border review | 15 August 2011, by JJ

Cross-border Births and the Hong Kong Born Generation (港生一代)

Southern Metropolis Weekly, Issue 8, 2010. Featured article: Giving Births in Hong Kong after Ten Years.

The “Hong Kong born generation” (gangsheng yidai) has become a popular catchphrase these days. It refers to children who have been born in Hong Kong by parents from the mainland. Since the early 2000s, giving birth in Hong Kong has increasingly become a trendy practice for many expectant mothers. At first,  mothers mainly from China’s southern provinces crossed the border to have their second or third birth in Hong Kong to evade the “one child policy” in their home provinces. Gradually, with successful marketing strategies of many commercial agencies, giving birth in Hong Kong bcomes a middle-class desire and fashion, where China’s urban mothers dream about giving their children a better life – a Hong Kong identity, Hong Kong passport, the right to live in Hong Kong to enjoy its education system as well as its social welfare, just to name a few. Today, education and passport become main incentives for expectant mainland mothers; and a cross-border “pregnancy economy” is emerging.

Malcolm Moore from The Telegraph reported that last year, of the 88,000 babies born in HK, around 45% were born by mainland parents.  Dr. Cheung Siu Lan (HKU Social Work) reported that during the past decade, mainland mothers gave birth to 168 thousand babies in HK. In 2003, there were only two thousand babies , but by 2009, the figure reached almost 30 thousand.

Packaged “birth deals” offered by commercial agencies are not cheap. The fees range from 80,000 yuan (about 13,000 USD) to as high as 180,000 yuan–still a huge investment for middle-class families in China. The services include: arranging transportation to and from the border, assigning an agent to help with immigration and customs, making appointments with doctors in HK, and even collecting the child’s HK resident permit. Without contracting services from agencies, the costs for giving births in HK are considerably lower, but still around 60,000 HKD on average per birth.

Today the first batch of Hong Kong born children are in their early teens. Most still live in the mainland because although they have legal residency in HK, their parents don’t. Holding a HK identity while living and studying in the mainland has turned out to be more problematic than advantageous–it’s troublesome for them to be enrolled in local schools because they don’t have local hukou. Parents also realize that it’s not easy to enjoy medical benefits HK can provide because it’s simply impractical to fly their children to HK whenever they fall ill. Some parents who live in Shenzhen send their HK born children across the border everyday to go to HK schools. But these so-called “cross-border school chindren” (kuajing xuetong) face a whole range of adjustment issues such as language (unable to speak English and Cantonese well) and identity.