In 2005, a group of people were less than halfway through building a house. Work was sporadic, or “gradual and orderly,” as they put it. They had done the foundation and ground-floor walls and hoped to put in the upstairs, the roof and all the fixtures by 2017 at the latest. The man ostensibly in charge of the project, a Mr Tsang, gathered everyone around and suggested that for 2007-08 they should upgrade the front door, which didn’t have a handle, with a thicker, heavier and more expensive one, though still with no handle. Some of the group, decrying the pointlessness of the idea, vetoed it and demanded that Mr Tsang organize some real progress – at least get the second floor finished. Nothing happened.
Four years later, on November 18, 2009, Mr Tsang sent his assistant, Mr Tang, to get everyone together again and propose a construction plan for 2012: again, the suggestion was to install a thicker, heavier and more expensive front door – but this time with a handle. The unhappy crowd, wondering how the house could possibly be ready by 2017, decided to show their displeasure the only way they knew how: by walking backwards up a hill.
If they had an ounce of sense, they would have realized long before that Tsang had no intention or even ability to get the house finished by 2017, or ever. But sadly, they are Hong Kong’s pro-democrats, and the universal suffrage they want to build has them mesmerized. Once seen as a means to better governance, it has become an end in itself – a symbol, for many of them, of 20 years’ hopes, dreams and tireless toil. They have put so much of their lives into erecting a gleaming electoral structure that the idea of abandoning it is unthinkable.
This is a pity, because while these idealists have been standing around the deserted construction site calling for the house to be finished, Tsang and his partners have been up to mischief. They have been buying expensive things no-one needs from their friends with the people’s money. They have been letting their friends use the people’s land cheaply. They even let their friends own all the shops and cheat their customers. The forlorn, would-be house-builders occasionally wander over and complain about all this; but not much. They can’t wait to get back to the never-finished building work for another march backwards – or, if that doesn’t work, forwards.
It has now got to the stage where you have to wonder whether the pro-democrats actually enjoy being strung along. It seems they have become so accustomed to this mental torture, reaching out to the emptier and emptier promises dangled before them, that it would break their hearts if they woke up one morning and found that someone had finished the house overnight. They would stand around it, peering through the spotless new windows at the black leather sofa and flat-screen TV in dismay. “What now?” the miserable ex-warriors for righteousness would ask.
The good news for them is that it won’t happen. A communist one-party state abhors universal suffrage as totally as nature does a vacuum. The bad news for everyone else, is that in the absence of elected representatives willing to kick up an almighty, never-ending, focused, articulate and populist fuss about citizens’, consumers’ and taxpayers’ rights, Mr Tsang and Co will be free to carry on treating his favourite half-dozen families to everyone else’s wealth.
Wait!!! All is not lost. Mystics believe that walking backwards reverses the karma, allowing practitioners to correct past errors and sins. Our one last hope.