The Struggle Of Being A Hongkonger Outside Of Asia

Like all non-white fellows living in an English speaking country, when asked, we give a neat answer, “I’m from Hong Kong.” The answer can never be simpler, yet, somehow people manage to get confused and follow up with bunch of questions that cannot be answered that simply. It happened a gazillion times when I introduce myself to new people. Now for once and for all, let’s clear it up, shall we?



1. So…you are from China, right?

No, not really. You see, we have separated government and different cultures, languages, values, and systems. Pardon me to drop some history bombs here.

Hong Kong used to be part of the Chinese Empire after the first unification of China back in BC219. Before that, Hong Kong and most of the part of now Guangdong and Guangxi provinces in China, together with Vietnam, was named the Kingdom of Nam Viet. Since BC219, Hong Kong stayed as part of China until the two Anglo-Chinese Wars (also known as the Opium Wars), in which the governing government of China ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire. The British government colonised Hong Kong since then, and turned Hong Kong from a small, traditional fishing village to the financial hub you see today. In 1997, Britain and China negotiated the terms of Hong Kong and hence the handover of Hong Kong. It’s fair to say the Brits built many of the civilisations in Hong Kong, hence the different cultures and values that we have compare to mainland China. To say a Hongkonger is from China, is no less than saying a Puerto Rican is from the State or a Northern Irish from England. You don’t do that, mate.


2. Does China rule Hong Kong?

No, at least not directly. There’s something called “one country two systems” that ensures Hong Kong does not run the same as China. In order to preserve free economy and the legal system in Hong Kong, it is necessary to have a separate set of laws and government. Despite of that, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong is not elected by public voting, and is appointed by China after a coterie election. I know, evils are in details.

3. But Hong Kong belongs to China, yeah?


hongkonger - china?

4. Then why do you say you’re from Hong Kong when Hong Kong belongs to China?

The reason is actually rather simple. It’s just that we have a stronger sense of belonging to the region than to the country. It’s not really a sensitive issue. But then if you say that we are from China, we’d correct you to your bones, perhaps follow by an endless speech of history and politics. So yeah, if you dig deeper, there are a lot more to say.

5. Passport to cross border?

Yes. Also you’ll need to apply separate visa to enter Hong Kong, Macau and China (although many countries have visa-free access to Hong Kong, check if yours is on the list here.) To us, Hongkonger and Macauese have something nicknamed “Home Returning Card” to make the process easier. Chinese are required to apply visa to visit Hong Kong.

6. “Ni hao!”

No, mate, you don’t do that. We don’t speak Mandarin. Our native language is Cantonese. And please don’t shout “ni hao” to random Asians, as they may be from Korea, Japan, Vietnam that don’t speak a single Chinese. Just simply say hi like you do to Europeans. After you figure out where we are from, then you can drop some words that you know, yeah? And no, still no “ni hao” to Hongkonger. If you insist, try “nei ho”. It’s the same thing but in Cantonese. But actually, a “hello” will do cause that’s how we roll mixed-cultural style.

7. Chinese names 101

Last name first, first name after (without the usual comma practice). Our first name may contain more than one word, but that doesn’t make the second word our middle name. It’s irritating when all lecturers called me “Kwai” because the university registered my name as “Kwai Lo”. No, you don’t cut us in half, that’s cruel man!

hongkonger - names

8. Why do you have English name?

Because apparently most people haven’t had my Chinese name 101 class and they don’t know how our names work. So it’s more convenient to have an English out there. And also because it’s common to have both Chinese and English names in Hong Kong (either the English name is given by parents or our primary school teachers, sometimes ourselves.) Consider Bruce Lee, his Chinese name was Lee Jun Fan (commonly known as Lee Siu Long).

9. Weird English name phenomena

Let’s not rule out the possibility that we people are silly. But also some people treat English name as their nicknames, so…yeah: We got the environmental friendly Chlorophyll, Leaf; We have pretty Sakura, Rainbow, Kawaii; we have your edible Orange, Apple, Yummy; And we have I-don’t-know-how-to-categorise Ring, Fishbone, Ball, Edsoulla, Never (whose last name is Wong)… Somebody needs to stop Hongkongers. But seriously, it’s kind of a unique thing in Hong Kong that the universe cannot answer.

hongkonger - do your thang

Still confused?

Leave your questions in the comment section!
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Jenn L.

Jenn is a politics student from Hong Kong who has just returned from her exchange semester from China and Australia. She found her interest in travelling since her field trip to Inner Mongolia and took the courage to travel alone when she hit 18. She shares passion in ending poverty and believes in the power of individuals. And without fail, always forgets to drink her tea hot.


  1. So embarrassed, I said Ni Hao the other day without even thinking about it. Really great perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great article – I’d never really thought about how people in Hong Kong distinguish their culture. I might be visiting later this year so this was really helpful!

    1. Welcome welcome! Is that your first time in Hong Kong? Feel free to drop me a line if you want to know anything about this baffling city haha!

  3. Oh Jenn, I totally feel you. Being as a Taiwanese living in North America, I got some of those similar questions a lot. Not many people would say directly to my face that “Taiwan belongs to China” (Except some Chinese) – I guess at least they have some political sense lol But seriously, I often got asked “why do you have English name, when Korean and Japanese keep their Korean and Japanese name?” I just want to tell them “most of you don’t know how to pronounce my Chinese name properly and it usually just ends up sounding horrible” Haha!

    1. Absolutely Cat! I totally understand what do you mean by that, and I bet it can be annoying when that happened. But hey, what’s your name though 😉 Mine is 桂嫦

  4. This is a very good article! Exactly expressing my feelings when people ask me about this kind of questions. Next time when people ask me again, I will just send them this article?, thank you so much.

  5. Hahaha, this is hilarious! My hubby is from Vietnam but he heard lots of Japanese greetings at some point and people often tell him that they like Thai food… When you then say that nope, he is from Vietnam, they are like ‘oh, well, it’s all over there in Asia’ lol

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