It’s not every day that you’re strolling through Hong Kong and, amid the cacophony of marketing slogans and public service announcements, the phrase ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ leaps out at you. But there it is, in the pedestrian link running through the old Central Market building.
In a city where government workers have affixed a laminated unique ID number with string to every tree in every park, where two- or three-year-olds have to attend interviews to enter kindergarten, and where leaving the office before 7pm is a sign of depravity, it should fit right in. Work makes you free. Labour leads to liberation. Slavery is the path to salvation.
But still – it does jar. It is part of a display mounted by the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center, which was founded by the local Jewish community after (I’m guessing) they got pissed off one time too often by some dimwitted local advertising agency’s grotesque use of Nazi imagery in a promotional campaign for (say) shampoo or cat food. The exhibition describes particular Holocaust victims, and strives to highlight Chinese and other Asian aspects of the story.
Just as most Westerners can’t tell the Qing from the Chin or get their heads around Taoism, most Chinese have a limited grasp of European history or culture (as indeed do most Westerners). Many Hongkongers, for example, think the word ‘Christian’ means ‘Protestant’, and that Catholics are therefore not Christian. What do they think a Jew – and the whole Middle Eastern-Polish-Russian-American-entertainment industry-etc-etc package – is? Can they connect (or would the HKHTC dare to connect) anti-Semitic persecution with, say, local discrimination against Filipinos or the bizarre Apple Daily freak-out over Fanny the gwaipo dishwasher?
They describe the display as “…a useful learning tool for all children learning about World War 2 as well as issues around Racism and Tolerance.” Mazel tov with that.
Speaking (almost) of the entertainment industry, the great mouth-froth du jour is the government’s decision to award free-to-air TV licences to two of three applicants. The (supposedly) lucky winners are a subsidiary of Wharf Holdings (run by the son-in-law of late mega-tycoon YK Pao) and a subsidiary of PCCW (run by the son of mega-tycoon Li Ka-shing), while the loser is an outsider of humble origins – albeit of the famous, maverick, colourful, mega-entrepreneurial, well-connected variety. Officials decree that two newcomers in the market are good, but a third wouldn’t be, and we’re not allowed to know why.
If the government wanted to give the public the clear impression that it favoured property-cartel princelings, and everyone else can go to hell, this is exactly what it would do. Thus people draw their own conclusions. The administration of Chief Executive CY Leung can’t win. The tycoons hate the government for hating them, while the rest of Hong Kong hates the government for not hating them. The rationale for this TV decision is so flimsy, its timing so suspiciously drawn-out, and the net effect so obviously damaging in terms of public opinion that you have to wonder whether it is in fact, in some way we can’t fathom, the right one.
Who watches broadcast TV these days? The last time I switched on my boxy Sony with built-in videotape player was September 11, 2003. The rest of the time, I sit at my PC and download commercial-free moving images to suit my own eccentric and obscure tastes. Victims of the sofa-and-giant-flat-screen lifestyle-disease, I am told, choose among a thousand satellite and cable channels offering 24-hour multilingual anything. Will the new licensees, burdened with English-language channels no-one will watch, ever challenge incumbent TVB’s ad-selling power? Or will they end up burning and losing millions for weeks and years?
Another burning question: is Secretary for Commerce Greg So even more depressing than Paul Chan, his colleague over at the Development Bureau?