What have they done to our Bunny?! Beijing’s attempts to tighten control over Hong Kong take a disturbing and cruel turn, as the city’s most beloved and ubiquitous all-purpose pro-establishment shoe-shiner is put in uniform. The sitter on a thousand stooge-packed government advisory boards is not alone in this humiliation. Education Secretary Eddie Ng is similarly pressed into service with the newly formed Hong Kong Army Cadets Association, looking even more hapless and embarrassed.
But first, since people are banding about phrases like ‘Hitler Youth’, a bit of context. It is surprising a ‘patriotic’ formal liveried youth organization has not been formed sooner in Hong Kong. The British-style Boy Scouts and Girl Guides still thrive, and many schools have uniformed road-safety and first-aid groups training and drilling. There are also three youth organizations originally linked to the British military and still publicly subsidized (the Air Cadet, Sea Cadet and Adventure Corps). A more China-oriented youth group is no more abnormal or sinister than, say, the national flag on public buildings – however much old-time empire loyalists and Kuomintang veterans might find it distasteful.
(An aside: is it just me, or have fire stations only just recently started flying the national flag – suitably elevated – alongside the Hong Kong one? Maybe I’d just never noticed it until now.)
So in principle, the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association is not weird. But, of course, it is. It’s freaky.
Essentially: it’s not real. The South China Morning Post reports that the non-profit company was incorporated just last Thursday, and no-one seems to have noticed earlier signs of preliminary discussion, planning or preparation. We just woke up and there it was. Most of the press were barred from the inauguration ceremony at a PLA facility (though someone had the wit to invite other youth groups to add a dash of normality to the contrived, verging on surreal, proceedings).
Obviously, it didn’t appear totally spontaneously. Flunkies had to sign up Tung Chee-hwa, the ex-police chiefs and other ‘honorary’ office-holders; some, like poor Eddie Ng, probably had to be slapped about a bit. Expert tailors had to measure Bunny and the others for their immaculate quasi-military costumes (fitting the oddly-shaped Eddie must have taken a while). But as these things go, it was done in a hurry.
The badge/logo looks like a last-minute get-the-secretary-to-do-it thing. There is as yet no website. (Although dozens of young eager members seem to have materialized out of nowhere. How could they have joined an organization before it came into being? The intuitive answer is that we must be imagining the kids in their fatigues. Think laterally, and the puzzle is solved: the kids exist, it’s the organization that’s fake.)
So what is this Hong Kong Army Cadets Association? The ‘honorary’ roles of the local PLA commander and the boss of Beijing’s Liaison Office obviously confirm central government endorsement. But it is designed to look independent: Sino Land is contributing premises, and the group’s rules say ‘no political affiliation’…
The choice of the Chief Executive’s wife Regina Tong as ceremonial head, like the inclusion of Bunny, suggests ‘child welfare NGO’ rather than jack-booted thugs (though her title of ‘Commander in Chief’ is questionable – you can’t rule out hallucinogenic drugs as an explanation for some aspects of all this). Although aesthetically dismal, the badge is interesting in that it is devoid of national symbolism; no red flag, no map of motherland, no PLA ‘八一’. Even the name of the organization is odd, implying that there is such a thing as a ‘Hong Kong Army’, which sounds like a pro-independence fantasy.
Along with Bunny, who has a long record of do-goodery in keeping young folk clean and wholesome, another relatively minor figure sticks out here: pro-Beijing businessman Stephen Tai Tak-fung GBS, JP (and PhD, courtesy of Southern California University For Professional Studies), a Chiuchou, member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, funder of Hong Kong’s annual reunion-day celebrations – and, the Standard tells us, organizer of ‘military camps for Mainland youth’.
Reading between all these lines, the impression is that someone very senior in Beijing has just blasted Hong Kong’s leaders for their near-treacherous disregard for brainwashing kids properly, or at all (as Chen Zuo-er publicly and politely did just 11 days ago). By ‘leaders’ we mean not only CY and colleagues but the Liaison Office and quite possibly, by cc, the PLA. Panic broke out; ‘We must do something’; there’s no way to change school curricula or anything serious; someone suggests a quasi-private nationalistic youth league; someone else remembers Stephen Tai’s odd taste for kids’ boot camps; hasty phone calls, and behold – Instant Patriotic Hong Kong Army Cadets Association! Hopefully, Beijing will be happy. (How can they not be? Six-year-old are accepted!) What the rest of us think is irrelevant; it’s not aimed at us. (The Hong Kong media had to interview a Wen Wei Po reporter at the gates.)
Maybe it worked, and Xi Jinping’s advisors are satisfied. The founders of the group will now be stuck with this white-elephant youth organization. Presumably, they will attract or press-gang members, if only from other United Front affiliates and traditionally patriotic schools. And as another wedge is driven into the increasingly divided community, the rest of Hong Kong can just roll its eyes in disbelief at the grotesque symbolism, and spare some pity for poor Eddie and Bunny.
Not everyone looks silly in that get-up. I don’t have a women-in-uniform thing, but it has to be said: doesn’t erstwhile dowdy lobster-mom Mrs CY suddenly look hot rather fetching, with mane flowing and nostrils glaring, in that military outfit?