See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Fake News Twists Hong Kong Airline Hostesses’ Refusal to Wear Chinese Name Tags

Cathay Pacific Cabin Crew. Photo from Flickr user: Dane Alegana (CC: AT)

The following article is based on a translation of a post that appeared first in Chinese on Hong Kong's Inmedia outlet.

News concerning changes to the outfits worn by airline cabin crews has stirred real debate among Chinese-speaking online communities in recent times.

In May, Emirates faced a furious backlash after demanding its Taiwan crew wear mainland China's national flag pin rather than the Taiwan island pin on their uniforms, following apparent pressure from Beijing. Emirates walked back the order after a number of people vowed to boycott the airline.

This month, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific airline suspended its new policy of adding Chinese names onto Hong Kong and Taiwan cabin crews’ name tags after the airline's union spoke out against the decision on privacy grounds.

Name tag politicization

While the political underpinnings of Emirates’ outfit policy were plain for all to see, the controversy over Cathay Pacific's name tag policy has mostly been stoked by ‘fake news’ originating in the mainland Chinese press.

The name tag furore was reported in Hong Kong as early as June 1. The union's arguments that it pushed back against the move in order to protect staff privacy would seem legitimate, since Chinese names are very specific and thus easy to track.

Nor is this a just a hypothetical danger. In fact, a number of air hostesses from Cathay Dragon, Cathay Pacific's sister airline, which adopted the Chinese name tag outfit last year, have filed complaints to the company after stalkers managed to find their names via social media platforms and send them disturbing messages.

Hong Kong versus China, but not quite

However, the news of the union's protest was twisted in mainland China on June 11 under an antagonistic headline: “Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Air Hostesses Refuse to Wear Chinese Name Tags Because They Don't Want to Please Mainland Chinese Passengers”.

The headline deliberately inverted one air hostess’ comment that the company originally adopted the new tags in order to “please mainland Chinese Passengers”. The report went on to suggest that the air hostesses now instead wanted to “please foreigners” with their English name tags.

The report published in various news portals including Sina and Sohu is symptomatic of Chinese government depictions of Hong Kong. Since the 2014 massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, mainland outlets have argued Hong Kong is a society with pro-Western values that fundamentally rejects Chinese identity.

Unfortunately, the same headline was copied and published in a Taiwan news outlet the next day.

Furthermore, another Taiwanese media outlet picked up the point about pleasing foreigners and added a further twist “Too Unfashionable! Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Air Hostesses Refuse to Wear ‘Chinese Name Tag’, Complain it Would Obstruct Their Chances of Making Friends with Foreigners”. The article was published June 12 and went viral on various online forums.

Clearing up confusion

To clarify the picture, the Chinese Q & A news team interviewed Dora Lai, the deputy head of Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union which has a 43-year history and more than 6,000 members. Lai said her union's opposition to the policy was “nothing to do with language”.

Her interview (abridged) is below.

問: 國泰航空公司是否曾提出要求空中服務員使用「中文名牌」?理由是甚麼?是為了討好大陸乘客嗎?
答:國泰航空公司要求空中服務員在名牌加上身份証明文件的「中文名字」,但名牌上的英文名字則不用按照文件規定。工會反對使用身份文件的名字作名牌的建議,但不肯定公司使用「中文名牌」政策是否為討好大陸的乘客。
工會估計有關措施,是為了跟國泰的全資附屬公司港龍航空看齊。港龍空中服務員早已使用「中文名牌」,但工會不認同港龍的措施。港龍航班較多的航班是來往大陸與本港,空中服務員的外站逗留(layover)時間較短,主要在外地停留一晚,不能與經常負責長途航班的國泰空中服務員相比。

Q: Did Cathay Pacific demand cabin crews wear “Chinese name tags”? What is the rationality behind the policy? Does the company want to please mainland Chinese passengers?

A: Cathay Pacific demanded that the “Chinese name” that appears on the name tags should be the same as the name on their identity cards, but the same requirement does not apply to the English name. The Union opposes the use of names registered to identity cards (real names) and is uncertain if the company's Chinese name tag policy is designed to please mainland Chinese passengers.

The union believes that the policy is to follow the practice of Cathay Dragon as that airline's air hostesses already wear Chinese name tags. But the union does not agree with Cathay Dragon's policy. Most of Cathay Dragon's flights are flying between mainland China and Hong Kong, the layover time for the crew is much shorter, usually within one night, while Cathay Pacific's flights are usually long distance [meaning hostesses stop in hotels for longer where they can fall prey to stalkers].

問:怎樣的名牌政策較為適合呢?

答:工會認為國泰應保持目前的名牌政策,由員工決定名牌的名字較好,因為名牌主要作用給予乘客方便稱呼,不必涉及服務員的個人私隱。

Q: What is the most appropriate name tag policy?

A: The Union believe the current name tag policy should be retained. The air hostesses can decide the name on the tag. The name tag is to make it more convenient for the passengers to address the air hostesses; that can be done without infringing on the air hostesses’ privacy.

問:是因為覺得使用中文太土氣嗎?

答:工會沒有收到任何如報導的反對原因︰「不夠高端洋氣,甚至還有點土氣,會影響結交洋人的機會」。不清楚文中原因的消息來源,我已讀過所有會員的意見書,亦未在社交網絡上看見此講法。其實,就算改用中文名牌,亦都會保留英文名字,「會影響結交洋人的機會」的講法並不正確。

Q: Do the air hostesses feel that Chinese names are ‘unfashionable'?
A: The Union has never heard of any reasons such as those that appeared in that report…I have no idea who exactly their source is. From all the opinions I have read from our members and my social media network, I have never come across such reasoning. Even if we use Chinese names, the English names remain on the name tag, so there is no grounds to say that a Chinese name tag would “obstruct the chance of making friends with foreigners”.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site