Not a lot of variety in the headlines today. Hong Kong doesn’t handle tragedy with ease. In some places, dozens can die daily in trains or mines and no-one cares; in others, communities shrug and move on after this month’s maniac with a semi-automatic sprays innocents in a school or mall. In an extraordinarily safe city, grieving for large numbers of dead strangers is almost an otherworldly experience. Some are self-conscious about it, and others perhaps pay too much attention to detail.
Obviously, the first step is to Google ‘black handkerchiefs’. Indeed, there are such things, and the search engine suggests two main users: Israeli Olympic athletes remembering the 1972 Munich massacre and gay male seekers of casual sex using colour codes to indicate that they are into… sadomasochism. As we mark the first 100 days in office of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung, the question on everyone’s lips is: why is this guy doing this? With a wipe of his nose, CY explains all.
CY’s first three months have had a new and distinctive flavour. There has always been something abstract about ‘integration’. Now – bearing the useful pejorative ‘Mainlandization’ – it’s suddenly real. CY seems to regard managing it as a mission, whether it’s curbing excesses like mainland mothers or parallel traders, pushing National Education to the point of provoking civil disobedience, or getting Beijing’s representatives out of their seclusion at the Liaison Office to come on in and be part of the family.
The appearance of Liaison Office Deputy Director Li Gang at Queen Mary Hospital on the night of the ferry tragedy – with CY playing eunuch to Li’s Empress Dowager Cixi – might have been intended as a gesture of sympathy, but it looked and felt bizarre enough to partially overshadow the fatalities. CY’s protestations that he was personally running the rescue operation were similarly jarring; they only make sense as a response to the ‘order’ top leaders in Beijing publicly issued that the Hong Kong authorities take the accident seriously. Are we supposed to think Beijing is really concerned, and therefore loveable, etc? Or is this a pattern we need to get used to, where the CE defers to Beijing’s emissary and pretends, Mainland-style, to be hands-on manager of the emergency services’ operations in times of crisis?
CY could have been (and can still be) a popular and successful CE. The things he would need to do are pretty much the same things that would soothe the anti-Mainland and anti-Beijing backlash. Administratively, it would not be too difficult to reduce the crush of Mainland visitors and make homes more available. But the script calls for ‘integration’, not a return to relative isolation, or at least insulation, from the Mainland. Restricting Shenzhen folks’ visits or barring non-residents from buying property sends an atrocious message to the nation as a whole, let alone just to Hong Kong. So, if we can’t have that, we have to carry on with this self-flagellation. Being swamped with Mainlanders is good for you and necessary so live with it. Except, for all their passive and placid ways, Hong Kong people probably won’t (or can’t). So something is going to snap. Meanwhile, CY is busy working on his next image-battering mess: insisting on a means test for the revamped old-age welfare payments in the face of broad opposition in the Legislative Council. (Hint: remind the lawmakers that the extra HK$4 billion a year it would cost without means-testing could otherwise be spent on people who need it.)
I say something is going to snap; a euro-mainland-property crash would be a blessing and a relief. I declare a weekend of declining retail sales open with today’s Best Headline winner…
Very dignified of the pseudo-sombre SCMP, Standard, etc, to splash close-ups of the bereaved’s distraught faces at the moment of their greatest suffering on their front pages these last couple of days, no?
@ Hemlock : Sometimes what you write leaves me flabbergasted
Today is one of those days when it seems you captured the whole essence of today’s HK in one short op-ed
Nothing to add . You said it all
Cheers RTP ( and you know me in person)
Does anyone know which Government yes man, dolt or judge yearning for promotion is presiding over the enquiry?
I believe it is known as “doing a Bokhary” to take over such a role and come out on the side of the Government just before you get promotion to a higher court.
If you can’t come down on anyone’s side it is called “doing a Woo”.
A low-key compendium of the culturally-determined tropes that besiege us each day, but no less perceptive for that. I suppose CY’s secretion was tears, given the relative shortness of his nose, depth of kowtow and that other substances would leave unseemly tyre tracks?
It would be interesting to learn the order of precedence at banquets, HKU gatherings, etc: does CY rank above the toilet cleaner at the liaison office?
And so to the big question, hinted at by the mention of Cixi: tipping points are just that, straws that break backs, drops that tip vases over as the French crudely say. Certainly WWII was heralded by a particularly fine indian summer. And market crashes display a predilection for Fridays in early October. But CY’s popularity is not yet catastrophic, so it might be a bit premature to stock up with the salt and vinegar.
Surely a less oxymoronic way of saying “Nothing to add” is to withhold from clikcing “Submit comment”?
And of course CY’s team takes BigLychee’s advice:
Do you know how the govt could save even more money? Not raise the hand out to $2200.
Love the PR frame of the government always choosing to be penny wise, pound foolish tight-wads. We know how many billion we’ll save, but we won’t talk about ratio of expenditure to savings or ratio of folks above and below the selected means test for the same reason they don’t talk about the stingy original minimum wage fix. Just enough for the non-tycoons to prevent revolting peasants, but nothing that would actually threaten the Liaison Office-tycoon solidarity.
I tend to agree that the script now calls for the mainlandisation of HK – and I predict the new towns will be the next flashpoint (something is just not right about them).
In some ways it’s envitable, the CCP has made promises about universal suffrage, and we know they will have to be front and centre to ensure that doesn’t get out of control and that the right guy wins.
It’s a shame because on a grassroots level he’s done more in 3 months than Donald did in 7 years but this is the price we have to pay. He’s is not a democrat and probably believes in the divine right of the CCP to rule China forever.
Weekend open yet?
I have empathy for the people directly effected by the tragic incident. I could imagine the grief if I was personally effected.
But I don’t get the three days of mourning and the turning of what should be a time for private grief into a public spectacle.
The Government’s reaction is all part of a plan by spin doctors, show empathy (tick), be statesman like (tick), be a man of immediate action (tick). However at the same time always avoid at all cost being accused of doing ‘nothing’ (tick). As I’ve also said for weeks ‘steam be brewing’. Maybe as Hemmers says it will be a cash crisis, or a battle between China and a neighbour. My pick is a local issue that is a straw that breaks the camel’s back. There are definitely identity and quality of life issues abounding at present, along with a growing sense that complaining produces results. CY’s statement about ‘integration’ makes sod all difference to improving people’s daily experience in HK, quite the opposite. Sooner or later Leung the black hankied statesman will be called upon by the populace to show the same characteristics over identity and quality of life issues, except he wont be able to, being only the chief eunuch, powerful witjion his circle but unable to defy the emporess.
The media (Hemlock excepted, of course) are as usual lapping up the grief of others.
I do, however, take exception with the implied characterisation of the HK public as being somehow deficient because of the apparently vicarious nature of their grief. Couple of reasons:
First of all, this event *directly* affected around 500 people. They were participants or bystanders. If you’ve never been in a situation where people have died violently or been badly hurt, then you have my congratulations on your good fortune. However, do not underestimate the violence of this event’s impact on those involved. It will take years for many people to really get over it. In the meantime, some otherwise normal people will be living in hell. In CY’s case, I am sure that the sight of dead children will be with him at night for a long time. Give the guy a break. Yes, it is irrational. If you can do better, you’re a sociopath.
Secondly, this is a *small* town. These events affect lots of people indirectly. Many of us know people who were involved, one way or another.
Finally, sudden untimely death on this scale should make us think, and prioritise a bit better. There will be a lot of soul searching going on. A good thing, if nothing else about this event was.
Maybe three days of mourning is how it should be. We are certainly not as “accustomed” to mass loss of life as other Asian places. And some of the Sophie’s choices survivors from Lamma IV were forced to make are positively chilling.
But quite what purpose is of arresting the captains and various crew is beyond me. Take statements, sure, but as a union person said yesterday, arresting the crew will just scare people into silence.
Before everyone gets their knickers in a complete twist, please remember that the world will end on 21 December, according to the Mayans, so none of this matters ‘cos we’ll all be dead. Or in a new age. Or some other hippy shit. Which is a shame, as we’ll miss Christmas. Oh well …
Haven’t seen any signs of mainlanders spending less than last year so far in TST but I have seen plenty of signs of TST retailers not having their sales records entirely and completely up to date
TST has been rammed for days – quite how there hasn’t been a traffic accident there with so much jay walking going on down Haiphong Rd etc is amazing. I can’t quite believe with far more visitors than last year that taking are down. The word ‘bollocks!’ springs to mind.
@ Muagrim and Chimp
Hemmer; you old hippy! Amon Duul II indeed. Now there’s a blast from the very distance past from a madcap German psyche band.
You’ve been smoking the same stuff as Mr Lau I bet!
Pure speculation on my part – Arresting the crew may be to reduce people getting their stories straight. My Lamma hippie associates tell me that Lamma ferry staff are well known for playing chicken (including with freighter traffic), falling asleep in the wheelhouse and otherwise being a tight knit, closed shop of “snaggle tooth in-breds”.
No doubt some of this story plays well to cultural/class stereotypes, but stereotypes often exist for a reason!
The simultaneous nature of our posting on the same topic has led to an avalanche of email enquiries as to whether we are the same person. Absolutely not, is my definitive answer. After all, how could one person post at the same time?
“Shall I mourn your decline with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief” is the only cultural reference I get.
British judges used to place something remarkably akin to CY’s handkerchief on their heads when passing sentence of death over convicted miscreants. Has Beijing passed a guilty verdict on the people of HK? Your autonomy, core values, hopes of democracy and way of life are to be hung by the neck until they be dead.
Lau Nai-keung would gleefully take on the role of executioner, joined by the handful of rabid fellow-travelling correspondents to the SCMP letters page (you all know their names). Elsie Leung Oi-See will be doing her knitting in the front row at the gallows.
Please excuse me , but anyway it’s Saturday and only the valiant few are still checking in
But today’s SCMP has a monster article ( good monster)
I ran the Incorporated Owner’s Association ( IOA) of my apartment block for many years. I initially tried to do it as democratically as possible, bent over backwards , endured endless meetings and verbal abuse. But finally I judged that the “owners” only wanted ” democracy” to the extent that it did not impose on them : physically or financially
I had to go through endless stupid committee meetings even though some issues concerned life-threatening structural problems
in the block , and all I got was abuse and procrastination
Finally, I just gave up all pretences of democracy and ran the IOA like a benevolent dictatorship until I deemed that I had past my use-by date, and so I absented myself and left it to the other owners to elect a new Chairman of the IOA.
So much for democracy … and today CY says he has “no magic wand”
Anyway … here’s the full SCMP article
Pro -dems – if any of you are reading this TAKE NOTE !
A year after the start of protests that led to free elections in Wukan, a fishing village in east Guangdong, the din of cement mixers and construction trucks has replaced the revolutionary songs that used to blare through loudspeakers.
Cooking smoke curls through the air, and the giant white protest banners that called for the overthrow of corrupt officials have been replaced by slogans encouraging birth control.
Life seems to have returned to normal, but the growing pains have just begun for the village’s young government as it grapples with the realities of Democracy 101.
“Many of us don’t understand what democracy is and we are still learning,” said village committee member Zhuang Liehong . “We are in a transitional phase and need to figure it out for ourselves.”
Zhuang, one of four protest leaders previously arrested for their part in the movement, is now in charge of security, mediation and encouraging cremation.
The school playground – which became a laboratory for grass-roots democracy on the mainland when villagers cast their ballots there in free elections early this year – is packed with children unaware of the significant change brought about by their parents’ defiance.
In late September of last year, thousands of villagers gathered in Wukan to fight for the return of their land, seized by corrupt officials in illegal land grabs. They defied armed security personnel, and in December demanded justice after protest leader Xue Jinbo died in custody.
Early this year, they voted in elections for a new seven-member village committee, replacing one sacked by the provincial government following months of protests. Instead of sending in troops to break up the protests, Guangdong’s Communist Party secretary, Wang Yang , ordered a peaceful resolution, seeking to defuse tensions through mediation, investigation and the sacking of party officials.
The Wukan protests, their peaceful resolution and consequent direct, grass-roots elections – deemed free, fair and transparent – have been hailed as a landmark model for others to follow on the mainland.
“From resistance to realising direct election, we have come a long way,” deputy village chief Yang Semao said. “But there is still much to work on in our fight for grass-roots democracy in China.
“For instance, we’ve posted notices informing villagers of the latest issues, such as construction projects or returned land, but many don’t bother to read them, or can’t because they are illiterate. Then they end up accusing us of hiding village affairs from them, which is very frustrating.”
With post-election euphoria gradually wearing off, the fired-up village officials who vowed to get lost land back when they were sworn in six months ago now appear disheartened in the face of widespread frustration.
“Our honeymoon period lasted for about three months, and after that, it was a mess,” Yang said. “Villagers were very supportive and high-spirited at first, but that unity is on the verge of splitting apart.
“Villagers are driven by their land interests, but progress on getting the lost land back has been far from ideal.”
Zhuang said he’s thinking about quitting.
“I’m saddened that villagers are not showing enough appreciation for all that we have done for them. They took us for granted.
“But if the villagers were supportive, I wouldn’t regret it even if I worked myself to death.”
Zhuang said people affiliated with the old village committee and developers had manipulated some villagers, encouraging them to attack the new committee. “If they succeed, Wukan will be taken back to square one,” he warned.
By early last month, 227 hectares of the 446 hectares of land lost in illegal land grabs had been returned to the village. However, about a third of that was residential land belonging to individuals, and not part of the communal pool.
The fate of another 493 hectares of disputed land – shared with six neighbouring villages – remains undecided, even though the provincial government has promised to resolve the problem this month.
“It’s unsettling knowing our land is still in the hands of villains,” said Zhang Bingchai , a seafood trader in Wukan. “Democracy is good, as we have a responsible village committee working on our behalf, but the upper levels of government are not acting quickly enough to resolve our problems.
“Only with land can the village forge ahead with development. Only then will the villagers have hope. I hope our experiment with democracy continues.
“The government [of the county-level city of Lufeng ] has imposed heavy surveillance on the first anniversary of unrest, but the villagers are very rational. If the land can be returned to us, then long live the party: it’s that simple.”
To prevent a repeat of last year’s protest, the city authorities in Lufeng and Shanwei – which have jurisdiction over Wukan – have planned ahead.
About 10 villagers who were active players in last year’s uprising have been escorted from Wukan, while many others have been banned from visiting Hong Kong or Macau. Many villagers believe their mobile phone calls are being monitored, and access to their microblogs has been blocked.
Villagers who used to host visiting journalists in their homes were warned against doing so ahead of the anniversary, and were questioned if they did. Journalists have also been trailed and questioned when reporting in the village, with some hotels in Lufeng turning away reporters and foreigners.
The cash-strapped village government has almost no revenue, because it has decided against levying charges on villagers who have been running small shops outside their homes in the wake of the land-grab turmoil.
“It is futile to talk about anything else, including democracy, without an economic foundation,” said party secretary and village chief Lin Zuluan .
“Most of the existing revenue channels, such as fish ponds, are still occupied by people affiliated with the previous village committee. We can charge a small sum for running the wet market, but even that has been operating at a loss because we have to cover its environmental and hygiene costs.”
With no income coming from the village, Wukan has had to rely on funding from higher-level governments.
They are paying for 60 million yuan (HK$73 million) worth of construction work in Wukan – with projects including a library, improved water and electricity networks, a shelter for fishing boats and a new school.
“It is hard for us to introduce social management policies with our finances in such a poor state,” Lin said. “With no money to pay workers, how can you make them work for you? We are a village, how do we know what politics are? It’s useless to chant slogans. Overcoming the economic difficulties is our priority, but it is a tough fight.”
Lin said he expected the village would be able to get back 70 per cent of the land it had lost. But he added that it would be hard to avoid unrest if the land wasn’t returned. Yang said he knew grass-roots democracy was going to be hard, but he didn’t know it was going to be this hard.
“But we won’t give up easily, because we are held accountable by the people who elected us. And after all, only a minority has expressed discontent.”
Come on, you know that CY and all his high ranking teammate have invested in the property market which make them rich and kings