'Happy Birthday' was wrongly written in simplified Chinese on a cake, creating a hot discussion on social media. Photo: Tai Po@Facebook
'Happy Birthday' was wrongly written in simplified Chinese on a cake, creating a hot discussion on social media. Photo: Tai Po@Facebook

A woman who bought a birthday cake in Tai Po, in Hong Kong’s New Territories, was surprised to find the wording on the cake was not exactly what she wanted to see. Yes, it was the universal Happy Birthday, except that it was written in simplified Chinese characters, not the traditional characters normally used in Hong Kong.

Feeling upset, she asked why. The shop assistant said, “You did not specify whether you want traditional Chinese characters.”

She replied, “We are in Hong Kong, not China. If I want simplified Chinese, I would go to Shenzhen for it.”

She posted this exchange on Facebook and it quickly went viral. In the end, the Tai Po shop owner apologized, saying a new staffer had made a mistake. The customer accepted the apology.

It looked like a small matter, but more than 20 years after Hong Kong’s handover to China, Hong Kong still wants to continue with “one country, two systems” rather than becoming a Chinese city.

The incident has become a hot topic on social media as it is politically sensitive. Hong Kong’s Education Bureau, citing mainland research, said recently that Cantonese was not the mother tongue of Hong Kong people, raising concerns that the SAR government might try to mainlandize Hong Kong by forcing students to speak Mandarin and write in simplified Chinese.

Last week Carrie Lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), refused to answer a legislators question on whether Cantonese was her mother tongue, saying the question was “frivolous.” Suddenly, speaking Cantonese seems to have become politically incorrect.

Last month, the Education Bureau warned publishers not to use the sentence “Hong Kong is located at the south of China” in textbooks. While most ordinary people would understand this as “Hong Kong is located in southern China,” the Beijing and Hong Kong governments tend to think the sentence implies “Hong Kong is a country in the south of China.”

Apparently as China grows stronger, it hopes that people will respect its supremacy and sovereignty on certain issues deemed to be sensitive.

Two weeks ago, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration sent letters to 36 foreign airlines demanding that they change the categorization of “Taiwan,” “Hong Kong” and “Macau” on their websites to fall in line with the Communist Party’s standards. For example, “Taiwan” should be written as “Taiwan, China.”

That did not sit well with the United States, whose White House press secretary issued a protesting statement last weekend.

“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” the statement read.

“China’s internal Internet repression is world-famous. China’s efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted.”

It went on with its strong objection to China’s attempts to compel private companies to use specific language of a political nature in their publicly available content, and urged China to stop threatening and coercing American airlines and citizens.

But this time, there was no apology.