Warning: this post is a rant. It is subjective and probably contains nothing but anecdotes, personal observations, exaggerations, and straw men. There is nothing scientific about it. Take it with a generous sprinkling of salt. I also make no guarantee that it is coherent.
Before I begin, I need to let you know where I'm coming from: I'm Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Montréal, Canada until I got my B.Eng degree. For the last 14 years, I've been living and working in Hong Kong and Dongguan.
Three weeks ago I was reading Steve Yegge’s "Hurricane China" and I had an uneasy feeling throughout, which I could not explain at the time. And then the next morning, it suddenly clicked : "Hurricane China" applies not only to Americans, but also to the young generation of Hong Kongers, except in a weird way. For a long time, I’ve had thoughts similar to the author’s, I just couldn’t put them in as eloquent words as the author did.
From my observations, a lot of Hong Kongers (mostly young ones, but also some old ones) hate China, but they, just like the Americans mentioned by the author, don't seem to be doing anything useful about it. They protest, they bad mouth China in online forums, and then ... nothing. I said "weird" in the previous paragraph because, unlike Americans, Hong Kongers cannot be expected to really compete with China - HK is China now. Even disregarding the political aspect, we are the same nationality/ethnic groups from a cultural/anthropological standpoint.
China is not just coming to HK. China has been here officially since 1997, and probably already in real terms since waaaay before 1997 because, you know, so many HK businesses depend on factories they’ve set up in Shenzhen and Dongguan since Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening of China. “You wanna bad mouth China? We shut your fucking factory down.”
A lot of HK students don't realise just how fucked they are. My brother in law is a PhD candidate in oncology in Wuhan and he told me a story that highlights just how competitive they are now, compared to the rest of the world. To protect the identity of the people involved, I'm not going to give any name, so you'll just have to take my words for it. A few years ago, his university invited top researchers and doctors in the field to do some live surgery demo sessions during an exhange summit on gastric cancer. They had two Chinese teams and a Japanese team operate in three separate operating theatres. The Chinese tams finished the surgeries cleanly, with a high level of precision, and quickly! In contrast, the Japanese team was much slower and their assistant surgeon made mistakes that had to be fixed by their lead surgeon. The spectators who were initially watching the Japanese team eventually grew impatient, and a lot of them left before the surgery was finished. It was such an embarrassing event that the Japanese professor who lead the surgery threw a fit at his team. Keep in mind that, due to the life habits of the Japanese people (irregular eating schedule due massive overtime work, smoking, heaving drinking of sake, eating of sashimi), Japan has one of the highest rates of diseases related to the digestive system, especially gastric cancer, and so the Japanese medical field had years and years of research and experience about gastric cancer. They're supposed to be the top at that stuff. And yet they were outdone by the Chinese!
Let’s turn our attention to the local HK space now. A few years ago, I looked at the digital wallet giants like WeChat Pay and Alipay, and then I look at the stupid, fragmented, reactively developed digital wallets by various banks in HK (before the push for FPS by the HK Monetary Authority), and I couldn't help but facepalm. The lion is coming to eat your lamb AND ALL OF YOU! And you're still fighting among yourselves over who gets the lamb's cheek. There was no way the banks were going to win anything. The dust has since settled. McDonald's, being a chain that wants to serve the largest demographics as reasonably possible, is a good benchmark to see which payment systems and digital wallets prevailed. Today, this is what you see as accepted forms of payment at McDonald's:
We see none of the banks having a digital wallet presence in the merchant space. Instead, we see WeChat Pay, AliPay, UnionPay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Octopus, Visa, and MasterCard. Even FPS is nowhere to be found except for personal transfers (e.g. when buying and selling stuff on Carousell or Facebook groups). As a city, our last bastion of pride in the digital wallet space is Octopus, which remains by far the most convenient digital wallet I’ve ever used. The Octopus card allows you to make payments so quickly and reliably that it’s not even funny. You tap the card and it literally pays instantaneously and reliably. However, taxi drivers have been unwilling to adopt Octopus because of the high fees. Visa and MasterCard come second because payment still requires a slow communication with the bank, and the Visa PayWave tech is absolute crap compared to Octopus. It reads the card slowly and unreliably. In contrast, WeChat Pay and AliPay still require fumbling with the phone and scanning QR codes. But WeChat Pay and AliPay don’t charge the merchant a high fees like Octopus does! If AliPay and WeChat Pay fix their payment UX, then Octopus is completely fucked.
Now let’s look at IT in general. When was the last time you heard about or used some really good software library or application developed by a HK company or a bunch of HKers? Exactly. We’ve done fuck all in IT. Do we have programmers and software engineers in HK? Sure we do! But even in IT, we’re just consumers who use the awesome tech developed by people and companies in other countries, to make yet another CRUD or to develop high frequency trading systems so we can pretend to be creating value. In contrast, you see Alibaba, Tencent, DiDi, bilibili, and ant.design ranked among the top 100 organisations on GitHub, based on the number of stars on git repositories. They have contributed to the world widely useful software libraries such as arthas, weui, ncnn, rapidjson, ijkplayer, flv.js, DoraemonKit, and ant-design.
The non-Chinese telecom companies in HK are also completely fucked. Just look at this screenshot:
The signal bars on top are for 3 Hong Kong (3HK), the ones at the bottom are for China Mobile Hong Kong (CMHK). This screenshot was taken inside a busy restaurant in Tsuen Kam Centre. What this shows is the gap in signal strength and coverage between 3HK and CMHK. 3HK is a well-established HK telecom company with a long history that stretches all the way back to 1983. In contrast, CMHK started out as PEOPLES in 1994, ~11 years later than 3HK; it was acquired by China Mobile in October 2005. China Mobile, the current parent company, itself was only founded in 1997, ~14 years later than 3HK. Since the acquisition, China Mobile has been able to heavily invest in and improve its infrastructure in HK. Because China Mobile is fully under the control of the Chinese government, they benefit from being able to buy Chinese 3G/4G (and now 5G) equipment from Huawei/ZTE without arguing about whether there are backdoors. They can probably buy Chinese equipment also with subsidies and discounted prices. Crucially, even if they didn't get any subsidy or discount, China Mobile itself has so much cash that they could just "throw money at it". All of this translates to much better service coverage at a lower cost to the consumer; they have really good signal coverage everywhere that matters (and even places that don't matter): malls, commercial buildings, inside elevators, etc. In contrast, 3HK is now more expensive and has bad signal coverage even in some busy malls; they are often completely absent in elevators. It's so bad that I can't even make a voice call if I sit even slightly far away from a restaurant's entrance. Right now, about the only thing that keeps some HK people loyal customers of HK telecom companies is the fear of eavesdropping by the Chinese government. But even then, nobody actually knows whether the HK telecom companies have already been compromised. Eventually, price and convenience will trump cautiousness and fear, which means CMHK is going to win, massively.
But enough with the anecdotes. There is one crucial difference between the Americans in Steve Yegge's article and the young HKers who hate China, and that is that a lot of the young HKers are actually educated, in the sense that they have at least completed a Bachelor's degree. Yet they, too, don't realise that hating China won't solve anything. Some of them somehow believe that the US and UK shall be their saviours, which is ironic, given what Steve Yegge just described in his essay.
I don't have a solution to offer, except maybe urge the young HKers to stop being consumers. Getting a job and making money doesn't mean you're not a consumer, it doesn't mean you are creating actual value. Stop thinking about buying Rolex, Gucci, LV, or the latest gaming console/gadget. Stop eating meals that cost more than HK$50. Stop acting rich. Save money, band together, and create something with actual societal value, not just value to a bunch of shareholders. If you want to spend money, spend it on books, on your education. I know that's harder said than done. I'm guilty myself. But I remind myself everyday that I need to change, and I remind myself to resist the temptation.
I also recommend that young HKers take another look at the politics of HK, China, and the rest of the world. Why does the US look like a mess under the Trump administration? Is it really in a mess? How do you know? Or how do you know the Uyghur people are really being oppressed by the Chinese government? Who are the people you are listening to? How do they know? What are their motives? Why should they care? Why has China been able grow so much economically? Why can China invest so much in other countries? What's happening with poverty in China? Or environment protection? Ask yourself these questions. Research them, don't jump to conclusions until you have talked to people on both sides of the wall. I'm lucky because my wife is from Hubei and my in-laws can provide me with perspective from different walks of life in China - some of them are doctors of traditional Chinese medicine in rural areas, some of them are medical PhDs in Wuhan, some of them were farmers, some of them civil servants, and some of them entrepreneurs in Lianyungang. Crucially, most of them have seen the transformation of inland China from the banks of the Yangtze River.
My final message is about the same as Steve Yegge's: hating China won't solve anything. Think long, think hard about what you can and should do in this "hurricane". Act, but don't do stupid, symbolic, yet ultimately useless things like Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung did.