Today’s shoe-shining spectacular is brought to you by the South China Morning Post, in the form of a glowing profile of Leonie Ki Man-fung SBS, JP. As the mere Silver Bauhinia Star indicates, Ki is not in the Hong Kong establishment’s top drawer. If she had inherited a rent-seeking textiles fortune or a property-cartel conglomerate, or if she had been born and raised within the devout Communist untouchable caste of colonial times, she would have made Gold by now. That’s meritocracy.
She came up through the government’s anti-corruption publicity outfit and then commercial advertising in the 70s and 80s. We can guess that she became part of the pro-Beijing milieu out of neither plutocratic necessity nor ideological conviction, but as a rational decision driven by ambition; post-handover Hong Kong was going to be at least as strictly divided into insiders and outsiders as it had been pre-1997.
Thus she became boss of the tycoon-funded and still pointless Better Hong Kong Foundation, and thence predictably onto government advisory bodies and company directorships. One of these was New World Development, whose family owners backed CY Leung for Chief Executive while their peers continued to support Henry Tang – a gamble (maybe) that paid off when Beijing abandoned the billionaire-scion late in the day. So Leonie now gets made boss of the government’s embarrassingly desperate cross-sector anti-poverty partnership, the Bless Hong Kong Campaign.
To many people out there, Leonie’s is a success story; that’s certainly the way our leaders would like us to see it, and the SCMP is willing to help out. “We did it ourselves,” she says. It is certainly evidence that you make your own luck in life.
The 70s and 80s were a golden age of upward mobility in the Big Lychee. You meet plenty of successful upper-middle-class types in their 50s and 60s whose parents arrived here as penniless refugees. But is it very tactful for someone of this generation to: a) rejoice in her status as a career success and accepted member of the mid-2010s elite; and b) to essentially criticize those born in later times for (allegedly) expecting government help? At best, it’s questionable. Given the way that the post-97 economy has been deliberately tilted further in favour of tycoons and other vested interests, it could come across as offensive.
The SCMP doesn’t ask her why a Bless Hong Kong Campaign is needed, or whether monopolies, artificially high rents and the distortions caused by hordes of Mainland shoppers hold the younger generation back. Instead, they let her recite without question the usual stuff about the help Beijing has given us. (“And what, Leonie, was your amazing secret to getting ahead in life when there were no economic benefits from the Central Government?”) In their defence, the paper does get Slightly Amusing Typo of the Day Award, making civil servant Norman Chan ‘Normal’.