Mainland or China?

October 8, 2010

Congratulations to Liu Xiaobo for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  Unfortunately, he is under arrest and it’s unclear how he’s going to be able to claim his prize.  The Chinese government is also none too pleased about his win, calling him a “criminal”, which I am sure is one of the nicer things that the government could say about him on the record.  But the Chinese government is threatening that Chinese-Norwegian relations could be in trouble due to the issuance of the prize to someone they consider to be subversive.

During my time in Hong Kong, I stumbled upon an interesting, but common distinction when talking with people about my time in China.  I had coffee Monday with one of my former students from SYSU who is doing her PhD in Economics at Hong Kong University.  She kept asking me about my time on the “mainland”, but when I found myself speaking with other friends they refer to my time in Linyi as time spent in “China”.  So some people use “mainland” to refer to make a geographical distinction between Hong Kong and China because they are part of the same country and others use their given names as if it’s a subtle defiance that Hong Kong is really a part of China.  It’s easy to place the line of demarcation for such usage between those who are Chinese nationals and everyone else, but I received a text message from someone from New York who said that they “saw me in China”.  I was pretty sure that it wasn’t in Linyi that this sighting took place, so I texted back and asked if he meant Hong Kong.  He did and it made me wonder not only what the heck someone from home was doing in Hong Kong the same time I was there, but also why he was referring to Hong Kong as China.  Perhaps I am old-fashioned and thus refuse to call Hong Kong “China”, even though it is technically a part of China through the whole “one country, two systems” framework.  But spend time in Hong Kong and it feels so far from China, even with all of the Mandarin on the streets these days.  Hong Kong is not China, but tell that to someone from the mainland and they will insist that it is a part of China.  I know logically that it is a part of China, but maybe it’s my Western mindset that prevents me from being able to bring myself to refer to it as such.

View of Midlevels from new IFC Mall

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