Macdonalds in Hong Kong
MacDonald's in Hong Kong provides yet another example of a two way cultural adaptation. Unlike in China where for the past fifty years it was an independent country under Communist rule, Hong Kong was a British colony only recently returned to China. While mainland Chinese culture has been tied to Chinese tradition in various ways, Hong Kong was a colony largely built by immigrants from mainland China who felt they lived on borrowed time--only in the 1980s did a new generation of Hong Kongers seriously treat it as their real home. Therefore MacDonald's reception in China and Hong Kong was quite different in several ways. Today, the biggest difference is while it is still treated as a novelty in China, in Hong Kong it is greeted paradoxically as both a restaurant that met the Hong Kong need for speed and efficiency and a shelter from the very rapid speed of Hong Kong life and from the crammed living space. Here we continue with the question of whether there is an alternative to the dominance/subordination/resistance model, through the example of MacDonald's in Hong Kong.
1. An overview of Hong Kong.
NYT coverage of Hong Kong
Map of Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a population of 6 million, with a land area 422 sq mi (compare with Rhode Island, the smallest state of the U.S., which is 1,214 sq mi, with a population of 1 million). The region comprises Hong Kong island, ceded by China in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanjing; Kowloon (Mandarin Jiulong ) peninsula, ceded (with Stonecutters Island) in 1860 under the Beijing Convention; and the New Territories, a mountainous mainland area adjoining Kowloon, which, with Deep Bay on the west and Mirs Bay on the east and some 235 offshore islands, was leased from China in 1898 for 99 years. China regained sovereignty of the colony on July 1, 1997.
Living on borrowed time, the Hong Kongers made their name as the fastest and most efficient workers in the world. With its strategic location, it also developed into one of the world's largest entrepots and financial centers in the second half of the 20th century.
2. From exotic to an integral part of Hong Kong culture.
The beginning of MacDonald's in Hong Kong faced the challenge of establishing a niche in a place where people were famous for their taste for gourmet food. The Cantonese, of whom the Hong Kongers are a part, are famous for the best cooking in China. Strategies: to uphold the exotic nature of M: reflected in its Chinese transliteration, and avoidance of any familiar menu (e.g., rice, fruit, soup noodles).
Conditions that facilitated M: the international nature of Hong Kong and its foods.
Hamburgers were translated as "bao," a term that means "snack" in Chinese, that coincided with Hong Kongers' tendency to snack on almost a daily basis in dim sum shops.
By the 1980s, MacDonald's had trained a generation of Hong Kong youth who preferred to identify with the international culture represented by foreign restaurants and not the culture of their parents. To them, MacDonald's becomes their culture. M has become just a fast food chain with value meals.
Q: do you call these young Hong Kongers a generation that lost their Chinese culture, or do you think the more international identity they try to adopt is natural and intrinsic to their identity? Compare that to the American identity, and your experience of eating Italian, Mexican, and Chinese foods.
3. MacDonald's alterations to Hong Kong culture:
Besides raising a generation of consumers of hamburgers and fries, MacDonalds also altered Hong Kong culture in various ways:
It raised consumers' expectations of toilets.
Macdonald's also introduced public queuing and "civilized order."
Introduced children's birthday parties.
4. MacDonald's adaptation to Hong Kong perceptions and practices
How to interpret a smile: in Russia it is a sign of provocation, in Hong Kong its meaning is shady. Not even a public concept of friendliness, instead, emphasis on competence and directness.
Also conceding to customers refusing to bus their own trays and clean up (low esteem for this line of labor).
Not allowing self-service of napkins because of consumer pocketing: lack of consumer discipline, partly because of the lack of consumer education, and the refugee mentality of living on borrowed time, something the younger generation finds appalling.
5. Conditions for MacDonald's success in Hong Kong:
Emergence of a middle class of consumers in the 1970s.
Changes in child rearing values and practices: Children as consumers and commanding their parents' full attention: a change from the 1970s (traditionally, children were to be seen but not to be heard)
MacDonald's as comfortable unwinding space for children after school: Hong Kong's housing (e.g. a three bedroom apartment can easily cost U.S. $400,000-700,000).
6. The idea of cultural borrowing:
Q: Does borrowed culture have a lasting impact on the host culture? Is it a central or a peripheral influence?
Many cultural borrowings in China in the modern era. Most Chinese terms referring to modern academic disciplines and cultural constructs were borrowed from Japan, where these terms were artificially coined by word combinations from classical Chinese works.
Q: When does cultural borrowing not constitute a threat of dominance to the host country? Does Hong Kong present a "success story" of cultural borrowing?
Hong Kong as a great consumer of international popular culture and producer of it too (fashion, that dominates China, kong fu movies, e.g. Jackie Chan)