Lessons on self-censorship

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.


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22 Responses to Lessons on self-censorship

  1. Gumshoe says:

    It amazes me how the Chinese communist party is irate over Japan’s historical bellicose nature and claims on other nations while they themselves are setting up their own de facto anschluss using “Air Defense Zones”. See that? Nailed two birds with one stone.

  2. Grog says:

    Gumshoe, you hit the nail right between the head.

  3. maugrim says:

    Perhaps the inflow of those not to be mocked is China’s version of the Sudetenland being anexed? Besides, I grow weary about political figures all a flutter about the ‘L’ word who have no trouble using less than polite terms for the rest of us, particularly anyone with darker skin. Surprise surprise, the Heung Yee Kuk, calling for a mega-mall to be built, coincidently as it would turn out, on land managed by the Kuk. What is interesting is this issue isn’t going away, far from it, despite the efforts of some to dampen things. You’d almost swear that’s what they had in mind in the first place.

  4. Joe Blow says:

    I once nailed two birds in Wanchai.

  5. Big Al says:

    … which is about as difficult as spitting at the ground and missing …

  6. SIR Jimmy Savile says:

    Joe, those weren’t birds, mate, they were chickens

  7. Rolf Harris says:

    Sir Jimmy, spot on!

  8. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    According to the EOC it is OK to call someone a ‘British Dog’ but not acceptable to use the term Locust. Read York Chow explanation.


  9. van der Kamp of course is all wrong. The imported labour that Singapore uses and Singapore’s man suggests HK should use live above ground. But CY has the plan of building underground as well as reclamation, so the Morlocks are HKers displaced out of their own homes and serving as grunts, tea ladies and rubbish recyclers for Team CronY’s millieu.

  10. Cerebos says:

    I just thought I’d do ourselves all proud and be the first to say chickens.. Do t you mean ladyboys snarf snarf snarf.

  11. Cerebos says:

    Announcing the 3rd annual big lychee sad old reprobates village carnival. To be held at the old china hand on the 1st weekend before the 7’s. BYOB (bring your own beeyatch). Where Oxford circa 1967 meets paid up members of the british bricklayers union.

  12. Ex Tax payer says:

    The minister for tourism ( as per the HK Standard report) said :

    “There are 200,000 to 300,000 and even one million Hongkongers making a living in tourism. Shouldn’t we care about the whole economic environment?”

    Love it ! Why stop at one million? Yeah – five million, seven million …. ALL of us are making a living in tourism !

    What kind of assholes do we employ these days as ministers ?

  13. Ex Tax payer says:

    Kamal Rai, 37, from Nepal, was charged with stealing the coat from the Burberry outlet in Silvercord shopping mall in Canton Road last Wednesday.

    He was also charged with stealing the shorts three days earlier.

    ….So it wasn’t a L O C U S T after all

  14. Joe Blow says:

    Poor Kamal. He is going to spend the next 3 years in “Hotel Stanley”.
    I wonder how he got into the store in the first place.

    And how did they find out about those 5 shorts ? Was he still wearing them ?

  15. Real Fax Paper says:

    I’m struggling to keep up, to be honest. By Hong Kong standards, events seem to have accelerated to a Ukraine-like pace.

    I could handle Trellisgate, secret spousal basements, and waiting to see if we’d forget about Donald Tsang’s ICAC referral before ICAC did. I could just about keep tabs on civil service inertia, on comfortable collusion, and the inevitable passing of scandals when the last of the tiny details had been exhausted by the press, and the affected member of the happy elite would carry on regardless (and yes, I’m looking at you, Paul Mo’ Money Chan. No, I don’t mean the libel thing. Wait – libel too?).

    Now, all of a sudden, we have piss-poor decision-making on HKTV’s licence feeding into the furore over the sacking of Li Wei-Ling feeding into rumours of pressure being brought to bear on ad-placements leading to an internationally reported march protesting against curbs on press freedom. We have a few dozen foul-mouths lighting up a debate (finally!) about the sanity of welcoming 50, 70, even one hundred million visitors a year. Which leads to even the relatively sane (some may even accuse him of being half-decent) York Chow of the EOC to be forced into doublespeak, declaring that a Chinese person calling another Chinese person a locust is racism, but calling them a dog is not. And now, to top it all off, Beijing announces that Whiskers Tsang’s pet APEC summit won’t happen in HK as advertised, and the HK government is forced to thank them for it. The pro-establishment mob just about managed to bite their lip tonight – you could tell they were all geared up to shriek that here, finally, was the proof that Occupy Central could and would damage Hong Kong’s economy and standing, before realising just in time that highlighting the assumption that Beijing expects trouble in turn implies that minds are already made up in Zhongnanhai, and that by further implication they know that HK won’t be happy with what they get from the consultation on universal suffrage.

    See? I said it’s a struggle to keep up with. There’s now an avalanche of events, coming out of nowhere, tumbling and bouncing off each other while part of an incomprehensible whole, and presumably, if I were to stretch the analogy, with the power to be incredibly destructive.

    Are things, as various commenters in this blog have suggested, really coming to a head? Are Hong Kong’s self-regarding elite at last reaching the end of their long feast? Are those at the table who’ve been told to content themselves with crumbs while a minority gorged themselves, finally calling the waiter over, and in an echo of the Ukraine, saying “Maidan!”*

    *this pun was five paragraphs in the making. I hope it was worth it.

  16. Sid says:

    RFP, I fail to see how cancelling the APEC committee meeting could harm the economy, except for parts of Wanchai.

    Also, if things are really coming to a head, the thing about spots and boils is that the “isolated case” (last year’s phrase to replace the previous “bad apple”) tends to spawn others.

    In other words, HK has so little autonomy left that no halfway plausible local sequence of events can be imagined that would affect the slow downwards spiral evident since the 1980s…

  17. Real Fax Paper says:

    Sid, I agree, losing APEC won’t harm the economy at all. Neither will Occupy itself, if it occurs. The point is that the United Front likes to claim that it will, in a weak-ass effort to scare people into not protesting; and losing APEC looks, at first blush, like a perfect opportunity to prove themselves right, until you think through the wider implications.

  18. Gumshoe says:

    RTHK news this morning said that APEC left the city because of “perceived instability”. I guess that’s a good starting point for what you’re saying, Real Fax Paper.

  19. Are we still allowed to refer to the young mainland ladies waiting for business on Reclamation Street as “chickens”, or is that now considered discriminatory too?

  20. pat says:

    Not really an apples to apples comparison b/w Mao & Imperial Japan. Death toll indirectly caused by the former was due to his failed govt policies. The latter was due to intentional mass slaughter.

  21. Sid says:

    RFP, In fact I applaud your insightful survey of current events. But I wrestle with how fairminded one should be in countering ideas that are manifestly biased, self-seeking, parochial, nationalistic, mouth-frothing — or all of these.

    The problem is if you give the dark forces an inch, they will try to twist it, by a process of innuendo, deliberate misunderstanding, appeal to doubtful authorities and downright lies, into a mile.

  22. Real Fax Paper says:

    Sid, again, I agree. I was merely pointing out the rhetorical tangle that the pro-establishment types faced if they said pretty much anything at all over this APEC thing, which is why I thought it noteworthy in the first place. It’s their bed and they made it.

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