“A police officer who believes in black magic has been arrested on suspicion of smuggling dead human fetuses” into Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post tells us his name: Barry Ma, or Constable Voodoo to his customers, who apparently pay some HK$130,000 for the things. Lesser cops would rack up huge gambling debts. It makes a change from speculating in car parking spaces.
Since Barry apparently adheres to the dark arts himself, we must ask what role sorcery plays in the course of his duties. Specifically, can he raise demons and poltergeists to get to grips with the illegal parking problem in our downtown areas? If all the drivers of huge, black, double-parked, eight-seat Alphards were suddenly possessed and drove into the harbour babbling in strange tongues with their heads spinning round, I could foresee a Bronze Bauhinia Star in it for him, rather than the red-faced and humourless disciplinary panel that presumably awaits him.
The SCMP delves into even weirder territory with a report that Chinese interests might buy the Financial Times. In all fairness, the SCMP writer almost immediately refutes his own suggestion by saying that such a deal is extremely unlikely. He assumes that the only potential Chinese buyer would be a (state-owned) media group. But why not a cash-rich private-sector entity from, say, the Internet, property or tech sectors? As Hong Kong (and the SCMP) knows well, there is a certain type of businessman who can’t resist the cachet and supposed political influence that goes with media ownership. It would be like having a huge wine collection, plus a Lear jet, plus a load of polo ponies all together – even if content-wise the paper would collapse immediately. Maybe an Indian conglomerate like Tata would have a better chance of rescuing the publication. Or Bloomberg after all.
The SCMP sees Nanfang, or Southern, media group as the most likely Mainland buyer. As it happens, the company is rather busy right now, caught up between heavy-handed censors and a range of protesting Southern Weekly staff, former staff, academics, netizens and even school students. The propaganda officials have clearly been caught on the back foot (background and updates here; pictures of the crowds in Guangzhou here.)
Hurt-sounding official commentaries are pleading for understanding about the realities of the limits of media freedom in China. Others are hinting that hostile external forces are somehow responsible – the Communist Party’s usual ‘if all else fails’ explanation for screw-ups. (The story is a gift to the Falung Gong, Al-Jazeera and all the other usual hostile forces, but that’s not the same thing.)
If this doesn’t die down of its own accord (they are desperately hosing down little online fires), there are some interesting scenarios. One is that Guangdong leaders pull off one of their Wukan-style conciliatory tricks and satisfy the protestors by essentially admitting official error. That means sacrificing some censors and a bit of face, and inviting future anti-censor protests, but keeps alive the claim that the new regime in Beijing is serious about reform. Another is that the Party reverts to standard killing-chickens-scaring-monkeys form and clamps down with arrests and full-on screeching righteous editorials about the superiority of the Chinese model. That snuffs the problem out, but sends everyone the message that, after all the song and dance, Xi Jinping simply equals another 10 years of the progressively choking grip on debate seen under Hu/Wen – a depressing way to start a new administration. You can’t blame them for trying to muddle through.
Acquisition of the Financial Times doesn’t really fit in this picture. As with so many of China’s ‘contradictions’, there is no apparent way out – unless maybe Constable Barry can cast a special Hong Kong Police demonic spell.