The letters page of the South China Morning Post is a menagerie of creatures driven insane by confinement. Some pace up and down their cages screeching that the Hungarian Tiddlywinks Finals weren’t shown on cable TV. Some rattle the bars in anger, clearly suffering the delusion that our city is run by people who think air should be clean or housing affordable. Many seem to have been tranquilized and just sit quietly in the corner, mumbling incoherently, leaving the viewer feeling drowsy himself after just a few seconds’ glance.
Occasionally, the organizers exhibit a specimen carefully selected to excite or repel visitors, just to get a bit of buzz going about the place. A recent one was a woman complaining that she was pushing her baby in a (no-doubt) 12-wheeler, duplex stroller past World Wide House in Central on a Sunday and was inconvenienced by the hundreds of Filipino maids wrapping up boxes of items on the sidewalk to send home. The idea was to provoke extreme responses and of course letters poured in demanding that migrant workers and brown people should all be locked up in pitch-black underground caverns on their days off, or saying that only a total idiot would be so inconsiderate and deranged as to bring a real, live baby into Central on any day of the week.
Then there are the nativists, nationalists, semi-racists and self-appointed guardians of the motherland, denouncing English-language schools, foreign-backed pro-democracy dissidents and barbarianism in general. This week’s is from Peter Lok.
On November 9, the SCMP published a diatribe by one Philip Fang denouncing Hongkongers as the ‘brat’ in the Chinese family. (The newspaper’s abominable on-line archive system denies any knowledge of the article, even if you want to pay for it. Fortunately, extracts were discussed on a Geoexpat thread.) Specifically, the writer claimed that the ‘Gang of Four’ pro-democrats recently demonized in the pro-Beijing press (the unlikely combination of Martin Lee, Anson Chan, Cardinal Zen and Jimmy Lai) would be somehow punished for sedition if Hong Kong’s Article 23 security laws were in place. This provoked several responses, helpfully quoted by one correspondent from the anti-revolutionary, reactionary hotbed that is Disco Bay. Lok is criticizing the letter from Professor Steve Tsang.
Lok’s letters are amusing for their bumptious and superior tone – a style painstakingly acquired by many senior civil servants of his generation (he was Director of Civil Aviation years ago). In picking on Tsang, however, he is up against a respected historian of Hong Kong, with fine books and research to his credit. Tsang is not the wisest choice of target at which to publicly hurl your ignorance.
If my reading of his verbally grotesque fourth paragraph is correct, Lok says two things that are wrong: Article 23 is aimed at Hong Kong’s ‘rabble-rousers’ (like Lee/Chan/Zen/Lai); and late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping insisted that the People’s Liberation Army be based here to be ‘against’ these elements.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the proposed national security law abandoned by the Hong Kong government in 2003, it was not aimed at silencing local malcontents or prohibiting them from meeting foreign contacts. Indeed, in its final form it arguably didn’t really ban anything that wasn’t already illegal; the problem was its ambiguous wording and the serious lack of public trust in the administration of the day, compounded by the hasty and almost panicky manner in which officials tried to introduce the law.
The replacement of UK forces in Hong Kong was a matter of great symbolic importance to the Chinese leadership ahead of the handover; they rebuffed suggestions that they base just token units on this side of the border (although you hardly see the troops today). However, they were happy to allow the Hong Kong law enforcement agencies to assume what remained of the UK forces’ local public-order role.
So how did Lok get the idea that Article 23 was/is aimed at local ‘rabble-rousers’? And where did he hear that Deng insisted the PLA be stationed here to counter dissenters (and why have the military not done it)? Or, to put it more succinctly: why does Lok talk such crap? Is he blithely churning it out secure in his own mind that whatever flows from a former senior bureaucrat’s pen must be inerrant? Or does he get some sort of perverse and sick thrill out of spouting garbage all over the SCMP letters page from time to time? Like those captive primates who fling their own dung at passers-by, it is pitiful, but it livens things up.