Hong Kong is not just a city – it is a state of mind.
It is hard to believe that just 74 years ago this modern beautiful of Hong Kong city was, for the most part, rubble and bok choy fields populated by the emaciated survivors of the Japanese Friendship (sic) Sphere. Just 4 years later it was over-run with refugees fleeing Mao’s China, many of whom arrived with nothing other than the clothes on their backs, taxing the already over-stretched modest social services of the day.
But the people persevered and Hong Kong became not only a bastion of capitalism but a beacon of excellence in a world increasingly mired in ongoing and falling averageness. Putting it bluntly, the people not only said, “Can do”, but then they went out and did it. Li Ka-shing is just one example – from a street vendor of plastic flowers to a manufacturer of those plastic flowers to one of the world’s foremost business magnates and richest people, he is but the ‘patron saint’ of an entire culture of people equally disposed and obsessively driven. Hong Kong pioneered the world’s largest outdoor all-weather escalator and the world’s first connected city totally above the traffic, as well as a society where the world’s population and religions get along in peace and harmony.
It also has a government and a police force that, until recently, had the unreserved support of over 70% of the population. Once the shock of the 1997 transition wore off, people came to the tacit viewpoint that, “the more it changes, the more it stays the same”. Essentially, that was the premise and the promise of the theory of, “One country, two systems”, posited by mainland China which, for a long time thereafter, was satisfied to keep hands off for the most part while copy/transpose whatever it could….witness not only the growth of Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, but the entire economy of China. But, with the Mainland’s success, their attitude and their thinking changed – and I’ll get back to that.
The State Secrets
The people of Hong Kong are content to let the government do its thing as long as the people could do their thing ie. lead their lives and do their business unfettered by ‘unnatural’ governmental constraints. And so there evolved continuing laissez-faire capitalistic co-existence and mutual understanding. And the police force was still viewed by the population in a positive light subsequent to 1997 and indeed conducted itself in a manner befitting that acceptance.
But then, as I said before, the thinking changed – but not initially by the people. The Hong Kong Government’s leadership was coopted to try to jam a law into effect that would enable the government/police to arrest anyone accused of defaming the government, Hong Kong or Mainland, and/or any of its minions or for the revealing of state ‘secrets’, and send them to Mainland China under arrest without access to a lawyer or consular official and without even a hearing to determine if the charge itself was even remotely true. And, as we all know from just the experience of Zhang Wenzhong, a charge in Chinese court does not have to be remotely true in order to be found true (sic). And just so we are clear, the definition of “state secrets” in Chinese law has been deliberately kept vague all these years, thereby facilitating someone to be charged and incarcerated for nothing more than repeating a fact that everyone knows eg: stating that the deaths of pigs from African swine flu exceeds 50% nationwide when the official tally is at 20% is sufficient to earn you a one-way trip to jail for basically as long as they want to keep you there (eg: the 2 Canadians held in custody, Michael Spavor & Michael Kovrig) – and I am not going to comment on the barbaric conditions of their detention (incarceration).
But there is more to this story ……as China grew in wealth, as the people did overseas trips, as more foreign news came in that refuted the official stances past and present, the Government and the Chinese Communist Party became subject to not just increased scrutiny and resultant questioning, but to well-deserved ridicule. The people started making parodies – for instance, the word, VIP, which is in evidence everywhere, from airport terminals to meetings, started to stand for Very Important Pig, the “pig” referring to both the arrogance of many of these officials and, as well, their penchant for accepting bribes in the form of black money and other favours (sic). Example – “What does a government official always order for his custom-made suit?” …answer, “deep reinforced pockets”.
Never Had Democracy
So the idea was to show who the boss is, to rein in those free-wheeling people of Hong Kong (and especially now that so many from Mainland China were going there for extended periods of time) and especially in time for the 70th anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. Indeed, one might cynically think that the bureaucrats inhabiting the Hong Kong & Macau Authority wanted to demonstrate to Xi Jin Ping how useful (sic) they are and how they were able to muzzle the free speech of Hong Kong’s populace on a basis consistent with that in China. And it was a near thing as there was a pretty good chance that they could have rammed/crammed this law through – but, it was the arrogant opinion of these same Hong Kong & Macau Authority bureaucrats that following the normal procedures of law-making in Hong Kong would potentially open up too much public discussion, something that was obviously total anathema to those who, through this bill, wanted to stifle it altogether. So the decision was made to present it and force it through while ignoring any and all of the established procedures– oops! bad decision, guys, really bad, yugely bad.
The people of Hong Kong never had democracy, no matter how much hapless, hopeless, and helpless Chris Patten (the last British Governor) wants to gloss over this and infer that they did – but they didn’t care much about that either. As long as the Government took care of its responsibilities and stayed out of the private lives of its citizens, it was all good. But Hong Kong citizens are accustomed to speaking their minds and, while they put up with CCTV on every corner, this Big Brother approach was too bloody much; so as much as 30% of the people from all demographics went out to march on any given day and the government, from having a 70+% approval rating before this situation started, has now fallen in 7 months to about 30%.
Made in Beijing
Long story short, the decision was finally made in Beijing, after it became apparent that the sycophantic bureaucrats in charge of the Hong Kong & Macau Authority had no ability to defuse the situation that they had created (and in fact, by their bungling, only inflamed further) to yank the bill and kill it. But by then the damage had been done…the police had resorted to questionable methods – enlisting triad (ie. criminal organisation) behaviour to intimidate and beat up protestors, strip-searching and otherwise humiliating arrested protestors, literally beating up docile protestors in custody and, finally, deliberately shooting to kill a protestor at point blank range when a shot to the arm or leg would have sufficed. So now the force, instead of being seen as a force of protection, is viewed as a group of thugs there to essentially intimidate the people who pay for them. Not as bad a situation as existed in pre-1949 China, but the portents are there and certainly not being ignored. Such occurrences are as totally unbelievable as they are unacceptable in the modern first-world society that is Hong Kong.
Are some of those same protestors agents for the Mainland and acting as agents provocateurs? I have no proof but it is certainly not out of character, any more than it was in the riots of 1967. What is true is that the protestors have uniformly decided on the principle of “burning together” (“lam caau”, in Cantonese) – that they are not going to be divided and that they are not going to settle. What may have been previously and reasonably resolved by an agreement to yank the proposed bill and subsequently investigate the actions of the police (calls for which have come from across the world, including the UN) has now progressed to way beyond that to a matter of determined face. The protesters want Carrie Lam gone and the Mainland Government doesn’t want to give in and acknowledge that the mess was created by its own arrogance and ineptitude.
Upping The Ante
The Government’s response to all this, aside from finally yanking the proposed bill? To engage in even more questionable acts of force – the other day a protestor was charged with assaulting the police; the policeman alleges that he was assaulted by the protestor’s megaphone being too loud. And the government upped the ante even further by invoking a law issued in the 1920’s by the British colonialist government – people participating in a protest will not be permitted to wear masks. The result – more people are protesting and they are all wearing masks. Over a weekend, one march had 30,000 people, all masked. Peacaeble people have been turned into criminals by feckless civil servants (sic) who tap a computer key, with the result that the citizens no longer have much respect for the laws, nor for the people and institutions making them, and most especially not for the people tasked with enforcing them. Yet no one has raised the question – if this is what the youth of Hong Kong are becoming and learning, what will they be teaching their children?
And it gets worse – now the Government proposes, as an ‘emergency measure’, that it should be granted the power to arbitrarily freeze a citizen’s assets. Really? The Government proposes to abrogate apparently any and all laws when it suits them and expects its citizens to just sit back and allow this to occur? Those who refuse to learn from history are inevitably destined to repeat it but, conversely, those who did learn from history in this case are determined not to let it happen again. The original song of the protesters was from Les Miserables – “Let The People Sing”. It in and of itself is inspiring but, for me, the fact that an Oriental society could pick a song from an Occidental play demonstrated the level of education and inspiring cosmopolitanism that is the Hong Kong societal concept. The graffiti around Hong Kong is stark and unequivocal, addressed as it is to the Chinese Government – “if we burn, you will burn with us”. Expats are dusting off their resumes, people with dual citizenship are making tentative preparations to leave, money is leaving Hong Kong in the billions of US dollars, stores and restaurants are closing, hotel bookings are way down, convention organizers are writing to delegates promising “security” which in turn heightens concerns and …and…and…and the Government bounces like a pachinko ball from one bad idea to one even worse on a continued basis.
This is not a learning curve – they are reacting and being increasingly and myopically reactionary. Deliberately shooting at clearly identified reporters is something associated with the government and its minions in some place like Venezuela or Zimbabwe, not Hong Kong. Justifying its shooting of its citizens due to vandalism after deliberately provoking the vandalism is unacceptable. The Government has yet to make apologies for even innocent bystanders injured by the police (including a retired law enforcement officer). Closing the MTR (which is not majority government-owned) and compelling the inhabitants to walk home after work for miles (in high heat and high humidity) on the grounds that some protesters would be using the facilities as well is egregiously fatuous.
Let everyone Stand with Hong Kong!
You can write me direct at [email protected]
Thanks for reading.
Global Gab #29