What’s the story? I’ve been asking this for years. It’s how I deal with the world. What’s the story I say and have to conclude most of the time that there is no story. Life sort of happens in a messy mix of accidents and processes beyond one’s control, though all your own fault. It happens, whatever you do, and the story is just not there, though you might want it to be. A story is a beginning a middle and an end? But there’s something lacking; a moral mostly. A story means intentions and obstacles and triumphs and failures. Where’s the story in just being born and dropping off the end of the conveyor belt? Where’s the story in getting up and going to work? Where’s the story in getting by, having a drink, toasting a sandwich, having a chat on the phone and cashing a cheque? Stuff happens, intentionally some times, in reaction to other stuff mostly, and largely in accordance with a logic not of our own making, unlike in fiction where we can choose everything and make the story work.
The lack of story could be a story I suppose, in a post modern, or is that post-post-modern sense? Make what you will of that. Critical discourse long ago became about counting consonants and kicking the author out of the equation rather than trying to work out why something was better than something else. Coolness perhaps became as good as it got. But, we all know that it’s the story stupid!
And that’s the case with history and our grasp of the future. If history is reduced to statistics and processes we aren’t interested but find a love story, find a struggle between good and evil, a great warrior who believes in their destiny, or a prophet trying to live life according to some fiction, and our attention is grabbed. And our money taken. The story is a commodity. The reality of history, like wars, is statistics, or perhaps music though it can be pretty ugly music. And you concoct a story to make people willing to play a role in it. Nobody wants to be just a note on the stave, a cog in the wheel, a number in the statistics, and so how can an entire society exist and flourish that has no myth, just a set of numbers? Or is it that it could exist, only nobody would care or notice? Which brings me, in a very round about way that all the naff books on how to write essays tell you is wrong, to Hong Kong, the point! And that is the point because the point of anything is a fiction and the fiction of Hong Kong has a strange and pointless nature. If the myths of the communist motherland are not to be swallowed, then nothing else can be! And if they are, then whatever that story is, it won’t be Hong Kong’s.
what’s the no-story of Hong Kong? It was born, it grew and maybe there will be
an end. Cities do end; some abruptly. And some evolve into other cities.
Climates change, rivers run dry, economies collapse, and fashions start coming
from elsewhere rather than one’s own creative dynamic. Cool turns to naff. And
Hong Kong one day will be either too naff to live there, or under six foot of
water and the playground of monsters or midgets as yet not evolved. So when
people ask what has changed in Hong Kong after ten years under Chinese rule,
one searches for a story to tell them, an illustration of change, of moral
intent, a point of departure, an end, a beginning, a hero. But one has to
manufacture it, falsify, fictionalise and in effect make a primitive judgement
just to please an audience. The truth is just statistics, though one can
romanticise and start looking for the tune.
So what’s the no-story of Hong Kong? It was born, it grew and maybe there will be an end. Cities do end; some abruptly. And some evolve into other cities. Climates change, rivers run dry, economies collapse, and fashions start coming from elsewhere rather than one’s own creative dynamic. Cool turns to naff. And Hong Kong one day will be either too naff to live there, or under six foot of water and the playground of monsters or midgets as yet not evolved. So when people ask what has changed in Hong Kong after ten years under Chinese rule, one searches for a story to tell them, an illustration of change, of moral intent, a point of departure, an end, a beginning, a hero. But one has to manufacture it, falsify, fictionalise and in effect make a primitive judgement just to please an audience. The truth is just statistics, though one can romanticise and start looking for the tune.
So has the tune changed? Have we slipped out of the incessant march music and eight tone scales of the West into something less rhythmic, more pentatonic, more shrill and operatic? I even have difficulty in pin pointing any change in tone. What you get are statistics and processes and complexity and the certain knowledge that come 2045, the assigned date for the death of the Hong Kong SAR, a forgotten component of the agreement between the UK and China, that one is still going to have exactly what one has, though maybe some fantasy history will have emerged that, in this town where nobody gives a damn about history, history will make not the slightest bit of difference. Any discussion about Hong Kong turns into an infinite regression into parenthesis.
Hong Kong used to have a crowd-pleasing story. Hong Kong was founded by drug dealers, so the story goes, though if you want to be pernickety you can look a little more closely and discover it was not quite as cut and dried as that. There was even a Hong Kong before the British came, for a start, and the Hong Kong history museum now likes to present all that and portray the English bit as just a blip.
The Convention of Chuenpeh 1841 ceded the island of Hong Kong to the British and if we think of Hong Kong beginning when the British came, maybe it ended when they left. But then, who has left? The British government left, but they more or less had little to do with the running of the place from the time the Japanese invaded. And it can be argued that much the same people run the place now that Beijing has in theory taken over. And in some respects they are much the same people, some of them direct descendants of the Chinese who threw their lot in with the British when they first started doing business in the region. Though that starts making the story very complicated and the story begins to fall apart and turn into this unheroic, unspiritual, amoral, progression of stuff that just happens when lots of different individuals with certain drives and needs come together in the pursuit of those things.
But let’s get back to the story. Was the founding of Hong Kong a noble, outrageous, piece of adventurism? Hardly. It didn’t even warrant much of a Boys Own Spin at the time. Everyone involved got sacked, reprimanded, stabbed in the back by someone who either thought it should never have happened or was too pathetic a reward for so much effort. Charles Elliott, who signed the Convention of Chuenpeh, was made Charge’ d’affairs in Texas, which was very much a punishment appointment, if you consider how he would have to host dinner parties for the dismal bunch of drunks and slave owners who had seized power there. And for that matter the Chinese Mandarin, Lin Tse-Hsu, who set his sights on destroying the opium trade, also lost his job for in effect doing his job! The escalation into war was more to do with Beijing’s inertia and inability to support its own administrators. Lin was after all, a man of humble origins who had worked his way up, and the aristocracy were not inclined to communicate with the likes of him. Too clever by half, and suspiciously logical and hard working, he was sent off to the newly annexed Illi basin in Xinjiang, to host dinners for Kazakh opium addicts and slave owners – a little bit of Chinese imperial adventurism conveniently forgotten in all but the name of the province: the New Territories.
It was a mix of misunderstandings, double-dealing, bribery and corruption all in the service of the needs of the then level of technology. To trade with the East you needed a base to fuel your steamers. And to deal with complex commercial regulations you needed laws that recognised the concepts used to organise the economies of the West. Chinese law could not handle it and the Chinese quite sensibly thought steam engines dirty noisy affairs that frightened the cows. There is the story told of Chinese backwardness where the ignorant Mandarins tore up the railway lines to Guangzhou because they disturbed the countryside. In my youth the history books used that as an example of why the British Imperial mission, morally dubious in many aspects, was also justifiable. We modernised the world. Nowadays one can look upon those Mandarins and think them perfectly sensible people. They would weep at the polluted state of China’s cities and point out how not just China is destroyed but the whole world. Bad Feng Shui! That’s what Global Warming is… And now I’ve lost the story again. Other stories seem potentially available, if we find it useful to pick them out of the noise. What, we may ask, is politically useful? Which, we may well ask, is the most lucrative commercial story? How can I serve my own purposes? Or should I just be cool and knowing and enigmatic, hinting I know secrets that you do not know and have powers and connections that you do not have? Us Brits can be inscrutable when we want to be.
And so, 1842 and all that! History reduced to the best bits, only, in Hong Kong well, there is an awful lot of noise in Hong Kong, a lot of selves to be served and not many good bits. So after 1842 and all that, the official founding of the city of Victoria, a name that never quite caught on though officially still is the Hong Kong Island part of the city - much as the City of Hull is officially called Kingston, though nobody much cared for the King and thus the locals called it Hull, after the river - I digress.
Where am I?
Ah, yes, 1842 and all that!
So we find Hong Kong history a list of squabbles, infighting, bewildered moments where the place sought a role for itself and much about drainage and sanitation. The story then became China and not Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong did produce the Taai Ping, a murderous and free loving Christian sect with socialistic leanings that in the end frightened the Westerners as much as the ruling Qing Dynasty. Could the Falun Gong of 2007, much given to large drum beating processions through Hong Kong mysteriously without any media coverage whatsoever, be a modern descendant of such mysterious forces in the Chinese soul? They ooze a boxerish vibe and Taai Pingish religiosity. To paraphrase Basil Fawlty, “Don’t mention the Falun Gong!”
And to paraphrase Jiang Zemin, to rid us of this evil cult, the Taai Ping that is, Chinese Gordon, eventually of Khartoum, led the Qing to victory and the next thing we know is a rather dull little medical student at Hong Kong University started thinking China needed to get rid of its Emperors and institute modern institutions of Government. Sun Yat Sen goes on to be possibly the dullest revolutionary ever recorded in history, but undoubtedly the founder of modern China.
And here is something curious about Chinese history, it so often is a sweep of processes rather than great heroes. The individual is buried in the waves of history. Or at least that is how Chinese history is studied. It’s popular variant is a confused mess of stories without much care for chronology or accurate depictions of the era they come from. And the stories are often wild and woolly with gods and demons thrown in for good measure. It is all opera! And as everyone knows, you can never really follow the story in an Opera, you are supposed to know it somehow, but you never do, not all of it and often not the same story. And perhaps since all history is just this mess of stuff, the Chinese are right. Collect lots of boring records and annotate them and let the popular imagination create wild stories and call it history, while the real history is the number of bricks in a great wall and how many man years it took to build it. Somewhere in all that is a lingering idea of the good man, versed in literature, arts and good taste in general, but where the West came in and destroyed the lingering remnants of the Chinese story, came the idea that man is only as good as the system makes him. Power without check inevitably destroys virtue. The game is everything and what makes for a good game? Good rules that everyone understands and can, if they produce boring results or unjust ones, be changed. And so Cricket arrived in Hong Kong but would the Chinese play it? No!
How come the Chinese never cottoned onto the one game that could shame the colonialists and prove themselves more than their equals? One has a sneaky suspicion that most Chinese who emigrated to Hong Kong either did not notice the British were there or were glad they were there instead of the Qing. But essentially they ignored them, as they pretty much do today. Donald Tsang recently announced, if my reading of the South China Morning Post in April 2007 was correct, that “the opinions of ex-pats” are of little importance. Maybe they misquoted him. But probably not.
What changed the rules of Hong Kong’s game rather abruptly was Hong Kong’s falling into the hands of the Japanese. It has its stories, its moments of tragedy and high farce: the Japanese were slaughtering and raping nurses while the Australian forces, idiotically dumped in Stanley as a futile attempt to bolster up a pointless defensive stance, broke into the bars and got drunk. And as the British propaganda machine got into gear portraying the Japanese as sub-human devils, British officers entertained their counterparts in the Japanese army to sit down banquets with plenty of wine, as a prelude to their dismal internment. This is perhaps where the Hong Kong of the British Empire died and what was born afterwards was an afterthought, a misalignment of historical forces. The Americans did not want it. And they, more than the Japanese, were the enemy then. They wanted Hong Kong handed over to Chiang Kai Shek but the Brits in the internment camp of Stanley had other plans and reclaimed the colony. Nobody here argued with them and the British swiftly sent the navy to make sure they got there before the Americans. If the Americans had been quicker, if Chiang Kai Shek had not been mired in organisational chaos, and the Brits in no mood to compromise, Hong Kong would have died then and there becoming a windswept backwater, pillaged by the communists, and left to rot. What a story the place would have had then! Its pivotal role in the modernisation of China would have been dismissed as a joke, a desperate imperialist conceit confined to a few footnotes referencing obscure academic papers that once bothered to argue the point. Instead it became the refuge of Shanghainese businessmen, retreating Kuomingtang, and Cantonese refugees and the modern Hong Kong of sweatshop labour, and plastics factories. Suzy Wong grew up amidst all this and started writing stories about The Miracle of Hong Kong.
By the time the handover came it was as though the rest of China had caught up, but was still an unknown quantity. With the Soviets collapsing, China looked set for regime change of some sort and Hong Kong would thus, so some said, take over China! Perhaps it already had. The blunt use of the military to suppress unarmed student protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989 put paid to that and conjured up images of the old China, Stalinist policies, and Maoist excesses. Hong Kong shook and for a moment the story of the Handover began to look interesting, for annihilation does produce a sense that they deserved it and a moral makes a story. Would it be a case of rampaging People’s Liberation Army troops blowing up shopping malls and arresting dissidents? Was one a fool for hanging around waiting for the internment camps and mass executions? Would there be daring escapes? Would there be heroic encounters? Would there be a song and a poster image of a banker beating off a retreating tank with his briefcase?
And the press flew in, hoping for a story, desperate for a story, and all they could come up with was the revelation that White Men actually do labouring jobs in Hong Kong. Or at least the couple of white guys they found doing a bit of furniture removal for a Chinese boss were held up as a sign that White Supremacy no longer ruled, forgetting the rather blue collar origins of the sailors and soldiers that propped up the bars of Hong Kong since its inception. One wonders how much money the man who concocted that piece of copy got from the syndication rights? The best image was of a kilted squaddy at the War Memorial caught in a gust of wind revealing that nothing was worn beneath his kilt and all was in perfect condition. This was perhaps the anti-dote to the labouring white men, for it proved that the devils in skirts were still to be feared, if the film “Carry on Up The Khyber”, voted best British movie of all time, is anything to go by. Private Widdle would no doubt have approved. (I implore you to see the film as it explains everything there is to know about the English.) And there was something Widdlish about the whole handover ceremony in which both sides managed to out-kitch each other in a display of pomp and circumstance and Gay Soldiery that proved that the plot had long ago been lost and everyone really knew the concept of national sovereignty was draining away in the face of globalisation.
And so, what the press found was rain and a T-shirt featuring the Union Jack being painted Red. The icon was perhaps more prescient than it was intended. The flag was not so much changed, as merely painted over for beneath Hong Kong remained, well jacked, and not unlike Hawaii, with its Union Jack vaguely protesting its annexation by the monster next door. Now that is an odd story that lingers in the footnotes of history, why the Union Jack should represent Hawaii and why Sun Yat Sen conducted much revolutionary activity in Hawaii? Rich ex-patriot Chinese with American passports hover in the shadows of the founding of modern China, and now, American MBA’s in hand, newly acquired Putonghua, their grand sons and daughters head for Shanghai and its business opportunities. And curiously the seemingly conservative emblem of Imperial Power presides over a rather bolshy stick-it-to-the-man attitude capable of giving anyone claiming the mandate of heaven in all its forms, a head ache.
To continue the great and glorious history of Hong Kong and its “Miracle”…
In the lead up to the 1997 Handover, the Brits half-heartedly tried to keep rioters from the streets by allowing for greater democracy and boosting up the economy with great works like the Airport. But afterwards, the Chinese returned the government to the old bureaucracy, though kept the airport. It looked nice.
There seemed to be a story brewing: here was the disastrous economic down turn and the even more disastrous new Chief Executive, Mr Tung, hell bent on producing a Singaporean style benevolent dictatorship, which turned into more like a re-enactment of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’s last days when he managed to get half a million people protesting on the streets against him. But underlying it Hong Kong was much the same. There had been riots before. There had been strikes before. There had been upturns and downturns and indecisive governments before and anyone who had been in Hong Kong long enough would know, the very pulse of the place, the music if you like, assumes what goes up, comes down and sometimes you get lucky and sometimes not.
was all taken in its stride. The heart of Hong Kong beat much the same as ever.
Even when the Plague, a much loved depleter of Hong Kong’s 19th century population, returned, in
the form of SARS, and the old Hong Kong politics of drains and sanitation
resurfaced. There was even a tragic fire, the Garley Buildings, like many other
tragic fires from the Happy Valley Racecourse fire of the early part of the century
to the Shek Kip Mei Squatter Camps of the middle part of the century. Fires,
Plagues, street demonstrations, bureaucratic paralysis and rapacious tycoons
sewing up monopolies of property and service industries backed by dodgy money
from gun runners, drug dealers, gambling syndicates, corrupt officials, crazy
fung shui masters etc. etc. etc. etc. and etc. are the every day fibre of Hong Kong’s way of life. Anyone who enters Hong Kong throws
themselves upon the rough waters and hopes some wreckage comes along with a
handy bit of gold hanging onto it. And in this messy piratical world, enough
luck is generated to keep everyone hoping for their turn. Nobody is rewarded
for hard work, for brilliance, for exceptional abilities. You either get lucky
or you do not and that is all there is and Hong Kong would like to think that
this tune is its very own but one finds it hummed throughout the world if one
does not live in a fantasy. Though to say that Hong Kong people do not live in
a fantasy is perhaps overstating the case. People literarily do get sold magic
beans on the street. Little old ladies have their savings prized out of their
bank accounts by unscrupulous flim flam artists peddling magic beans that
restore good health, good fortune, and full heads of hair. They have been known
to tragically blind babies by rubbing magic incense ashes into their eyes.
It was all taken in its stride. The heart of Hong Kong beat much the same as ever. Even when the Plague, a much loved depleter of Hong Kong’s 19th century population, returned, in the form of SARS, and the old Hong Kong politics of drains and sanitation resurfaced. There was even a tragic fire, the Garley Buildings, like many other tragic fires from the Happy Valley Racecourse fire of the early part of the century to the Shek Kip Mei Squatter Camps of the middle part of the century. Fires, Plagues, street demonstrations, bureaucratic paralysis and rapacious tycoons sewing up monopolies of property and service industries backed by dodgy money from gun runners, drug dealers, gambling syndicates, corrupt officials, crazy fung shui masters etc. etc. etc. etc. and etc. are the every day fibre of Hong Kong’s way of life. Anyone who enters Hong Kong throws themselves upon the rough waters and hopes some wreckage comes along with a handy bit of gold hanging onto it. And in this messy piratical world, enough luck is generated to keep everyone hoping for their turn. Nobody is rewarded for hard work, for brilliance, for exceptional abilities. You either get lucky or you do not and that is all there is and Hong Kong would like to think that this tune is its very own but one finds it hummed throughout the world if one does not live in a fantasy. Though to say that Hong Kong people do not live in a fantasy is perhaps overstating the case. People literarily do get sold magic beans on the street. Little old ladies have their savings prized out of their bank accounts by unscrupulous flim flam artists peddling magic beans that restore good health, good fortune, and full heads of hair. They have been known to tragically blind babies by rubbing magic incense ashes into their eyes.
In a world in which policemen have gun battles with each other and write poetry about the meaninglessness of existence, if the evidence presented in a 2007 court case featuring Officer Tsui who was given to robbing banks and taking his mother on exotic holidays is anything to go by, there is no moral to the events of Hong Kong, thus no story. If the case of one of the richest men in Hong Kong being kidnapped and scolding his wife for paying the ransom without negotiating it down and then being kidnapped again and disappearing, rumour has it, over the side of the boat speeding him to Taiwan when intercepted by the Chinese navy, is anything to go by, nothing happens without an element of absurdity. The now very rich wife took to sporting pigtales, wearing mini-skirts, and queuing up for cake coupons while the money languished in probate. Then there was a lawsuit from the aging father who already was rich enough. Then, on her winning all the money, she quickly dies a premature death and a mysterious fengshui master lays claim to it all. And then hefty doses of media management crank into gear as questions start surfacing suggesting that all of this saga might be the tip of a very iffy set of circumstances. Follow the money, one might say, but it could be very dangerous to actually do so. And so…
Where was I in this absurd soap opera? Nowhere!
The facts of Hong Kong lack moral content, let alone the fictions. Hong Kongers prefer spectacle and absurdity, to coherent story telling. Mo Lei Tau, nonsense, has been perfected and art has never made much headway, perhaps because reality has outstripped it and similarly not made much headway. So what is the story? There is no story, there is Film Director and comic actor Chow Sin Chi turning out live action cartoons with a deft use of the non-linear editing suite. There is process and the process continues, repeating, recycling, reforming and eventually one assumes dying. It is a piece by Philip Glass endlessly cycling through the circle of twelfths, and fading out in a clatter of Chinese gongs.
Has the handover changed anything? It does not look like it. Have the Brits finally gone and the whole place reverted to the sleepy Chinese fishing village it once was? No. But then the whole of China has changed. Has Hong Kong joined the rest of China? Not quite. It drives on the left hand side of the road for a start. It does not arrest government opponents; it rather invites them to endless lunches and onto endless committees. Has the English Language disappeared? It was never there in the first place. The Chinese slept one side of the bed and the English the other. But the English were never here in large numbers and although there are fewer Europeans here, an awful lot of the Chinese are not exactly Chinese nationals, but rather products of overseas education if not nations. The ABC, BBC, CBC – American Born, British Born, Canadian Born Chinese – are everywhere and some of those are more American, more British, more Canadian than the Europeans who arrive with their dreams of exploring oriental culture.
Globalisation has changed the world but not Hong Kong for Hong Kong was a product of the globalisation process, is the epitome of globalisation. The market made Hong Kong. Trade Routes made it. And although the steamers do not need a fuelling stop any more, the airport is one of the largest in the world and the container terminals shipping goods in and out of Hong Kong are still there. Economics drives the place, not personalities and it remains a first rate place for third-rate people. Talent is scarce and business opportunities are many. Buy cheap, sell high. That’s it! That’s the story. A city that struggles to be a city instead of a workers’ dormitory! That’s not a story. A city that was never quite a city, but more a depot! A city that has no soul! A city that lacks culture and taste! A city that is hot and happening and ever changing and never changing! An exciting city! A city of dullards and dimwits and dickheads! The ignorant rule. Nobody rules. No story. Just stuff. A lucky place to be in! Especially if you like dancing and horse-racing.
Mimi Wong, an HSBC banker, paid US$15 million for Tango lessons! And quite rightly got most of it back when her instructor called her a lazy cow. Only in Hong Kong could US$15 million fail to impress upon someone the need to be at least politely diplomatic when confronted with an idiot.
Maybe Hong Kong is learning diplomacy. It’s learning about China. It is gathering more information about the new China and finding it not the monolithic evil force in the back yard, but rather a mess of bits and pieces, some with good investment prospects and others as ever rife with warlords and corrupt officials. Beijing has become nicer, in as much as the men are younger, though not young enough to forgo dying their hair an alarming jet black to keep looking vigorous despite their age. But the age is sixty-something rather than eighty-something nowadays and the men are professionals, engineers, economists, political science graduates, experts and general managers who create focus groups and committees and study papers. China has no crusade. It struggles to replace the irrational with the rational and provide the framework for everyone to play the competitive game and not exploit those who have not as yet got the message.
Hong Kong might not be learning to love Beijing, but it is losing its fear and learning that there is a game to play that might have some harsh rules, but all one needs do is accept certain principles, the primacy of the communist party for a start, and then everything else is negotiable. And even what actually constitutes the Communist Party seems to be negotiable. Membership has been thrown open to all the “Advanced” social groupings, meaning technocrats and businessmen can be “Communists” now without having to accept Marx as the last word in Economic Theory. Meaning, if you pay your money, you get into the good seats at the Olympics reserved for important officials.
But that is assuming too much. Hong Kongers are a little gauche, a bit naïve, a little cosseted by the good times, and products of bizarre devilish deals. Mainlanders are hardened to the ways of the Mainland, come in two forms, ignorant peasants out to grab whatever they can, smart well educated graduates out to grab whatever they can. And the notion of the communist is lacking in Hong Kong discourse, unlike the every day of China. There is but government, authoritarian yes, but as was always the case in China, the Emperor is but one man and is a long way away playing with his concubines and communing with the forces of heaven. Everyone else is putting their bets on which horse will win, and sometimes if the recently excavated radio controlled drugs dispensers planted at the starting rail of the Happy Valley Race Course are anything to go by, working on elaborate means of cheating the whole system. And the suspects were mainlanders, as they always are. So the love and trust of China, of Beijing, is but a sycophantic hope for someone to protect them from the rapacious hordes. The Chineseness of Hong Kong is a throwback, called upon from folk memory, half forgotten and barely relevant to modern China but that does not matter! And that is the odd thing. Whether one can conclude that this has changed anything in Hong Kong is a moot point. The story is a mystery, a chaotic soap opera with no end, except when the Aliens land and inform the entire cast that it was all a dream.
What Hong Kong means is that stuff happens and one can turn a story on it if one likes, but the story is a fabrication, a piece of propaganda, and indicates a need to manipulate, to gain control, to establish an order, and in Hong Kong one finds that this is remarkably lacking. And so a coherent Noble Lie for those who vie for power here and do not really want it that much. There are no great leaders. They all follow in the wake of Sun Yat Sen, in being dull professionals who somehow get assigned the role in whatever the system is churning up. We have an eight hundred strong committee to vote for the Chief Executive and since only the man Beijing thinks suitable will win, it seems pointless opposing him. But recently opponents have somehow emerged. A sort of Loyal Opposition has been sanctioned. And, so the argument goes, since it is pointless, maybe someone should run in opposition to expose the pointlessness and it will at least make the chosen winner explain their policies. And this is ideal for people who actually do not want the job very much to at least show that they think policy decisions by the government matter, even if the ones announced and discussed in public are not actually ones that the government really does much about. The point though is to create a fiction that some can believe in, that there is a mandate, and that the elected Chief Executive has addressed the public, whose opinions matter to the eight hundred electors. But as the desire is not really there, there is no story, just a fragmentary drama with a few good scenes, and ultimately nobody suspends their disbelief for long.
the handover there have been no riots, and arrogant officials have a habit of
ending up in the courts exposing their arrogance to the public who find them
all rather embarrassing. Whether it is contempt for the ignorance of the
general public, or even the “stupidity of Hong Kong teachers”, as discussed in
another recent court case concerning government interference in academic
freedom, it all smacks of an uniquely Hong Kong muddle brought on by uncertain
powers and the ever levelling effects of back stabbing and envy. There is no
prize left unscorned and it is just far better to keep your head down, avoid
conspicuous displays of idiocy and wealth, and definitely side step ambitions
in public areas, and muddle on in a very British way that sits very well with
the natural anarchy of the Cantonese. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and
get on with your own business, especially if you happen to have some nice off
shore earnings and property in various places around the world.
Since the handover there have been no riots, and arrogant officials have a habit of ending up in the courts exposing their arrogance to the public who find them all rather embarrassing. Whether it is contempt for the ignorance of the general public, or even the “stupidity of Hong Kong teachers”, as discussed in another recent court case concerning government interference in academic freedom, it all smacks of an uniquely Hong Kong muddle brought on by uncertain powers and the ever levelling effects of back stabbing and envy. There is no prize left unscorned and it is just far better to keep your head down, avoid conspicuous displays of idiocy and wealth, and definitely side step ambitions in public areas, and muddle on in a very British way that sits very well with the natural anarchy of the Cantonese. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and get on with your own business, especially if you happen to have some nice off shore earnings and property in various places around the world.
How can I conclude this over view of the Handover? I feel I should just end in mid sentence, like most conversations in Hong Kong. Nothing is concluded. Everything is talked away in lunches and pointless meetings. Decisions do not get made, but things happen and we all live reasonably well, some a lot more reasonably than others, but they do such stupid stuff with their money as to make one realise that one actually can have too much money. Or at least Hong Kong can. They prefer to horde it for a rainy day, for a future ancestor, for HSBC bank, or buy a bag of magic beans, or a pack of Tom.com shares from Richard Li.
If one wants to look for a great pronouncement, to find something the Western newspapers want to write about, or the historians even, the story must be about democracy and its failure to be implemented. The story though is the non-story, for only when democracy happens, will the British Colonial legacy finally die, except that it died a long time ago with the Japanese invasion, so whatever ran the place, made the place, was the place, had nothing to do with democracy which would be the end, or beginning, but somehow the hunger for democracy does not motivate anything much… well, not much more than a sharp intake of breath.
The dynamic that fuelled Hong Kong was the isolation of China under the revolutionary period and now China embracing the market economy drives Hong Kong. External forces rather than internal take the lead and a democratic Hong Kong will probably find itself in much the same situation with everyone moaning about how useless and indecisive the democratic government is. Democracy is a brave attempt to create a moral and make a story. Freedom, democracy, and the opening up of the Hong Kong society and thus a cultural renascence, a flowering of many blooms, a resurgence of the film industry, a gathering of creative literati and visual artists, are all possible, if enough actually care. History will have progressed. The Story has a happy ending. Or it just goes on. And who says the place wasn’t democratic in the first place, because, essentially everyone does exactly as they please and those with the most money get to buy more than those who have less, but so it goes, that’s not going to change in this world, in this life-time, anywhere!
Another gasp of polluted air, devoid of oxygen and packed full of toxins…
So Hong Kong the cool, forever! And that is it. Hong Kong does what it does, is what it is, and languishes as a footnote, and does not give a damn. And the non-story of the British is, what a success the handover is! And the non-story of Beijing is, what a success the handover is! And the non-story of the Chinese is, how clever we are, and the non-story of the Ex-pats is, hey, here we still are! So it’s a happy ending. So how cool can you get?