story.

    But to descend to the stuff at which Victor ALSO excels, what about the "right, huh?" that Kong repeats in his offensive, heavily accented (He is Harbin born) diatribe? I have heard in the past, repeatedly now that I think of it, always from Mandarin speakers, as a form of rhetorical emphasis and assertion of authority. I would love to hear Victor's syntactic analysis of how this works. It is very much the language in which you make an offer that cannot be refused.

    (The point about the third tone in gou is brilliant, incidentally. I think we have a lot to learn here about how Mandarin is spoken in a way that projects power.

    Did anyone else notice that Shanghai Airlines is now making cabin announcements in Shanghainese? The Expo, which was basically Beijing and foreign run seems to have left a bad taste. And now that the Shanghainese are again the richest people in China, they are unlikely to take kindly to instruction from their 土 northern neighbors.

    China is getting richer. That strengthens local identity, as Karl W. Deutsch taught us way back in 1953. I used to cringe at the lack of sophistication of early c20 commentators who analyzed factional conflicts in China in regional terms–the "Cantonese" (KMT) the "Northerners" (Beiyang) etc.–ignorant as they seemed to be of Political Science and Ideology. Now I think they were on to something.

    Once at Princeton the Chinese Community got into a snit about whether to join the Third World Center. Some said yes, some said no. That great sage of our field, Tom Bartlett, finally observed to me: "Arthur, I have this figured out. It is a fight between the Cantonese and the Shanghainese." He was right. I have a feeling the Beijingese and the bureaucracy that is so full of arrogant Mandarin speakers are going to start to feel some heat.

  7. Dean Barrett said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

    I lived in Hong Kong for 17 years and in New York City for 14 years and saw some of this kind of thing. In Queens, NY, I sometimes taught English to Chinese immigrants or students and there was always a bully like this asshole who blamed Taiwan agents for any act on the mainland against the government.

  8. Keith said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

    There was a article in the current issue of the Economist about this:

    "That’s what mainlanders are like" is a nice phrase. Almost British in its understated condescension.

    A shame that "Ah Chan" and "Kong Chan" were printed without tone marks.


  9. Victor Mair said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

    From a Hong Kong friend:

    Someone hit the nail on the head when he mentioned Kong being a 东北人 [VHM: Northeasterner]! I don't want to post this comment because I have friends and colleagues from the region who act nothing like him. However, time and again, those mainlanders who go "發爛咋" (you may hear some Hong Kongers say it in English "Falanja" for comedic affect!!! [VHM: see note below on the meaning of FALANJA] on HK streets and airport are almost always from 东北 [VHM: the Northeast]. I don't know why this is the case but this may go back to my previous comment about "psychological projection" — their complaints about how other people may have stemmed from 1) their own insecurities about themselves, and/or 2) the attitude and discrimination they receive from others. 东北人 [VHM: Northeasterners] are stereotypically perceived as loud, not so sophisticated and sometimes rude (but according to 东北人 [VHM: Northeasterners] this is 豪爽 [VHM: "forthright"], not rude!). A dongbei [VHM: Northeastern] girl once pointed to my face and told me that "you people (as in Cantonese) eat rats!" They always like to say "没有中央接济香港,你们全完蛋了!" [VHM: If it weren't for the Central Government giving (economic) assistance to Hong Kong, you'd be totally done for!] I actually feel sorry for people like Kong, because he must be suffering from massive internal turmoil!!

    FALANJA: http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/scripts/editlog.htm?filter=%E7%99%BC%E7%88%9B%E6%B8%A3

  10. Victor Mair said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

    From a long-term resident of Hong Kong:

    Despite living in Hong Kong for 17 years, I don't really speak that much Cantonese but sometimes on the mainland when I say I can speak some Cantonese (I can only swear in it basically as I was married to a Chinese in HK) they ask me to speak it. I switch from Mandarin into Cantonese and they are shocked! astonished! and in Yunnan even applauded. They even seemed a bit frightened as Cantonese can be a very harsh loud dialect or whatever it is. One woman told me my entire face and attitude and personality changed when I switched into Cantonese. And I began to realize just how different the mindsets of Chinese people are and the language reflects that. I mean, Ni chu nar? or Ni chu nali? in Mandarin for where are you going and then switch over to Nay way bindo aaaaaaaaHHHH? to say the same thing. Different languages, different mindsets, etc.

    And once leaving my hotel in a taxi early morning in Wanchai a young woman came to the taxi window when I was at a red light, apparently to persuade me to go with her. I asked the driver what was that about and he said "Mainland trash."

  11. Victor Mair said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

    From another long-term resident of Hong Kong:

    HK people can hit back!


  12. Victor Mair said,

    February 7, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

    Kong Decheng 孔德成: genuine 77th lineal descendant of Confucius, born in the Kong family mansion at Qufu in Shandong
    Put this in Google Images: 孔德成
    I knew Kong Decheng personally and he was nothing at all like Kong Qingdong, the alleged 73rd generation descendant of Confucius, born in the Northeast
    Put this in Google Images: 孔庆东

  13. John said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 2:47 am

    There is no such thing as a "Hong Kong citizen", only Chinese citizens with a Hong Kong passport. Lots of these are "mainlanders" too, since anyone from the mainland who has HK$10 million can get a HK passport by buying a house in HK. I suppose it is more likely that someone with $10 million to spare, when many PRC residents live in poverty, is not the most scrupulous of people and may represent the epitome of the "mainlander" stereotype.

    Many Hong Kong residents obtained a British National (Overseas) passport before the handover to the PRC, but that does not give the right to live in the UK and the benefits of this passport have been decreasing over the years (for example, they previously could get certain UK visas for free). So lots of these people have switched to the HK passport, thus declaring themselves PRC citizens. This is the complete opposite of remaining '"running dogs" of the British imperialists'.

    On the other hand, it is interesting that the HK Chief Executive (the highest politico), Sir Donald Tsang, remains a full British citizen. Of course, he doesn't want to upset the Central Govt in his last 5 months of office, otherwise the "mainlander problem" could easily be solved by allowing only HK passport holders to pass on their status, rather than anyone born in HK (which leads to the ridiculous situation where an HK father and a mainland mother cannot have their child in HK unless they call the emergency services).

  14. Simon P said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 3:39 am

    As a long-time student of Cantonese I make a point of avoiding Mandarin in HK, supporting the use of written Cantonese, etc. As the suppression of the non-Mandarin topolects continues, Hong Kong is the strongest bastion of resistance. I speak a couple of different languages, but Cantonese is without doubt the one that's the most fun to speak.

  15. Bob Violence said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 6:56 am

    On the other hand, it is interesting that the HK Chief Executive (the highest politico), Sir Donald Tsang, remains a full British citizen.

    You sure about this? The Basic Law states that the Chief Executive can't have right of abode in a foreign country. It would be a strange sort of full citizenship that doesn't provide any right of abode.

  16. Mark Etherton said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 7:21 am

    Perhaps Sir Donald has a British National (Overseas) passport. This is a category created by the Hong Kong Act 1985 and specifically does not include the right of abode in the UK.

  17. Bob Violence said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    Right, but it also doesn't include any UK citizenship at all, full or otherwise (it's a Commonwealth citizenship). Perhaps there's some category of British citizenship that doesn't come with right of abode, though that doesn't seem very "full" to me.

  18. Boyang Xia said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 8:07 am

    Having read many comments on the topic, I was first upset by the ignorance and hatred (of both sides). Now I am just very sad by the state of the affair.

    That story certainly dwarfs the so-called culture war in the States.

  19. Mark Etherton said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 8:44 am

    @Bob Violence

    Of course you're right about BN(O). But the UK Border Agency clearly says that "All British citizens have the right of abode in the UK."; perhaps there's a confusion over "Commonwealth citizen and British national", which someone with a BN(O) is, and "British citizen", which they are not. Or perhaps it's simply wrong to say Sir Donald Tseung is a full British citizen.

  20. Terry Collmann said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 10:41 am

    John – There is no such thing as a "Hong Kong citizen", only Chinese citizens with a Hong Kong passport.

    Ah, but there IS such a thing as "Hong Kong permanent resident" status, which anyone born in HK or who has lived there for seven years is entitled to, and which you don't have to have Chinese nationality to enjoy (and which all those mainland mums rushing to give birth in HK are after for their children). And in addition, Chinese citizens with Hong Kong passports still have to have a "home return permit" to get across the border between HK and "the mainland". So I'm sure "on the ground" it seems to Hong Kongers, with their own ID cards and their inability to travel to mainland China without a permit, that they are not "Chinese citizens" in the way that someone from, say, Shanghai or Guangzhou is, and even after nearly 15 years I'm sure they feel at least a degree of separation.

    Incidentally, the recorded announcements on the Hong Kong MTR that eating and drinking are banned are made in Cantonese, then Putonghua and then English, at least once every five minutes. There are also posters in every carriage saying the same thing. So those mainlanders could not have been unaware that they should not have been eating.

  21. Jerome Chiu said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    @Victor Mair

    The "Hong Kong people" who "hit back" are specifically members of the famous (some would say notorious) Hong Kong Golden Forum. I don't agree with their position on this issue (just as I tend not to agree with them in general), but they remain the most interesting netizens and forum dwellers in Hong Kong – by a mile.

    Things are developing fast, and here in Hong Kong our attention are now drawn to the proposed "cross-boundary private cars ad hoc quota trial scheme" 大陸自駕遊, and it isn't difficult to imagine how an average Hongkonger would react to it.

    This piece of satire is found in that forum, and has been crosspost here. The post itself is an entertaining read, but it's also instructive to look at some of the comments.

    The West-Bound Haruki Murakami 向西村上春樹 is the author's username in the Golden Forum, which he has chosen to stick with when he published All the Way to the West《一路向西》, a collection of short pieces he first post in the Forum together with the story that made his name: "Dongguan Wood" 東莞的森林.

  22. Jerome Chiu said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    Oooops, the links don't show, so:

    "This piece of satire" (link to Hong Kong Golden Forum):

    "crosspost here" (link to author's Facebook page):

  23. Victor Mair said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    Here is a video of one of the protests against Mainland Mothers giving birth in Hong Kong hospitals:


  24. Victor Mair said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

    It's no wonder that we're starting to hear the term gǒurú 狗儒 ("Dog Confucian") being used in reference to a certain type of person.

    BTW, there is a lot of suspicion being expressed over whether Kong Qingdong is really a descendant of Confucius. Consider carefully the information provided here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3752#comment-169012

  25. Mandy Chan said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

    @Jerome Chiu

    Well said, Hong Kong Golden Forum represents the opposite spectrum of the Hong Kong population. The best tactic to deal with these attention-grabbing idiots is simply to ignore them.

    My ancestors had been living in Hong Kong before there was a Hong Kong – I'm all for Hong Kong for Hong Kong people, nevertheless, I don't have any problems with mainland people wanting to migrant to Hong Kong to have a better life (afterall, Hong Kong IS part of China now); but please pay the hospital bills and please understand that ER is not the place to give birth. Yes, Hong Kong people are ethnically Chinese, but it doesn't mean that we have the responsibility to raise other Chinese people's kids. If people are queuing up for service, don't curse and push others out of the way. If your suitcase ran over someone's foot, all you need to do is to say "sorry" – it's really not that hard to do. Hong Kong people do these things for a reason and these rules are not that difficult to follow.

    That said, I think Kong spilled his venom at the wrong target – it's not that Hong Kong people are dogs, it's the Hong Kong officials that are dogs. 自駕遊 will start next month – tell me WHY this is necessary? I'm not even talking about how mainland drivers drive (hmm…) but the fact that there are already enough cars and traffic jams in Hong Kong as it is, now Hong Kong people may need to run for their lives (literally) to avoid getting hurt.

    Who think of stuff like this? Not the regular Hong Kong people, not mainland folks and possibly not the central government, but those 香港狗官 who would do anything and everything to kiss up to Beijing. If they are not kissing up to the central government, then the only reason I can think of is that perhaps the Hong Kong government wants to raise revenues by giving out more parking tickets.

    While it's true that some unruly mainland tourists are the causes for some of these problems, many of these issues (such as mainland mothers giving birth in HK hospitals) can simply be resolved by asking for a reinterpretation of the Basic Laws. What these 香港狗官 does is to exacerbate an already tense situation, instead of doing something useuful to help solve social tension.

    With regards to the Mandarin issue – I was born and raised in Hong Kong and I don't remember there was ever a real resistance against learning Mandarin. Of course, there is now because it's become not only a language/communication issue, but an identity one. The reason why many Hong Kong people (particularly the pre-1997 generation) don't speak Mandarin is that because they really do not speak it. Mandarin was never in the school curriculum. It was not until about 5 years ago that I worked in the mainland that I started picking up Mandarin. I still don't speak it well. In my first year learning Mandarin, I couldn't open my mouth without being laughed at and without being lectured at "you're from Hong Kong and you don't speak putonghua?" as if I'm less of a Chinese because I don't speak it. I never have a "superiority" issue with Cantonese and English – it's just a matter of convenience because those two languages happen to be the medium that I have the greatest comfort in expressing myself. It's the Mandarin-speakers who turn this into a big deal. If you simply tell Hong Kong people to "please learn Mandarin" without all these emotional judgement being mixed into it, they will go learn it.

    Speaking Mandarin, waving PRC flag and making all these 愛國 battle cries do not necessarily make a person more patriotic – it's the real action, what have you done to help your country that counts. But I guess it's hard to reason with people who only see everything in zero-sum term. I don't wish Kong Qingdong harm, I just hope he'd go away. Despite being the number 1 institution in China, Beida still has a long way to go to become a truly world class international instituation, perhaps they need to get rid of people like him.

    Lu Xun says this eloquently: 那種表面上扮著『革命』的面孔,而輕易誣陷為『內奸,為『反革命』,為『托派』,以至為『漢奸』者,大半不是正路人

  26. Boyang Xia said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

    @Victor Mair

    As in biological descendant of Confucius? I assume it is very hard — if not impossible — to determine genetically, and you certainly can't judge by a comparison of facial features.
    I don't see why residency in a certain place is a proof of being a genuine descendant of Confucius, even though it's a good evidence. On the other hand, many, if not all, of the Han people living in Northeastern come from Zhongyuan during the Qing Dynasty, especially from Shandong.

    But the most important point is: Why do we care? Confucius was a great philosopher, for sure. But as far as I know, greatness and prestige are not hereditary.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

    @Boyang Xia

    I have no problem agreeing with most of what you say, but the main thing I was hoping for is that someone would note the discrepancy between Kong Decheng, who was much older than Kong Qingdong, being the 77th lineal descendant of Confucius, and Kong Qingdong claiming to be the 73rd generation descendant of the First Sage.

  28. John Swindle said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

    If Confucius was born in 551BCE, that implies average generation times of 32.1 years for Kong Decheng (77th generation descendant born 1920) and 34.5 years for Kong Qingdong (73rd generation descendant born 1964). Long in either case, but Confucius did preach restraint.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    February 8, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

    @John Swindle

    Yes, definitely long in either case:


    Makes you wonder why Kong Qingdong's ancestors consistently practiced so much more restraint than Kong Decheng's, especially if they were both from the same original stock.

    I would also like to raise the issue of what evidence Kong Qingdong can adduce for being related to Confucius, other than that he bears the surname Kong.

    Kong Decheng's genealogical bona fides are as good as they come. If you ever go to the Kong family mansion in Qufu, you can see the room where he was born and grew up (at least that's the way it was the last time I went, about 15 years ago). See ¶2 here: http://www.orientalarchitecture.com/china/qufu/kongmansion.php and ¶6 here: http://teachinqufu.coachdevelop.com/ Etc.

  30. Jerome Chiu said,

    February 9, 2012 @ 3:11 am

    @Mandy Chan

    You've said much, if not all, of what I would or could have said here but decided against for fear of an "I'll get me coat" moment. Now that I've read it, with due admiration, I've realized that it's much more "on-topic" than it seems.

    On the one hand, it's difficult to maintain our composure and see through the mist that clouds our emotion. Separate issues are best dealt with separately. And pragmatically. And cool-headedly. All easier said than done.

    On the other hand, if the sentiments are there, then we need to, not matter how reluctantly, recognize at least their existence, and then address them. Some of these sentiments may be irrational, or hateful, or reflections of one's selfishness, barbarism, and inhumanity; but we need to do more than calling them for what they are. Probably much more than that. Again, easier said than done.

    As for those idiots from the Golden Forum – you'd probably have noticed that I described them as "most interesting … in Hong Kong … by a mile". Although they have never been a homogeneous group, their place in the history of Hong Kong popular culture is assured, and this for some of the most unexpected reasons – just as the old Wong Kee of Gerrard Street London was famous for all the unexpected reasons.

    The short piece by the West-Bound Murakami is brutal and cynical; but it's also brilliant. It represents Hongkongers' brilliant ability to humorously turn anything made of solemn gravity into cynical and sometimes brutal lightness.

  31. Weisse said,

    February 9, 2012 @ 5:33 am

    @Prof. Mair and John Swindle,

    Age is not a problem for deciding x-th generation that one belongs to. Only the generation in the 家谱 family tree book counts. The compiling of家谱 has been an constant effort of big families since 魏晋时期 about 3-4th century AD and the books are fairly reliable in most cases.

    Kong Qingdong doesn't appear in 孔子家谱 Confucious Family book at Qufu, and is not able to provide solid proof, such as a branch family book, to prove himself to be from the lineage of a lost family branch. Therefore, according to the traditions since 魏晋时期, he's only self-claimed and fake.

    following factors could change signifantly the age differences between family branches:
    1/ 少年成婚 晚年得子 mariage at an early age and having a child late
    2/ 过继 giving one's son to someone else in the family so that the latter's family branch would continue

  32. John said,

    February 9, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    Sorry, I was mistaken about Donald Tsang's citizenship. I thought he was one of the elite 50,000 that were given British citizenship to make them stay in Hong Kong.


    Wong Kee of Gerrard Street London

    Actually, they spell it Wong Kei. I wonder why 记 is usually spelled Kee (or sometimes Ki) in HK.

  33. Susan Blum said,

    February 9, 2012 @ 7:43 am

    It is worth comparing this to other settings where ideologies of multilingualism exist, such as (to take a random example) in the US. Here we–or a sizable portion of the population–don't want to hear or acknowledge the existence of languages other than English. People attribute all kinds of negative characteristics to speakers of other languages: stupidity, malice, secrecy. Attitudes toward linguistic difference are usually just vehicles for attitudes toward the people who speak those languages. As all the comments on this piece have shown, there are enormous tensions now between the mainland and Hong Kong, exacerbated by inequalities of varying sorts (cultural capital, income, rights). Singapore has moved from a situation of "dialects" to one in which Mandarin is the major variety used in education, along with English. It will be fascinating and instructive to see what happens in Hong Kong. More people do seem to be wanting their children to learn Putonghua, for practical but not necessarily for patriotic reasons. If we ever get a "Putonghua-only" style movement, then we'll know something really worrisome is occurring. And it could.

  34. Victor Mair said,

    February 9, 2012 @ 8:19 am

    @ Susan Blum

    Not very random (i.e., too obvious), Susan! How about Canada or Mexico or Switzerland or India or…?

  35. Bob Violence said,

    February 10, 2012 @ 7:05 am

    Actually, they spell it Wong Kei. I wonder why 记 is usually spelled Kee (or sometimes Ki) in HK.

    Some 19th-century Cantonese dictionaries give the pronunciation as ki — see here — so presumably Ki/Kee reflects an older pronunciation and/or a non-HK variety of Cantonese (the linked dictionary purport to be based on Guangzhou dialect). The introduction notes that some ki words are "pronounced " (ê = ei), so a shift may have already been in progress at the time.

  36. Claw said,

    February 11, 2012 @ 4:38 am

    @John and @Bob: Yep, I actually remarked on this phenomenon in a comment on an earlier LL post (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3344#comment-132809):

    There are other Cantonese dialects that continue to pronounce /-i/ though, as can be heard in this YouTube video. It's apparent at 0:17 when he pronounces 企定定响道 (the subtitles render it in MSM: 一動不動站着) as /kʰi tɪŋ tɪŋ hœŋ tou/ and the children repeat after him saying /kʰei tɪŋ tɪŋ hœŋ tou/.

  37. LOLZ said,

    February 12, 2012 @ 2:14 am

    I am surprised the issue (friction between locals and mainlanders) took this long to heat up. The conflict is not much different than the friction between HK immigrants and local Canadians around 1997. The Canadians (mostly in Vancouver and Toronto) even have the same arguments against HKers (running up real estate costs, general rudeness, anti-social behavior, etc).

    The missing context here is that many HKers have been discriminating against mainlanders for decades now. "Mainlander" is a pejorative in the local language. The older generation of mainlanders in HK were able to tolerate this mostly because they had no power or wealth. Most of them were able to successfully blend in because they had to. Some of new generation of mainlanders in HK on the other hand have plenty of wealth, and the local HK officials bend over for them. So when they sense that the local HKers were looking down at them (the bigotry is obvious), the mainlanders would naturally push back. The conflict arise from the fact that HKers feel they are superior to mainlanders, whereas the later feel that they are equals.

  38. perspectivehere said,

    February 15, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

    Another scholarly reference is here, from Chalmers Johnson, Revolutionary Change (Stanford University Press 1982):

    "The revolutionary association now displays hostility not only toward its ideologically defined enemy but also toward nonparticipating by ideologically included members of the action party. Such persons will be branded as traitors (e.g., "Uncle Toms," "social fascists," "running dogs")."


    (sorry for the URL gobbledygook)

  39. perspectivehere said,

    February 15, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

    The "running dog = Uncle Tom" usage appears to be widespread even now in the English-speaking / commonwealth world. The reference below appears in a 2010 news article in Malaysia (former British colony) with comment from a professor at Monash University (Australia – a former British penal colony):


    Perkasa may rope in 'Uncle Toms'
    WED, 15 SEP 2010 12:32
    By Stephanie Sta Maria
    KUALA LUMPUR: Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali's plan to team up with non-Malays in the next general election could become a reality, said an observer.

    Monash University's Prof James Chin told FMT that non-Malay “Uncle Toms” might gravitate towards the Malay right-wing movement.

    (Uncle Tom is used to describe a black person who behaves in a subservient manner to white people.)

    “These are Chinese and Indians who think they have to accept 'Ketuanan Melayu' in order to support their country. They are what the Chinese call a running dog,” said Chin.

    “The non-Malays who voted for Pakatan Rakyat but considered giving (Prime Minister) Najib Tun Razak's reforms a chance have now gone deeper into Pakatan's fold because of Perkasa,” he added."

  40. perspectivehere said,

    February 15, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

    Victor Mair wrote:

    "In Western society, where dogs are man's best friend, it might not be a terrible insult to call someone a "dog", but in China, where dogs are eaten and kicked around (except by pet owners and lovers), calling someone a "dog" and saying that they are not "human" is about as vicious an insult as one can imagine. Many people who have watched this video of Kong's fulminations — both Chinese and Westerners alike — feel that Kong is more despicable than any dog, except perhaps for the meanest pit bulls, to which he bears a remarkable resemblance."

    Except that people who are familiar with the meaning of the term "running dog" and its usage will recognize that the precise meaning of the insult.

    The intended meaning becomes clearer when translated into English as "Hong Kong people are Uncle Toms!" or "Hong Kong people are colonial lapdogs!" or "Hong Kong People are poodles!"

    running dog: lackey; an unprincipled person who helps or flatters other, more powerful and often evil people; similar in this sense to the English word lapdog"

  41. Sai said,

    February 21, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

    The conflict between the people of Hong Kong, back when I was growing up there, when they were mostly Cantonese, has always existed. As I had a northern Mandarin-speaking father and a part-Cantonese mother, it always upset me when a street hawker would try and cheat my father when he was not with us locals – his children. Thus, a lot of Chinese did actually prefer whites because the northerners did not have to worry about being cheated by them and the Cantonese were afraid of cheating them the way they treated their fellow Chinese from the north.

  42. Mainlander said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 3:17 am

    cantonese is just like the ebonics of the chinese language.

    ebonics is the dialect or vernacular form of American English spoken by a large proportion of African Americans. it developed from contacts between African langauges and nonstandard varieties of colonial English spoken by white americans in the southern states(the cotton plantation states where the african slaves worked). ebonics is used in the home or for day-to-day communication rather than for formal occasions. It typically diverges most from standard American English when spoken by people with low levels of education.

    cantonese is a dialect of chinese spoken by a large proportion of ppl living in the southern most area(guangdong and guangxi) of china. it is developed from contacts between southern indigenous languages (such as vietnamese, zhuang, tai,etc) and nonstandard colloquial chineses spoken by migrant chinese(such as soldiers and prisoners) from central china. its accent and spoken form is more influenced by the indigenous languages as the chinese migrants married the southern indigenous women and their children’s speech is more influenced by their mother’s tongue than father’s (which is why cantonese accent actually sounds more similar to vietnamese and thai than other chinese dialects). they adopt the written form of standard chinese as none of the indigenous languages had developed a written form. as a result the spoken form and the written form have never been compatible. vietnamese used to adopt chinese characters for writing before the french came.

    the warm weather in the south and the segregation of the cantonese-speaking area from the rest of china by mountains slow down the evolution of the language (as well as the ppl's brain and look there), making cantonese one of the least evolved regional dialects of the chinese language. less evolved means the language is less well regulated and less well developed and its pronouciation less pleasant to ears, which is why cantonese sounds harsh to many foreign ears. it has always been the least respected dialect in china and its accent is often mocked meanspiritedly. the connotations tagged on cantonese have hardly ever been positive. for example, the cantonese language and its speakers are often viewed as being less civilized by other chinese.

    despite hong kong’s success has little to do with the cantonese language or its culture, the glory might have given a bit twist of fate for cantonese but its destined to be only delusional and short-lived unless the cantonese ppl can upgrade their gene pool to become aesthetically appealing enough to project cultural influences to the other chinese. it has never happened in the last 2000 years though.

    the cultural centres in china has always been along the yellow river(xi'an, luoyang,kaifeng, beijing, ji'nan) and the yangzi(or changjiang) river(hanzhou, nanjing, shanghai). pearl river delta has always been the recieving end of cultural influence from the north through out history. in the last 1000yrs, half of the time china was ruled by horseback nomads from the north(mongol 200yrs, manchu 300yrs), whereas the southern tribes were never considered as any serious threat by central china. many southerners were even driven off their homeland to further south.

    if one wonders why cantonese is widely spoken among overseas chinese communities, some background check on the history of chinese emigration should help. a couple hundred yrs back, chinese were still non-migratory ppl and would not seek fortunes away from homeland unless they were driven desperate. most of the early chinese emigrants to the west represented the lowest level of human resources in china.

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