Lyndhurst Terrace/Wellington Street in Central have been plastered with stickers declaring that ‘HK Shakes the Great Wall’. This is a place where comatose drunks and empty bottles roll down from Lan Kwai Fong every night, and the walls are routinely festooned with posters and banners advertising all manner of partying-related activities. So it could well be that ‘HK’ is some famous Euro-trash DJ who will be playing techno at some 3.00am rave for Ecstasy-fiends. The top Google return for the phrase is an Open Rice review of a nearby burger place, so perhaps it is a viral marketing thing going way over my head.
But it could mean something else. It could be a little political reflection – dimsum for the brain – about the extraordinary times we live in. When China’s security services ‘disappear’ a group of women for opposing harassment, we get the impression it doesn’t take much to make the Communist Party’s Great Wall tremble. David Shambaugh’s recent controversial essay cites Beijing’s hyper-paranoia as evidence for the coming collapse of the CCP regime. And, to participants’ and residents’ disbelief, Hong Kong’s Occupy-Umbrella and subsequent anti-smuggling protests visibly frightened Mainland officials. Hence all the smears, intimidation, police-overreaction and other absurdities, including the incessant and extreme demonization of activists.
Which brings us to University of Hong Kong Professor Richard Wong, who argues today that the ‘hooligans’ protesting parallel traders are on a par with the Ku Klux Klan. He does not briefly name-drop the Klan in his South China Morning Post column out of carelessness. He devotes nearly half the article to the history of the KKK (as if it were a cohesive movement rather than a hate-brand), from the defeat of the Confederacy to lynching to ‘talking back to bus drivers’ to David Duke.
The closest he can get to likening the anti-smuggler protestors to the Klan is to imply that both concern radicals behaving as hooligans under the guise of populism. It doesn’t exactly convince, even after shuffling those three nouns around to see if it makes any more sense. Maybe deep down these characteristics are common to all manner of protest movements – anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation, anti-fur, even Mainland feminists ‘occupying’ men’s toilets.
In an effort to lend a dash of credibility to this desperate comparison, the Professor informs us that Steven Levitt studied the KKK in his book Freakonomics. This is true. In fact, Freakonomics speaks profoundly and loudly to Hong Kong people, because the book likens the KKK to – wait for it – real estate agents. Richard Wong doesn’t mention that bit (it’s all about keeping and manipulating insider information).
He does claim that Hong Kong people would simply replace Shenzhen residents as cross-border traders if Mainlanders’ multiple-entry permits were scrapped. This assumes that Hongkongers are as low-paid as the Shenzhen people who find it economically worthwhile to go back and forth all day trundling cases of Yakult. It also raises questions about the smugglers’ mark-up and the whole price elasticity of demand thing: at what point would Mainland consumers consider Hong Kong-sourced Yakult too expensive and risk sipping the potentially poisonous local stuff, or just skip it and have an ice-cream instead? This is where a smart economist like Richard Wong could tell us something interesting. But instead, he feels the need to churn out whatever bizarre idiocy reassures Beijing when HK shakes the Great Wall.