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Row over urinating toddler reveals rift between Hong Kong, mainland China

Controversy over behavior of mainland Chinese tourists in Hong Kong reveals more than simply a clash of cultures

An anonymous Chinese Internet user has escalated tensions between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese citizens by calling on mainland parents to bring their children to Hong Kong and let them "urinate in the streets." This call to action comes after a video of a mainland Chinese toddler relieving herself on a crowded Hong Kong street went viral, creating a surprising uproar in both Hong Kong and mainland China.

The furor around such a seemingly piddling incident reflects an increasingly strained relationship between the residents of Hong Kong and mainland China, experts say. Every month, millions of Chinese tourists flock to Hong Kong, and many Hong Kong residents say they're overwhelming the city of 7 million, bringing not just bad manners but also threatening the city's independence and making the city unaffordable.

Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China in 1997 but is governed separately. Hong Kong has wide-ranging autonomy, an independent judiciary and relatively free press under the formula of "one country, two systems."

The mainland backlash to the anger at the mainland toddler and her mother has grown, culminating in an Internet user on one of China's most popular online forums,, urging mainland parents to participate in a new kind of protest.

“Bring children to Hong Kong and let them urinate in Hong Kong’s streets. Let’s see who will come and take photos. They will see it as natural after they have been familiarized with the act,” user Haijiao No68 posted online according to the South China Morning Post.

On April 15, a mainland Chinese family visiting Hong Kong allowed their toddler to urinate on in the middle of Mong Kok, one of the world's busiest shopping districts. The mother tried to explain to the crowd that the public toilet line was too long and she had no choice.

“The kid was going to pee in his pants, what do you want me to do?” the mother asked onlookers before a scuffle broke out as the parents tried to take the memory card from the man who was filming the incident, the SCMP said.

Both the husband and wife were later arrested on suspicion of theft and assault respectively, Hong Kong police said according to the SCMP.

The video and images went viral, drawing more than 1 million comments and reposts since it was posted online earlier this week.

Chinese state media entered the debate on April 23 with a commentary in the People’s Daily, questioning whether bystanders acted appropriately in recording the incident.

Over 30 million tourists from mainland China visited Hong Kong last year, and the People's Daily editorial said with so many people, it was inevitable that some would not be up to "modern standards," the SCMP reported.

The controversy, sometimes called Bladdergate, has reinvigorated a debate over the behavior of mainland tourists. Hong Kong locals complain about crowded sidewalks, skyrocketing rent and misbehavior involving children — all of which some Hong Kongers say is exacerbated by mainland Chinese visitors, Foreign Policy reported.

“Behavior involving children seems to be a particular flashpoint," according to Foreign Policy. "In January 2012, a video of a mainland mother feeding her child some biscuits in a subway car in Hong Kong, where eating or drinking is not allowed, managed to cause an uproar.”

“In February 2013, a mainland mother suffered online wrath after encouraging her son to urinate in a bottle in a busy Hong Kong restaurant. In April of that year, Hong Kongers lashed out against mainland parents who let their children relive themselves in a train compartment.”

A poll from this month showed that 64 percent of mainland Chinese respondents said they could understand the need for a child to pee in the streets in certain situations, with only 11 percent objecting, the Wall Street Journal reported. Another poll revealed that 85 percent of mainlanders believe that Hong Kong residents harbor prejudices against them.

The mainland Chinese government has signaled it will help encourage a cultural change in its visitors. Last week, Beijing released a government-backed app to help people find the nearest public toilet. State media has also said another 2,000 public toilets will be built in Hong Kong by 2015, the Wall Street Journal said.

Culturally, Hong Kong is more western — with diapers largely considered a necessity. In mainland China, in contrast, toddlers in open pants are still a common site, Foreign Policy said.

But this controversy goes beyond a simple cultural clash. Residents of Hong Kong fear an encroachment on their way of life while mainlanders are angry that their presence is resented despite the being nominally a part of the same country, Foreign Policy said.

In the past few years, Hong Kongers have started to call mainland Chinese “locusts.” A full-page ad in one of the city’s most popular newspapers even depicted mainlanders as locusts who swarm the city, draining its resources.

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