BEIJING — Of all the weighty issues about self-rule and democracy confronting China and Hong Kong, the former British colony that reverted to mainland control in 1997, who could have imagined it would come to this?
A 2-year-old boy defecating on a Hong Kong sidewalk has elicited an increasingly mean-spirited fight between some mainland Chinese and Hong Kong residents, who are exchanging words, including curses and threatening to exchange bodily fluids.
It started April 15, when a mainland couple shopping in Hong Kong allowed their toddler to go on a crowded sidewalk in the Mong Kok District. An offended Hong Kong man started to take photos, whereupon the shrieking mother grabbed his memory card and started to scuffle with him. Another Hong Kong man tried to seize the family’s stroller.
“Don’t you have kids? Don’t your kids need to use the toilet?” the mother screamed, while the father held the wailing toddler.
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Police arrived and booked the mother on charges of assault and the father on receiving stolen property — the memory card his wife had seized from the camera.
Waggishly called “Bladdergate” — although video shows more than urine involved — the altercation has become a defining incident in the strained relationship.
The stink has not dissipated. On Sunday, a dozen or so demonstrators at the giant Harbour City mall in Hong Kong mocked mainlanders by squatting and pretending to defecate on a photo of Mao Zedong and brandishing toilet paper. One wore a pig mask and another dressed as a Red Guard.
A skirmish nearly began between the protesters and offended customers and staff, who screamed at one another across the mall’s atrium.
The Communist Party’s official Global Times weighed in Wednesday, denouncing the Hong Kong protesters as “skinheads” and “hooligans.”
“This handful of radicals in Hong Kong remind us of the rampant skinheads and neo-Nazis in Europe. Xenophobia is the cult of these groups,” the paper opined. “We need to fight back and overwhelm any forces that try to harm the integrity of the nation.”
On Thursday, dueling rallies — one urging mainland China tourists to stay home and one supporting China and its mainland tourists — was staged in the popular Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district amid lots of shouting but no major fisticuffs.
Hong Kong, with a population of about 7 million, gets more than four times that many visitors from the mainland each year.
Residents complain that the deluge has left Hong Kong with impassable streets, skyrocketing prices and shortages of consumer goods, especially products such as baby formula.
Posters and banners have gone up denouncing the mainlanders as “locusts.” Facebook pages are plastered with photographs of visitors engaging in what the British-mannered Hong Kong residents consider uncivilized behavior such as eating on subways or allowing children to relieve themselves in the streets, a habit common in the Chinese countryside.
“Many people think this is ridiculous, but it is a serious matter,” said one activist, Hong Kong-born Sky Ip, 24. “There are big cultural differences between China and Hong Kong, and big political differences. I worry about our future.”
Some mainlanders are fighting back. One mainland blogger suggested on a forum hosted by Tianya.cn, “Let’s take our children to Hong Kong and let them pee and poo everywhere and let’s see which idiot will come and take pictures of us,” a threat that made headlines in Hong Kong.
The dispute is a boon to punsters and the butt of jokes, but the hostility is not funny to everyone. Chinese authorities have considered a travel-advisory warning mainlanders about visiting Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Anti-mainland activists plan to protest Sunday at the home of Hong Kong’s secretary of commerce and economic development, Greg So Kam-Leung, who dared to suggest Hong Kong residents learn to be more tolerant.
According to one advertisement for the protest, supporters are urged to relieve themselves in front of his home, at least using colored water and fake feces.