Zhang: Where does the 'almsgiver mentality' come from?

Where does the 'almsgiver mentality' come from?
Translated by Wong Poon-cho 王本初, Chen-t'ang 鎮棠 and Karen L., Written by Zhang Chunxu (張春續)

Recently, an anti-locust protest broke out in Hong Kong due to HK-China conflicts. Controversially, some mainlanders described themselves as almsgivers while these thoughts are wide-spread within the country and Hong Kong is not their only focus.

With a strong economy, mainlanders treat themselves as almsgivers of many nations or regions

It isn't something new when some mainland Chinese treat themselves as 'almsgiver'. While facing the insult brought by the anti-locust march in this territory, many Chinese visitors expressed that if it had not been their consumption, Hong Kong would never have been this prosperous. The views above were biased but yet familiar. Back in 2008, a mainland tourist, detained in Hong Kong International Airport, while murmuring against the poor attitude of the working crew, exclaimed,' If Hong Kong were not taken care of by the Central Government, it would have come to an end!'. The speech above shocked the whole city while the locals began to show dissatisfaction on them. Same things happened in Macau and Taiwan when mainland tourists flooded the two places.
The above attitude is repulsive to Hongkongers. Such feelings are not only shown in the few single protests but also several public opinion programmes. According to the one conducted by the University of Hong Kong, in which 1016 locals were randomly picked and surveyed, 37% of the interviewees identified themselves as 'Hongkongers' while only 17% regarded themselves as 'Chinese', which is a record low. Thus 45% claimed to be a 'Chinese Hongkonger' or a 'Hong Kong Chinese'.

This 'almsgiver mentality' also exists when Chinese trades with US or EU, especially when involving US bonds

As China develops its economy, there are more and more frequent trade of goods and services between China and other countries. The extention of 'almsgiver mentality' crossed the Pacific Ocean and not only stayed in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. This is simply due to the fact that many Chinese believe their home-country is the saviour of the world economy after the crisis and sincerely think that 'The prosperity of the West all lies in China. China is the only solution of the economic tsunami.' With such 'almsgiver mentality', we have another typical example: US bonds. According to figures from the Department of the Treasury, China held US$131.67 billion US treasury bonds last November, which is a historical peak. With so many US bonds in China, some Chinese yelled "US people, repay us!" Some people even believe that if China did not buy US bonds, US government would be bankrupt long ago. In the eye of these people, such investment becomes a 'political alm'.

Moreover, in certain Chinese cities, the locals will hold similar 'almsgiver mentality' against those from other provinces

Moreover, mainland Chinese do not only regard themselves as 'almsgivers' of the foreigners or HK, Macau and Taiwan people. This concept is even rooted within its own territory while citizens among different provinces or even with the same region held exactly the same concept.

This can be easily found in the leading cities Beijing or Shanghai where locals are aiming to exclude the outsiders. While some are worrying that people from other provinces (in-foreigners) would take all of their resources and earned their money, some feel privileged to be able to provide in-foreigners some opportunites while the locals would then become almsgivers.

Mistook mutual beneficial transactions as 'alms', causing 'almsgiver mentality'

Facing a strong growth in China, it is reasonable for Chinese to feel that they are on the stronger side

With fast economic growth, Chinese people has a 'thicker wallet' and more confidence. Especially in the game of business, buyers with capital are usually more proactive. This kind of active right on manipulation will easily result in a stronger mentality of buyers. It is still reasonable.

Mistook mutual beneficial transactions as 'alms' caused 'almsgiver mentality'

But to many mainlanders, they take 'having such kind of advantage' as a symbol of 'almsgiver', turning their capital and interest as 'alms'. Some people cannot sort out the difference between business and alms, therefore something that should be 'mutually beneficial' becomes 'the buyer rules it all'.

And if we think transactions are mutually beneficial, it will be ludicrous when we see such 'almsgiver mentality' or 'the prosperity of HK and Taiwan lie in alms from mainland China'. Although mainland China provided many preferential policies to Hong Kong, but they are genuine business: one party buys what they want, the other earn a fortune. It is not appropriate to say business partners shall be 'grateful' to mainland China.

Take Hong Kong as an example. In fact, Hong Kong did not spend a penny less in obtaining basic necessities, sometimes even more expensive. Take water supplies as an example, around 60-70% is from Dongjiang, with 1.1 billion tonnes of annual maximum capacity. But now it is just providing some 0.7 billion tonnes. In contracts before 2011, mainland provides 0.8 billion tonnes of water to Hong Kong, with less than 0.717 billion tonnes in 2010 (and the bill is 3.2 billion HKD/413 million USD). Hong Kong still have to pay for the saved parts, and some HK media even called this as 'pouring 200 million HKD to the sea'. According to HKEJ, Guangdong province can earn 50% profit from water supplies business. And now, electricity. Since 1979, the grid of HK China Light and Power (HKCLP) and Guangdong Electricity Grid (GEG) has been connected, and HKCLP sells electricty to GEG. Now there are two electricty companies in HK: HKCLP and HK Electric, and the power plant in outlying islands can fulfill the needs in the territory. Some of the industrial power demands are fulfilled by Daya Wan Nuclear Station in Shenzhen.

Misunderstanding of issues, like US bonds, also contribute to the formation of 'almsgiver mentality'

To treat business as 'alms-giving' is actually a misunderstanding, and treating purchase of US bonds as 'alms' comes from misunderstanding to complicated finance situation. In fact, it is also a win-win business for China too: there was no default record of US bonds. No matter how hard it can be, even in WWII, US will repay in time with interests. Because of good reputation, US bonds have been treated as the most reliable assets by many countries. The daily turnover of US bonds is some 500 billion USD, and the annual turnover rate of marketable securities is 33 times. US bonds are still the best and most liquid product in the asset market.

To conclude, it would be wise if China choose to buy US bonds, one of the safest choice, as China has a forex reserve of over 3800 billion USD. But it would be ridiculous to treat a voluntary investment behaviour as 'almsgiving'.

Certain social factors and propaganda makes some people feel that the 'almsgiver mentality' is a matter of course

Besides misunderstanding in transaction and financial knowledge, the 'almsgiving mentality' in mainlanders business sector are also affected by many socio-cultural factors with Chinese characteristics and propaganda:

A "Strong Country Mentality" as a "Great Country eventually Rises", some mainlanders have a top-down mentality

Comparing to the economy of China, where it develops in full speed, within twenty tears, the status of Hong Kong starts to fall from a financial hub to a common Chinese city. It's the same in Hong Kong, as well as other places. With such rapid change, the mentality of some mainland Chinese also changes. As a "Great Country eventually Rises", some mainlanders will show their "Strong Country Mentality" outside. As China becomes the second largest economy in the world, some people may hold a top-down mentality, to view things with closed mindsets and hostility, thus bolstering the sense of 'almsgiver'.

Financial Times once commented: 'Even facing poorer and smaller countries in Africa, China shall seriously deal with the business conflicts with these countries. China shall not appear as an 'almsgiver' while emphasising 'friendship' and 'allies'. (Translator's note: Cannot trace on FT's site)

With high degree of resource control by the government, the national policy will impact greatly on economic aspect, bringing misunderstanding

Mainland China, in compare with other countries and districts, stands out by its central-control government. Capital flow depends solely on the government's policy. The place where is put "extra-focus" can enjoy rapid economic growth. It create an illusion that the more economic growth of a place has been received, the better the policy and support have been established.

This misunderstanding is one of the factors strengthening the "almsgiver mentality" and forming the thought, which prosperity "benefits from the great policy" for part of the mainlanders.

Voice of promotion, in years of practice, has aggravated the spread of 'almsgiver mentality'

In a media person Hu Zi-mo's view, that long-term implantation attributes to natural thought of "almsgiver mentality". Some of them even try to prove its truthfulness, and take the Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia (CEPA) of Hong Kong as an example, which was dubbed "the big gift" by medias of Beijing but turned out to be following principles and standards set by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Hong Kong has long been cooperating with other countries and districts under such agreements. CEPA is just an agreement which made normal the unhealthy economic relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong. If this is what they called "the big gift", then Hong Kong must have been given big gifts from America, Europe and Japan.

Not a few of mainland Chinese possess the thought that prosperity of Hong Kong is the effort of great policy

"3-Supplier Express" of mainland China had provided Hong Kong fresh foods in the early days, and by the Handover in 1997, its promotion reached the peak —  Wu Yi, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade at that time, personally escorted the Express to show the world the effort of "3-Supplier Express"; Jin Xu, the director of "Office of Leading Group of 3-Supplier Express to Hong Kong and Macao was invited to the Spring Festival Gala and introduced there the "35 years of the solid 3-Supplier Express" in one of the events "3-Supplier Express heading to Hong Kong". Since then, mainland China was made believe to be the support of Hong Kong. The Group of China Resources, put a spin on it, calling the "3-Supplier Express" as a "pool" collecting imports money.
Until now, those voices of promotion still exist. Description like 'China benefits with US and UK with great deals. Big gifts of millions of US dollars to them' is more than normal in news of mainland China.

Finally, do not ignore the Chinese culture of confusion between business and gratitude

Apart from the policy promotion mentioned above, "business" in Chinese culture, is never a sheer business, which has acted an important role causing such "almsgiver mentality".
When we traced back to the time before the Opium War, we will find it more obvious treating business as an act of charity. At that period, China with its self-sufficiency, needed no international trade, and all kinds of tribute was delivered by the nobles. It was then for China to show its charity to foreign businessmen, with the placement of a port in Guangzhou.
Even today's business world in China still cannot makes clear the difference between business and gratitude. Some Chinese businessmen even say things like "You are the philanthropist supporting my life" to show thanks to their buyers. Part of them measures the others with its own standard, which is reasonable to explain why it is nothing strange for them to add "almsgiver mentality" in fair deals.


Buyers are relatively active in the business relationship. A "sense of superiority" is expected to be driven by this initiative. Somehow, for part of the mainlanders, this "sense of superiority" in mind then upgraded itself to be "almsgiver mentality". They even regard themselves "almsgivers" and raise resentment of their arrogance. The cultivation of "almsgiver mentality" has been planting by the the history, the politics and the promotion in mainland China.

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