Dozens of protesters faced off angrily in a busy shopping district of Hong Kong on Thursday as a bitter row between netizens from mainland China and the former British colony spilled onto the streets on the Labor Day national holiday, when mainland tourists traditionally flock to Hong Kong in search of electronic goods and designer labels.
One group marched wearing mocked-up Red Guard uniforms and carrying the flag of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, calling on mainland Chinese to do their shopping back home after an online video of a toddler urinating on a Hong Kong street went viral last week, highlighting resentment of Hong Kong residents over the influx of mainlanders into their city.
The group marched to Canton Road, a shopping hotspot favored by large numbers of tourists from across the internal border in mainland China, calling on them to go back home to support their local economy by shopping in their own cities.
The move follows an online flame war sparked by a viral video that showed a toddler from mainland China being allowed to urinate by the roadside in Hong Kong's Mong Kok shopping district last week and scuffles between the parents and a crowd of irate bystanders.
The video shows the parents angrily confronting the crowd after their daughter started crying, and apparently trying to grab the memory card from the camera of a bystander who took photos.
Online reactions have split more or less along geographical lines, with mainland netizens calling on more tourists to take their children to urinate in Hong Kong's streets, where public urination and defecation is against the law.
Hong Kong netizens have responded by posting photographs in which they pretend to defecate on portraits of late supreme Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
Informal online opinion polls showed that the majority of mainlanders thought allowing a small child to urinate in public was understandable under certain circumstances.
Police stood guard along the route of the demonstration on Thursday, while protesters engaged in shouting matches with supporters of Chinese tourists in Hong Kong, who had also gathered at the scene.
"Now it's getting so that mainland China and Hong Kong are at loggerheads," said one pro-mainland protester. "We wanted to come out to tell our compatriots that they are welcome to come here."
A mainland resident surnamed He, a frequent visitor to Hong Kong, said he thought the online reaction to the original incident was inappropriate.
"For them to post photos of a kid urinating online is, in my view, an invasion of privacy," He said.
But he said he understood that public urination is against the law in Hong Kong.
"It's a bit like teaching kids; you don't start out with a harsh punishment, but you should start by explaining to them nicely," he said.
Another group took to Mong Kok's streets in a bid to take additional photos of urinating mainland Chinese toddlers, organizer Leung Kin-cheng told RFA's Cantonese Service on Thursday.
"There is no one to teach people from the mainland how to behave," Leung said. "So it is up to us in Hong Kong to educate them."
He said allowing one's child to urinate in public was unnecessary, given the availability of facilities.
"There are toilets in the railway station, and yet they still do things like this."
The latest spat has further highlighted divisions between the mainland and Hong Kong, whose population is made up largely of refugees from Communist Party rule, many of whom do not even describe themselves as Chinese.
In 2012, comments by Beijing University professor Kong Qingdong, who referred to Hong Kong residents as "dogs," sparked angry protests outside Beijing's liaison office in the territory, prompting Kong to try to clarify his comments in a later essay.
Citing revolutionary author Lu Xun, Kong said the appellation "dogs" referred to Chinese people who kowtowed to foreign powers—known as "imperialist dogs"—and not to all residents of the Special Administrative Region, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but kept its own system of government and immigration borders.
Such people, Kong quoted Lu as saying, were "dogs to the imperialists, but wolves to their fellow Chinese."
Kong's comments came after an online flame war between mainlanders and Hong Kong people over the latter's disdain for mainlanders eating on the city's pristine subway system.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.