As if to prove that there’s a bright and positive side to self-censorship, the South China Morning Post style-enforcers have sent a memo to everyone barring use of the word ‘locust’ – in the inflammatory sense of a two-legged Yakult-buyer coming over from Shenzhen – except if it is necessary to directly quote someone base enough to use the slur. Quite right, too. The fact that the paper has been using the phrase to mean ‘Mainland shopper’ suggests that journalists are not immune to getting pissed off, if subconsciously, about the crush of visitors that various lunatics keep insisting provide us with endless benefits. And of course, ‘locust’ is easier to get into a headline.
Business writer Jake van der Kamp’s column is brought to you today by the word ‘Morlock’, which he uses to describe Mainlanders who could in theory commute daily into Hong Kong as menial guest-workers. The Morlocks, in HG Wells’ Time Machine, were hairy, savage, subterranean cannibals who fed off the pure, innocent, surface-dwelling gwailos. Sorry – Eloi. The barb is surely aimed at the lunatics proposing this labour-importation scheme, but I will wager a wheeled suitcase full of baby milk powder that this will not be repeated.
Will the Standard join its English-language rival and eschew the use of emotive insect-imagery? As a tabloid in the physical sense, it has even less scope for cramming a mouthful like ‘Frequent cross-boundary Mainland traders and shoppers’ into a headline (‘tourists’ is inaccurate). And as a tabloid in the spiritual sense, it takes its populist cue from Sing Tao, which is less familiar with what is essentially Western-style sensitivity (which in its extreme form becomes political correctness).
Consider today’s story about the guy who did his admirable bit for the profitability of our cross-border, luxury-brands sector by stealing a HK$900,000 crocodile-skin coat that a tacky Burberry outlet was offering passing retards: to the SCMP, he’s a shoplifter, to the Standard, he’s a South Asian. However, the L-word touches on the motherland and patriotism and similar concepts that will have any media-owning tycoon reaching swiftly for his shoe-shining brush, so I suspect we will not be seeing it again in the English-language free paper.
The Hong Kong media are hardly alone in having problems with expressing emotional and sensitive ideas. Some national leaders are far worse. Step forward none other than President Xi Jinping who, according to Reuters, wants to use a visit to Germany to highlight the Japanese government’s supposed or probable (according to taste) refusal to admit properly to World War II crimes. Just a few words to describe this: cynical, exploitative, self-centered, tackier-than-a-Burberry-coat, callous, obtuse… there’s not enough bandwidth.
Presumably, officials in Berlin find this proposed abuse of historic symbols and memories so distasteful that they will take Xi’s people to one side and spell it out, and we will hear no more of it. The fact that Beijing thinks that the Germans wouldn’t find this offensive – and possibly even imagines that they would welcome it or find it somehow flattering – suggests that Xi and his colleagues are seriously cut off from reality, or at least notions of plain decorum.
People have written whole books contrasting and comparing German and Japanese admissions of guilt over WWII. We know that Beijing’s ruthless and incessant outrage is contrived because other Asian countries that were victims of Japan don’t come close to matching China’s official hysteria. In other words, Beijing isn’t sincere. To put it another way, and be blunt: Xi couldn’t give a damn about the civilians killed in Nanjing. (The ‘rape’ of which has of course been mythologized for purely cynical political reasons; every city in Asia the Japanese conquered was a Nanjing, as was Berlin with the Soviets, as have cities been everywhere in the history of warfare.)
On the subject of guilt… The Japanese killed 10-20 million Chinese in the war, while Mao and the Chinese Communist Party post-1949 wiped out double the larger number at the very least – the Hong Kong government’s precious Heritage Foundation cites a figure of 65 million. For Xi to see a visit to a German Holocaust memorial as a neat stunt is enough to make you want to join Prime Minister Abe at the Yasukuni Shrine or share his fellow-nationalists’ self-pitying whining about Hiroshima. Those of us who play fast and loose with the word ‘locust’ can be assured that others have far more to apologize for.