The South China Morning Post reports that 51% of Hong Kong students think their city was more democratic under the British; 40% of their counterparts in ex-Portuguese Macau agree, as do – perhaps most startling of all – a quarter of Mainlanders.
For a brief few years under Governor Chris Patten, Hong Kong was technically more democratic than it is today, thanks to his reforms of the voting system for the Legislative Council, which gave everyone a vote in a functional as well as geographical constituency. Those reforms were reversed at the stroke of midnight on July 1, 1997. But this was marginal, at best: the citizenry then, as now, had no official role in the selection of the government, which has always been decided in the sovereign power’s capital.
You could argue that Hong Kong became more democratic in practice in 2003-05 when the population forced failed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa out of office. This principle was formalized in 2011 when Beijing specified that whoever took power the following year would have to be, among other things, acceptable to the people of the city. Amazingly, the Chinese government kept its word when at the last minute it dumped Henry Tang and picked CY Leung over the heads of the local establishment. There was never a de facto popular veto over choice of British governor.
Do these 51% of local students genuinely believe what they are saying? It’s quite possible. They would have been brought up by people who came of age in the booming 70s and 80s and went on to rail against Tung soon after the handover. To their parents, things would have seemed better than they are today. Their grandparents, on the other hand, might have less positive memories from earlier times.
The survey’s organizers, which are Beijing-friendly bodies, put it down to ignorance. But it’s also possible that some students, ignorant or not, saw the question in the survey as an opportunity to register a protest against the current regime. Certainly that seems to be the case with the quite jarring phenomenon of protestors too young to be nostalgic for the pre-1997 era carrying the colonial Hong Kong flag and, in one case (below), a picture of the Queen. While these demonstrators may savour the shock value of these props, they do not seem to realize just how provocative the symbolism is. To Beijing officials and doctrinaire patriots here in Hong Kong, this is little short of treachery or blasphemy. Indeed, it is almost to the credit of Communist loyalists’ patience and sophistication that they have not utterly freaked out over the flag thing.
Perhaps they are too busy getting incensed by the partial collapse of plans to launch ‘national education’ in primary schools. Catholic authorities have joined many other groups – covering up to 40% of schools – in putting off the new subject for a year. All because, hilariously, a pro-Beijing group produced an optional textbook that rather overdid the patriotic bias. Even the usually nationalist, mouth-frothing Global Times, quotes a Mainland academic as saying that the book “…is not so objective… and mostly focuses on the bright side.”
Meanwhile, new Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen says that if Chief Executive CY Leung asks him to obey the Basic Law and implement Article 23 to introduce national security laws, “I will tell him no.” This was, as Tung Chee-hwa patiently explained to us all those years ago, a ‘sacred duty’.
All in all, China’s control of Hong Kong stops abruptly at the city’s hearts and minds. One reason is that China’s paranoid government appoints Hong Kong’s leaders from a small pool of trustworthy people. They goof up, which provokes popular discontent with Beijing, and thus the cause also becomes the effect. Another reason, with which we can declare the weekend open, is ancient wisdom dating back thousands of years: “If you wish to be loved, you must first be loveable.”
“The survey also found that local students were the worst-informed about historical facts.”
Wow, that brought back a memory. This posting by a user going by the handle ThisDress on Geoexpat certainly captured the essence of that quote.
Thanks for that, Sir Crispin. this is the sort of thing that makes Travis’s actions entirely understandable. People who are horrified at the thought of a human conspiring with aliens to wipe out the human race have obviously spent too little time in the presence of humans.
Or the Matrix…humans are a virus:
Interestingly, not much is said about the level of democracy under the British in the period up to Patten’s Governorship. It’s all about perception I spose. Two things are apparent in modern HK. 1. put a ‘white’ person in charge and HK’ers would immediately become strangely obedient. 2. the culture has changed here. People demand transperency and question decisions and processes at all levels.
I like the way the pic of the Queen is on a clipboard. I wonder who else he’s got on there, ready to flip through – Palmerston? Edward VII? Princess Alexandra?
What sort of name is Rimsky? It’s like brumsky and rimjob mashed into one… Or I guess the guy could be a fan of Russian romantic music.
Many HKers don’t realise what a turbulent world it is out there. History and politics have a funny way of surprising the blissfully unaware.
The British are the villains of the piece as they:
Empowered the tycoons;
Made the judiciary Government-men lapdogs;
Established a non-thinking and autocratic Civil Service ;
And engineered a moronic education system to keep the masses down.
People often love their abusers.
It’s called the Stockholm Syndrome.
Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.
Having resided in the Big Lychee for some twenty years, I enjoyed 5 years under the British (I arrived a few days before Fei Pang) and have enjoyed a further 15 years after its return to the glorious Motherland.
Hong Kong offers me a more pleasant life than I would have in the UK or in China, where I visit frequently. I’m not saying its perfect but on balance the positives outweigh the negatives. Therefore I stay.
As Maugrim noted, today people demand transperency and question decisions and processes at all levels – this didn’t happen in the “good old days”. I recall govenment’s ill-fated attempt to buld a “super prison” on Hei Ling Chau. Decisions were made behind closed doors and only public involvement was when goverment asked “so, what colour do you want it painted then?”.
Things are much better now – but not great – with public demand to be consulted increasing EXACTLY at the same rate that the spines of our bureaucrats are dissolving. Coupled with the edict fron the north of “harmony” at any price and we have the current situation where it now just too difficult for our civil servants to make any decisions, and we end up in perpetual consultation that goes on for decades – West Kowloon Cultural District, anyone? Kai Tak Development?
Is it ideal? No! Is it better than the alternatives? Yes! Roll on the weekend!
As I said yesterday, Paul Z for CE in 2017. I liked the idea of teh “Double Dutch” partnership with JvdK also.
People didn’t question the colonial government or ask for democracy because, for a large Chinese society, Hong Kong was about as good as it got. Is that still the case? For some yes, for others no.
I have a feeling that CY is going to try and take us back to governing as it was done in colonial days, especially if he gets a pro-establishment legislature this September.
Decisions will be made, Kai Tak Development, West Kowloon Cultural District, Article 23, Retained FC’s and so on …
If he does it well HK will just bleat and carry on. However as recent history has shown it’s unlikely he will. The system is so skewed and I foresee real friction.
There are many parties to apportion blame, for our lamentable political system, with the CCP No.1 by a country mile, followed by the Tycoons, Establishment and our lamentable Pro-Dem politicians to name but a few.
Genie is out of the lamp and the weekend is open.
Any decision made by a government invariably makes things worse, so the best government is one that can’t decide on anything.
Funny that they choose a provocative symbol and at the same time try to downplay the symbolism
Guess the marginal utility from no democracy to little (how ever short-lived) is much greater than a little to a little bit more.
@ Hemlock and all
One of the best op-eds I have seen for ages. Thanks to H.
I came to HK in 1980 so I lived through “everything” (including going to BJ for 6.4 and marching every time from 1989 till the present day)
My hat is off to the CCCP for their tolerance of the petty political games we play in HK , which is why I am seriously thinking of applying to join the CCCP in my latter day years.
My hope was that HK would prove a good example to the PRC regarding how to handle democracy once China has a large enough middle- class with the intelligence and access to facts in order to vote rationally *
Sadly, I think we have let down the greater populace of China very badly
Shame on us
* On the other hand , the USA with over 200 years of a “perfect” democratic constitution is still pretty much fucked up as regards rational voting. And England with 600 years of democracy if you count Magna Carta as a convenient starting date ( see Churchill : ” History of the English Speaking Peoples” ) still manages to elect total idiots from time to time.
Why join the CCCP just because they tolerate political games in Hong Kong? I don’t understand the logic. That said, I don’t understand why one would join Mensa either.
One joins Mensa because one can. Then one leaves.
Better still, do the Mensa test, be invited to join and then turn them down. 1 million smugness points to me.