Actually, now I think about it, I probably don’t. I just wondered how it would feel to write it. Bandwidth limitations forbid a full inventory of all those I don’t love, but let’s say the list would probably get rather sweeping, to the extent that some ‘different age groups and social classes’ would appear in it about two thirds of the way down, before I started to seriously generalize. The expression of universal amity comes from Executive Council member Leung Chun-ying, who we may conclude is getting a little desperate in his unspoken quest to replace Donald Tsang as Chief Executive of Hong Kong next year.
The Standard’s report suggests that uber-tycoon Li Ka-shing has already openly and unambiguously expressed support for Leung’s nice-but-dim rival Chief Secretary Henry Tang. In fact, Li was replying to a question about a typically silly comment Henry had made about him (young people should stop complaining and seek to emulate the rent-seeking property cartel lynchpin), but the newspaper is displaying some good old-fashioned Hong Kong pragmatism here. The fact that Li mentioned Henry is good enough; this is part of the gradual unfolding, and at some point we will all have come to accept that the equine-visaged scion of a Shanghainese textiles quota fortune is the natural choice for next CE.
This is bad news for poor CY, so he feels a need to make grandiose statements about loving young, old, rich and poor. The sad thing is that, being of relatively humble origins himself and having pushed for a minimum wage and better housing provision, he is a man of the people in comparison with Henry, yet his ardor is unrequited, and the citizens consistently rate him their least favourite of the potential next CEs.
At the other end of the scale we have people whose hearts seem filled with hatred and loathing, and one of the more entertaining – unwittingly, at least – must be the South China Morning Post letter-writer Pierce Lam, last noticed back in April. He is one of a number of contributors to the paper’s letters page whose trenchant, nativist Hong Kong-for-the-Chinese views always provoke a flurry of indignant responses. Lam’s big hang-up is the exalted and privileged position of the English language, and if he tilted his argument slightly he would make good sense.
A big chunk of the Hong Kong population are in effect made second-class citizens because of the importance attached to English. The civil servants, the professionals and the traders all see to it that their children learn in an English-speaking environment and can therefore inherit their political and economic power. The other 90% of the citizenry’s offspring have to make do with the vernacular or quasi-English schooling this same elite designs for them, leaving them largely ineligible from the start ever to be a top bureaucrat, a doctor or an international executive; the most they can aspire to is being a high-flier in insurance sales or a property agency.
Rather than question this elitist set-up and demand better education for the masses, however, Lam picks on the English language – an innocent bystander whose global role was thrust upon it by fate – and demands that it be downgraded in favour of Chinese.
The defensive blather about how five Chinese cities appear in the Globalization and World Cities Network’s list of ‘Alpha cities’ is hardly impressive; over a fifth of the world’s people are Chinese, so they should manage at least eight of the 42 just to be averagely good at creating such urban centres. It is a funny list, in which Manila ranks Beta + and some place called Curitiba gets a mention. It is largely compiled by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the same Beijing-run bureau that comes up with the index that shows Hong Kong to be barely more ‘competitive’ than Shanghai, even though it produces five times as much wealth per capita.
Lam’s argument that China has a long history of cosmopolitanism looks even more desperate, relying on Jacob d’Ancona, a mythical Marco Polo-type figure whose memoirs of China many Western academics believe were faked by British writer David Selbourne. (It’s a bit like the baloney about China discovering America in 1421.) It doesn’t help that Lam describes the 13th Century British Isles as being in the Dark Ages (which, to the extent they even happened, had long since ended) and being inhabited by ‘tribes’ with mutually incomprehensible languages (Cornish and Manx were still around). It was the century that gave the English-speaking people the Magna Carta, which, without getting over-romantic about it, enshrined principles that China’s leaders still resist today.
If Lam is patient, he will find that the English-language’s dominance that he simultaneously denies and hates will decline as technology makes automated and instant interpretation and translation a reality. It will be interesting to see what xenophobic rants he comes up with then – the undeserved preponderance of Arabic numerals, perhaps, or the evil prevalence of the Roman alphabet.
Meanwhile we can only wonder what nastiness he suffered to turn him into such a chauvinist. There are quite a few people who have understandable chips on their shoulders following colonial-era experience of white racism and arrogance, but this seems more personal. My theory is that he tried to get a kid into an English-language school and failed, and so it is a matter of spite: if he can’t have it, no-one else should be allowed to, and it’s garbage anyway, so there.