After a week in low-cost, spacious and mostly relaxing Taiwan, I am sorting through photos. Highlight of the trip was a visit to a remote head-hunting, cannibal tribe in a mountain aboriginal reservation, which raised interesting questions about the authenticity of heritage – more of which later.
The trip started at Hong Kong Airport, where some Thai foodstuffs company is sponsoring this intriguing twist on Asian culture…
…a Buddha made of cans of tuna. Tasteful and tasty. Next month, the terminal will feature a statue of the prophet Mohammed made of bacon.
I return to find Hong Kong getting itself deeper into all-out civil warfare, in which everything from heritage to the carrying of cellos on trains to university appointments triggers conflict between the two factions.
The plan to cover royal insignia on old mailboxes has predictably provoked a backlash. If the idea (to ‘avoid confusion’) were the work of nativist subversives within the Post Office, it couldn’t be more effective. Mischievous localist wits are now putting stickers of colonial symbols onto the boxes, which would otherwise have stood silently and unnoticed at the street-side, as they have for decades. (Who even sends letters these days?) To add to the weirdness, the pro-Beijing shoe-shiners within the parasitical tourism industry find themselves awkwardly in favour of keeping the royal symbols, on the (debatable and probably desperate) grounds that such features are a magnet for visitors to the city.
The MTR is also getting caught up in the tangled web of Mainlandization and Hong Kong’s broader internal strife. In the good old days, passengers could carry large musical instruments on the trains with no fuss. Then the combined forces of darkness in the tourism lobby and the Chinese Communist Party decided to swamp Hong Kong with unmanageable numbers of cross-border shoppers, whose outsized baggage irritated the hell out of everyone. In response to popular demand, the MTR took action against such baggage – but apparently focused on young local musicians rather than the tougher targets represented by the smugglers, whose activities benefit organized criminal groups. Like the mailbox thing, it is a gift to the pro-Hong Kong/freedom camp. As with the Post Office (and the police), the previously popular and admired MTR finds itself on the side of Communist evil, loathed by all right-minded, freedom-loving people.
Universities, as institutions dedicated to independent thought and inquiry, are inevitably battlegrounds in Hong Kong’s cultural/civil struggle. The Johannes Chan non-appointment at Hong Kong U sets a precedent for a political test in academia. Given the Chinese Communist Party’s mystical, faith-requiring, autocratic/divine nature, we can see it as a religious test. (Though the CCP also attracts adherents by offering rewards in this world. Which leads us to note that anti-Chan HKU council member Arthur Li has just increased his stake in the family business, Bank of East Asia, which has extensive Mainland interests.)
The government’s latest appointments to Lingnan University’s council are decidedly pro-Beijing. Defensive and whiny pro-democrats complain about favouritism and describe the appointments as ‘rewards’ for loyalty and obsequiousness to the CCP’s local cause. This is the wrong way of looking at it. A box of chocolates, air miles or a handout of cash are ‘rewards’; a seat on a public advisory body alongside government puppets is a pain in the backside. What we are seeing here seems to be an extension and tightening of the religious test. Beijing is seeking to exclude an even larger portion of the critical and dissenting population from public affairs. By definition, that means a smaller pool of talent to draw on. The quality of people in certain academic positions, on public bodies and wherever else this happens must go further down from now on.
From a Hong Kong-centric point of view, this is Beijing’s revenge for the Occupy-Umbrella movement. Looking at the big picture, Hong Kong is alongside Tibet, Xinjiang, churches, NGOs, financial markets, the South China Sea, the Internet, multilateral trade agreements, infrastructure deals, resources, the Arctic, overseas Chinese, and of course Taiwan, and much, much more: one minor arena in the Chinese Communist Party’s paranoiac global struggle for survival.
Welcome back to a place — I refuse to adopt the CP’s sneaky downgrading to a mere “city”, except in the phrase “city-state” — which used to be one of the nicest places to live, but is now increasingly unliveable.
As always, an acute and witty analysis of our ills. On one point, however, I would put a slightly different emphasis. Sinification has been steadily submerging us since 1997, or in fact a few years before, with many markers visible along the way.
It’s not something where one can pinpoint an origin or a precise cause: at most, an acceleration recently. But even there it’s the nature of the beast to multiply exponentially after gaining a surreptitious toehold, like gangrene, nematodes or village houses. So it’s not even clear that there have been any particular inflection points.
The University shenanigans are sort of Standard Operating Procedure, within the bounds of what the CCP thinks it can get away with without causing riots (NB Actual mileage may vary).
After the army’s massacre of students and other protestors in Beijing (and elsewhere) in 1989, all the involved universities had the head people replaced by hardliner communists, and the first-years got to run around the campus in military formations with military uniforms on, talking to foreigners was banned, etc. etc.
Thus Beijing has insisted that the CE is chancellor of all the universities, and obviously that all occupy-related people should not get a look in anywhere in the running of HK universities. To the CCP, used to being the sole power with no alternative, this seems all that needs to be done to quash dissent and prevent the students taking to the streets again, and it should go without question.
But these sorts of moves lose a lot in translation when imported to Hong Kong. We are de facto two countries, one system, however much the CCP endlessly repeats that we are one country, two systems or indeed fervently wishes it were one country, one system.
So I suspect that all they’ve actually done by blocking Chan from a position of very little import or power, is alienated and riled up the middle and upper class intelligentsia, adding yet another anti-government group to an already impressive array, by being a bit cack-handedly obvious about their bully-boy tactics.
Finding myself walking past Western Market in Sheung Wan over the weekend, I was amused to see tourists taking photos of the fake 8-foot tall “colonial post box” next to MTRC’s cunningly disguised ventilation building, adjacent to the Market. Well done the Tourism Commission/Hong Kong Post for developing this new “attraction”, although how much these particular photo-taking tourists contributed to the local economy should surely be the subject of a multi-million dollar study of some sort …
These cack-handed bullying techniques are probably another entry for the Spreadsheet of Loyalty; they’ve got to show that they are Doing Something about disloyalty in Hong Kong. Pissing off the intelligentsia is a secondary side effect. It’s not like anybody in the Liaison Office ever got promoted for being nice to middle class nerds. And if they’ve put any thought into it at all, they’ve probably concluded that it’s a worthwhile gamble that Hong Kong’s university lecturers like promotions even more than they like freedom. When they’ve done venting their spleens, most of them will buckle down, hold their noses, and and kiss the right butts. Their kids’ private school educations aren’t going to pay for themselves.
“Your Majesty, from far Cathay
I bring bad news today.
Beside the oriental seas
(Which, all the world agrees
Have always been Chinese)
There lies a group of barren rocks
Graced by the royal pillar box.
In happier colonial days
Royal Mail and English ways
Blessed those far-flung isles. And yet
Now they’re trying to forget.
The new imperialists feel dismay
Seeing the relics on display.
The monograms, shocking everyone,
Of George V and George, his son,
And yours too, Madam, there engraved
Will not be saved.”
“Are any scions of the English race
Still residing in that blighted place?”
“Your Majesty, some sturdy chaps
Known locally as expats
Would lay their lives and beer-mugs down
To serve the Crown.”
“Then tell those lusty yeomen: Rise,
And show they can’t decolonise.
And let our royal dynastic Pride
Make those ingrates shake inside;
And let the royal avenging Ghost
Alight on Hong Kong Post.”
One imagines (or hopes) that there are at least a few smart, insightful behind-the-scenes strategists in the CCP who are capable of perceiving the madness, the self-defeating, counter-productive, inane stupidity of openly using Maoist totalitarian infiltration techniques on a prestigious and iconic public institution in an obviously pluralist society, but who are frustrated in their altruistic and noble plans to reestablish China in its rightful place in the global order; stymied by the endemic, systemic, institutionalised denial of reality within the CCP.
I’m thinking perhaps a Taiwanese art-house movie star in the leading role, some hard-hitting, intense, Hong Kong production values, and a 10 series or 20 series run on Netflix.
The Red Wing?
5 Stars in Heaven (or Hell)?
A Bribe Too Far…
p.s. @Knownot – Bravo.
“First they came for the postboxes, and I did not speak out because I’m not a postbox.
Then they came for the street names , and I did not speak out because I’m not a street.”
You can see where this is headed…
Incredulous, affirming Godwin’s Law.
@Gin Soaked Boy
Ironically, a Nazi analogy would represent a significant downplaying of the CCP’s homegrown megadeath levels and political repression, what with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Incredulous is right. Chen Zuo’Er asked for decolonization, and the obsequious government agencies will surely find ways to achieve this. Goodbye Queensway and Victoria Park, hello Renmin Lu and Renmin Guangchang. It’s surely just a matter of time.
October 12, 2015 at 1:00 pm
Excellent post. Sums it up perfectly.