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Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities still struggling for acceptance due to language barriers and skin colour

Krizto Chan and Liz Yuen

During a visit to the Labour Department to look for a job, an officer counts one, two, three stars on Tauriq Ahmad’s Hong Kong Identity Card. The officer looks puzzled and keeps on asking, “Are you Pakistani? Indian? Nepali?” For Ahmad, comments like this are an all too common occurrence. He is a permanent resident but as an ethnic Pakistani, he does not look like a “local” in many people’s eyes.

Ethnic minorities make up five per cent of Hong Kong’s total population and according to a 2006 census, 44 per cent of them are permanent residents. They belong to different ethnic groups and social classes and practise different religions. But they all live in a city where the majority are Han Chinese and they all have their ways of viewing their identity.

Rihana Bibi, a 22-year-old Pakistani living in Hong Kong with her family, describes herself as a  local. “I don’t look Chinese,” says Rihana. “But I am a lot like the local people because I was born in Hong Kong and I went through the local education system and everything.”

A student at the City University of Hong Kong, Bibi’s favourite activities are similar to those of other local young people. She goes to “yum cha” regularly with friends and gets excited about local festivals like Chinese New Year. She is also a big fan of local television programmes and movies. “Once in a CD shop when I told my friends that I watched these TVB series and those movies, they are like: ‘Oh my God you watch more than us’.”

Bibi says she tries to blend into the local community. For instance, she used to wear traditional Pakistani outfits but she stopped after she noticed people would hesitate before approaching her. “In one way I am more comfortable with how I used to dress,” she says. “But I have to change this about me to become more local.”

Dressed in a hoodie and a pair of jeans, Qudrat Nasirah Bibi (no relation to Rihana) says she does not wear Islamic dress in Hong Kong. Nasirah was educated in local schools, the Sham Shui Po Government Primary School and then Delia Memorial School. She is now studying at university to become an English teacher.

Born and raised here, she is used to Hong Kong’s culture and lifestyle. “If I don’t belong here I don’t belong anywhere,” she says.

Occasionally, Nasirah visits her parents’ home country, Pakistan. Every time, she finds herself dying to come back. “The way you think and dress and the way people there think and dress are different,” she says. “Everything is different…I don’t feel like it’s home there. My home is Hong Kong.”

However, she finds the majority of Hong Kong people do not consider ethnic minorities to be locals. “Just because you can’t speak Cantonese, you cannot read, you cannot write, you do not look local, you are not local.”

Nasirah believes language skills determine ethnic minorities’ degree of adaptation and popularity in mainstream society. “If you speak Cantonese, then people around you would be more comfortable with you and be nicer to you because you can communicate easier.”


  1. Lot of south asians kids are getting in to the mainstream school now. Hope the future will change and south asians will be accepted in government minsitries. Recently, HK’s top school DGS accepts the South Asian girl. ” there is a will, there is a way and there is a skill, there is a acceptance and recognization”

  2. well as ethnic hongie mentioned that nowadays many minority children are joining mainstream schools.
    i do hope that HK education system realizes the most obvious issue at hand, i.e. how to actually educate non chinese children.
    since half the parents cant read and write chinese, it is only upto the children to do everything on thier own because parents cant help them except in english language. Most SA parents cannot afford tution. i hope Govt realizes this and starts programs that are aimed at integreting students into the society

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