At the top we have disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai telling his family in a letter that his name will be cleared one day. He will be sentenced on Sunday, and the SCMP quotes a mystery source as saying he’ll get less than 15 years.
Next to it, a Hong Kong couple are jailed for three and five years for cruel and vicious treatment of their Indonesian maid.
Below that, a man is arrested for a knife attack on Chinese tycoon Zong Qinghou, boss of beverage maker Hangzhou Wahaha. This being the Mainland, it is hard to say whether it is the capture of an armed aggressor or the stabbing of one of the country’s richest men that represents justice; possibly, we will never know.
Finally, the US Federal Reserve refrains from ‘tapering’ its monthly purchases of government bonds, thus giving stock investors their fair due for so bravely buying and holding during the tempestuous economic uncertainties of recent years.
The respective fates of Bo Xilai – assuming he gets 15 years – and the Hong Kong maid-abusers offer an interesting case study in comparative retribution. Essentially, embezzlement of millions of yuan and involvement in murder on the Mainland gets you three times the punishment as the assaulting of a domestic servant with hot irons, a paper cutter, a hanger and a shoe in Hong Kong. Are these sentences in proportion to their crimes, and to one another? (We’re using Bo’s official charges here, not all the torturing, killings and asset confiscation in Chongqing that the Communist Party has apparently swept under the carpet.)
Criminal sentencing in Hong Kong seems highly inconsistent among different offences. Pompous, fat-faced drivers of Mercedes can swipe the sidewalk and mutilate pedestrians and get off with just a fine, while pitiful losers making multiple bank deposits on behalf of Mainland third parties get 10 years in prison for money-laundering. A migrant workers’ activist on RTHK Radio 3 this morning doubted that the maid’s employers’ punishment was sufficiently harsh, but the tone of his voice suggested that he was actually surprised that a Hong Kong court had taken the suffering of a fellow brown person so seriously. The station also reported that the judge considered a ‘deterrent’ sentence suitable partly because the crime damaged Hong Kong’s reputation overseas. This makes you wonder whether the system would be more lenient towards someone who scalds and whips a victim less likely to attract the attention of Southeast Asian media – one of our indigenous brown people, perhaps.
Of course, skin colour or nationality shouldn’t come into it, but Hong Kong – where it was once considered daring to let an ethnic Chinese join the Club – has never managed to mentally detach pigmentation from social standing. How many other jurisdictions in the world are, in 2013, wringing their hands over school segregation?
The Standard’s ‘Mary Ma’ editorial can be relied upon to act as the voice of reason at times like this. She notes that abuse does sometimes happen, though it’s usually no worse than a grandmother pinching or slapping a maid, as the elderly with their traditional values are prone to do. The trouble is, when disputes happen, should the employer complain to the domestic helper agency (ie, demand a refund and replacement maid) or should the amah go to the police who, Mary Ma fears, might deal with the case ‘heavily’ (ie, prosecute family members who beat brown people). We need a middle ground, and compromise, she concludes.
Such a reasonable trade-off between the rights and interests of employers who want to hit the maid and maids who prefer not be hit comes, sadly, too late for Catherine Au Yuk-shan – for whom I declare the coming five-year weekend open.