Shaking the Great Wall

HK-shakesLyndhurst 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.

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19 Responses to Shaking the Great Wall

  1. Stephen says:

    One of the many things, I appreciate in your blog is the links. I missed, Dave Shambaugh’s WSJ essay and found it well argued and plausible. Then I read “smart” Prof. Dicky Wong’s disjointed garbage (in the PCMP!) and worry for young minds having to listen to this man’s lectures. Border shopping centre’s and 1960’s rednecks in stupid white hoods ! How about the Chinese state trying to restore confidence in locally available produce. The Chinese populace are fast outgrowing their woeful government which cannot regulate or enforce as illustrated in Chai Jing’s pollution documentary “under the dome”.

  2. Cassowary says:

    The comments section below the article about the Chinese women’s rights activists getting arrested is managing to attract both Men’s Rights Activists and wumao. I’m not sure what happens when you raise trolls to the power of 2. Possibly the internet will implode.

  3. PD says:

    Thanks, Hemlock, for the link to Shambaugh’s fine essay.

    It does seem clear that regime change in China must happen sooner or later. One consequence will be to make it obvious to everyone that HK’s parochial toadies, especially those in the SCMP and increasingly HKU, who are paid to reflect, should have been sacked a long time ago.

    When it does come, it will seem equally evident to everyone that it was bound to happen. The official pundits will suddenly discover all sorts of clear signs pointing unanimously in one direction.

    It is also true that the current regime will hasten the end of the endgame by tightening the stops rather than giving some slack, a process which Shambaugh argues is already under way. Enlightenment values of toleration and liberalism have always been alien values here: the course of local history is one long bloody upheaval after another.

    One useful analogy is the property market. A steep climb usually precedes any crash (does it actually bring it on?). But the proximate cause or causes are hard to predict, both in markets and revolutions, which means that no one knows when they’re going to happen, least of all the market makers and would-be revolutionaries.

    The conventional wisdom a couple of years ago was that it’s the economy, stupid, that when growth slowed or stopped, as it must do, the masses would rise up. But China has come so far economically that it might take a cataclysmic economic failure to topple the regime.

    My hunch, then, is that as a professional who gains by making alarmist prognoses, Shambaugh may be jumping the gun. The endgame in chess is characterised by a handful of pieces and limited room for manoeuvre. Are we at the end of the middle game perhaps?

  4. C.Law says:

    President Xi does seem to adhere to the concept that the bottom line for the CCP is to retain power. The question is how far he is prepared to go to do so. Governments in many countries have played the nationalist card to unite the population behind them, sometimes to the extent of engaging in open warfare. The recent emphasis in Beijing on the territorial sovereignty issues in the South China Sea as being “core”, ie matters over which China will fight, appear to be such a play. Would the CCP be prepared to actually go to war, either directly or in response to some alleged provocation, with one or more of the countries it is in dispute with on this area if they felt things at home were really slipping away from them? Whether “successful” or not the consequent turmoil would be disastrous for the whole region.

  5. Headache says:

    I can’t say I found Shambaugh’s essay particularly well-founded, as much as I wanted to agree with it. I thought Peter Hartcher’s view was considerably more plausible: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/is-the-chinese-dragon-losing-its-puff-20150316-1m0bx9.html

  6. Cassowary says:

    Shambaugh’s article presents evidence that China is turning into an increasingly cynical kleptocracy. But I am not convinced that this spells imminent collapse. A lot of cynical kleptocracies have managed to hold on for decades.

    When it eventually does go kaput, there’s still the question of what comes next. I don’t think there’s a high probability smooth democratic transition like South Korea or Taiwan. Both countries had proto-democratic institutions, existing opposition parties and strong civil societies to fill the gap. China doesn’t have any of these things. Worst case scenario, we’ll get a Chinese version of Putin, who incidentally runs a cynical kleptocracy held together by nationalistic chest thumping, intimidation and duct tape.

  7. anon says:

    What a bunch of sourpusses, opium-dreaming about CCP collapse; well, dream on…

  8. LRE says:

    Sadly HK Shakes the Great Wall looks like it’s a rock concert. Shame. I thought it was a delightfully naughty notion, guaranteed to outrage the CCP.

    As to the KKK thing — that’s the second editorial from cloud cuckoo land in as many days. Yesterday had “Putin’s Choice” from Guru Ramakrishnan, CEO of a hedge fund so mighty they don’t seem to have a website. Frankly the piece comes across as a cocaine-fuelled barroom fantasy with a grasp of the geopolitical realities of Russia, the Ukraine, NATO and ISIS that is either wilfully naive or just psychedelically induced. I suspect Guru has been drinking his own Coolaid. His premise — Russia should leave the Ukraine and fight ISIS to suck up to the US enough for them to drop the sanctions.

    My favourite moment: “The strong global coalition lead by Russia’s military, adequately bolstered by state-of-the-art US technology, would give this mission the highest probability of success (absent outright US involvement).”

    This sentence reminds me of the Target word game under the Sudoku — “How many basic mistakes about geopolitics can you make in a single sentence? 2 Mistakes good; 3 mistakes very good; 5 mistakes excellent. See solution somewhere other than SCMP editorial pages, apparently.”
    Excellent, Guru Ramakrishnan, excellent!

  9. Knownot says:

    A little over a hundred years ago, they were opium-dreaming about removing the Manchu dynasty and founding a republic; well, they dreamed on …

  10. PCC says:

    Shambaugh’s piece is unpersuasive. He’s just guessing.

  11. Perry Weiner says:

    You are a moron for not understanding the subtleties of the Putin article. Guru Ramakrishnan has a double masters in Economics and sold his company for a billion dollars you clown. He is one of the most respected investors put there. The fact that a loser like you has not heard of him means nothing. You are so accomplished that you don’t even have the guts to comment on that article with your real name. Secondly, clowns like you can only comment. Try writing an Op-Ed and see if any one will publish what you have to say. There are two types of people in the world. One is losers like you and the second type that know how to influence people. You moron, if you were smart you would recognize that the solution he has proposed is currently on the table with Russia. But then again a country pumpkin like you will never get the sophistication of the article.

  12. Jon Mandle says:

    This gentleman called LRE who loves pontificating about others must clearly not have a day job. He seems like an uninformed, U.S. critic that thinks that being an arm chair critic like he pretends to be makes him look like an intellectual. He comes across as naive and a pedestrian. The article by Mr. Ramakrishnan was clear, concise had a tangible solution which makes everyone better off and only ISIS worse off. If LRE does not comprehend the article, I think he needs lessons in reading comprehension first.

  13. Bruce Zellner says:

    The Putin article takes such a different and refreshing angle that the main stream press have totally missed. Russia is economically malaised and all the hard work over the last 15 years would have gone to waste. Russia is a much smaller economy that can afford to make the choice of guns over butter in the proverbial economic debate. This point is beautifully articulated by Guru as he attempts to thread the proverbial needle in what is an innovative solution. This kind of out of the box approach is what is most needed to resolve this mess.

  14. Headache says:

    Lol at the fury of Guru under multiple guises.

  15. Nader says:

    Who is this duck farmer guy?

  16. inspired says:

    I’m convinced by the above and will be writing in Guru for Chief Exec in the next election

  17. AHW says:

    I feel sorry for the sub who obviously drew the short straw to be assigned Guru’s op-ed! It must have needed a lot of work, but at least they probably got a few laughs along the way (country pumpkin!).

  18. Scotty Dotty says:

    God bless the internet. So, it turns out this Princess Guru has a bit of form:
    http://nymag.com/news/businessfinance/55035/index2.html

    “Ramakrishnan was outwardly confident and even arrogant—he once bragged that an astrologer told him he was going to be the head of sales and trading at Lehman Brothers…”

    If you check out the comments on the NY mag piece, you can see the same poster trying to eulogise Guru as on Hemlock here.

    Chuckle.

  19. Aymeric says:

    Good morning to you all,

    It appears that HK Shakes the Great Wall movement does not have a political purpose as it is related to a music festival, the Yinyang Music Festival. Nevertheless, the project can lead to a “philosophical” reflexion: it is a non-profit event dedicated to the development of the alternative market in China (at the opposite of other main stream EDM event focusing in making the most money they can). The point is to promote a lifestyle oriented on people and on the experience they can share together, and to share the passion for alternative electronic music.

    China is changing, there is a long way to go but maybe this kind of gatherings will help making it better.

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