HK prepares for wapentake and scutage frenzy


The Magna Carta is coming to Hong Kong; it will be on show at Sotheby’s gallery at Pacific Place from November 11-14.

The big, tough, almighty and hyper-confident Chinese authorities were so nervous of the 600-year-old scrawled-Latin document that they (in effect) cancelled its recent public display in Beijing and Shanghai, confining it to British consular premises. Do ultra-nationalist Mainlanders want to know the real reason their military did nothing yesterday when a US ship transited China’s claimed waters in the South China Sea? Simple – the USS Lassen was waving a copy of the Great Charter, and the PLA fled in terror.

The UK Consulate’s announcement includes a quote describing the precious item as…

…a supreme law which is above the King and which even he must not break.

You can see why the Chinese Communist Party lacks enthusiasm for this concept. In the same press release, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen heaps praise on the symbol of the city’s common law heritage as…

…an embodiment of a number of core values such as equality before the law and access to justice which the community of the Hong Kong SAR shares.

Which is all a bit rich coming from an administration apparently under orders from Beijing to migrate the city from nasty evil foreign rule of law to Mainland-style ‘rule by law’, as seen in capricious post-Occupy prosecution decisions.

The funny thing is that the drafters of Magna Carta in 1215 were pushing the interests of a MagnaCarta2small privileged upper caste, not the people. The treaty could almost have been written for contemporary Hong Kong. Substitute ‘earls’ with ‘property developers’ and ‘forests’ (a curious obsession at the time) with ‘tourism sector’, and you pretty much have it. Indeed, some clauses – like not having to repay loans from Jews – would be considered too immoral for even the most grasping of today’s tycoons (well, apart from one or two second-tier Chiuchow slimeballs I can think of).

Will the Magna Carta produce a ‘Patten Effect’ when it goes on show here in two weeks? Post-1997 visits by Chris Patten have attracted abnormally large and delighted crowds of ordinary citizens eager to greet their former Governor. The reason is not, if we are to be honest, mere affection for the jovial and rotund ex-politician. The occasion presents a magnificent opportunity to humiliate Beijing’s appointed Chief Executive by giving the old PatenTartscolonial leader an embarrassingly warm welcome – while the detested Tung, Tsang or Leung would not even dare show his face in public.

The exhibition at Sotheby’s lasts only four days, so any outpouring of interest from the masses will look all the more impressive. If Pacific Place sees long lines of bright-eyed students clutching yellow umbrellas and parents bringing their small children to see the ancient artefact, it will not be a sudden craze for medieval history, but a pointed message to Beijing’s despotic Leninist regime and its local puppets. And CY Leung will peer out of the window at Government House, seething with contempt for a populace that refuses to exhibit a trace of patriotic excitement for One Belt, One Road and the glorious motherland.

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12 Responses to HK prepares for wapentake and scutage frenzy

  1. Docta G says:

    High on absinthe, flashing to the domestics and writing in a pink drawing room, banished to Guernsey, Victor Hugo wrote his funniest and weirdest work, vastly superior to anything else in his considerable ouvre: L’ HOMME QUI RIT, featuring a boy mutilated by gypsies to bear a permanent inane grin and living with a wandering quack and his pet wolf in 17th Century England. The Wapentake for Hugo was a mysterious omnipotent official, something like our ICAC ought to be:

    What is a wapentake?”
”He is the bailiff of the hundred.”
”What is the bailiff of the hundred?”
”He is the proepositus hundredi.”
”And what is the proepositus hundredi?”
”He is a terrible officer.”
”What has he got in his hand?”
”The iron weapon.”
”What is the iron weapon?”
”A thing made of iron.”
”What does he do with that?”
”First of all, he swears upon it. It is for that reason that he is called the wapentake.” “And then?”
”Then he touches you with it.”
”With what?”
”With the iron weapon.”
”The wapentake touches you with the iron weapon?”
”What does that mean?”
”That means, follow me.”
”And must you follow?”
”How should I know?”
”But he tells you where he is going to take you?”
”How is that?”
”He says nothing, and you say nothing.”
”He touches you with the iron weapon. All is over then. You must go.”
”But where?”
”After him.”
”But where?”
”Wherever he likes, Gwynplaine.”
”And if you resist?”
”You are hanged.”

  2. Gooddog says:

    Can someone enlighten me on the artificial islands strategy? Everything that is occurring is utterly predictable:

    1. All countries in region realise China is an aggressive bully and strengthen their alliances with the US.
    2. The US introduces more military hardware in the region.
    3. The PLA rant and rave about the consequences if the US come within Chinese waters. The US navy sails right in. Nothing happens. The PLA look weak and silly.
    4. The US humiliates the PLA over and over again by repeated incursions. It all becomes a game and everyone laughs at China.

    As a consequence of this brilliant strategy:
    1. All your neighbours are united against you.
    2. You have encouraged the world’s superpower to come and sit on your doorstep.
    3. You’re sovereignty claims are repeatedly defeated.
    4. You’re navy looks weak and everyone believes your threats are empty.
    5. The rest of the world community thinks you are a pariah and a bully – severely eroding your soft power.

    I just don’t get it. It’s so unbelievably stupid.

  3. Joe Blow says:

    @dog: what you say is true. But the apparently illogical actions of China may have something to do with a power struggle between various power cliques inside China who are trying to undermine or counter each other.

  4. LRE says:

    Well we live and learn.

    There I was thinking wapentake was some obscure greeting in Caribbean patois, synonymous with “Wapendread?”. I (and I) then presumed scutage was the activity one engaged in should one happen to clock Babylon coming down the street towards one.

  5. FunB3 says:


    Similar thinking.

    Sounds like something Terry Wagwan would say ( funny Youtube sketch )

  6. Cassowary says:

    @Gooddog: I think China is waiting for the US to distract itself with yet another Middle Eastern misadventure, then they’ll start drilling for oil. What’s the US realistically going to do, besides parking a navy ship there once in a while? Beijing’s gambling on the fact that nobody really wants a war to do whatever they want. They’re like the schoolyard bully who jabs his fingers 2 inches from a smaller kid’s nose and goes “See, I’m not touching you!”

  7. rory says:

    Has nobody studied 1066 and All That?
    CHAPTER 4 – Britain Conquered Again

    By this time the Saxons had all become very old like the Britons before them and were called ealdormen; when they had been defeated in a battle by the Danes they used to sing little songs to themselves such as the memorable fragment discovered in the Bodleian Library at Oxford:

    Old-Saxon Fragment

    Syng a song of Saxons
    In the Wapentake of Rye
    Four and twenty eaoldormen
    Too eaold to die..

  8. Reader says:

    @Gooddog: yes, but; @Cassowary: yes, and:
    That much repeated adage that China’s policymaking timescale is generational is actually quite true. Who remembers Tiananmen now? (apart from a bunch of HK students once a year) Certainly not David Cameron.

    The sad truth is that China is successfully morphing its outlandish claims on international / other people’s territory into a real physical presence. When WWIII or erupts (blind national ignorance of rising China v blind national ignorance of declining US, most likely), military ownership of this theatre will trump distant memories of bad PR.

  9. RhZ says:


    Your analysis is perfect but for the assumption that there is any soft power to be eroded.

  10. China’s clever foreign policy:
    1. Assure the world that China is a peaceful power with no intention of attacking any other nation’s territory.
    2. See a bit of land (or ocean) China’s leaders fancy.
    3. Declare that it has always been historic Chinese territory since the age of the dinosaurs.
    4. When the nation with a better claim to it objects, repeat steps 1 and 3.

  11. gweiloeye says:


    Dare i say a repeat of history… Sudetenland?

    Yep godwins law has been invoked. Sorry.

  12. dimuendo says:

    Apologies for the lateness of commennting if there is still anybody out there reading, due to me being in the motherland.

    Reader has it correct and Gooddog and Cassowary are wide of the mark. If the USA or none chinese interest wish to dissuade or suggest an alternative path to the PRC they should encourage, and if needs be finance, all the other claimants to various bits of rock, falling within their claimed areas of sea, to build and extend thereon while simultaneously having a USA naval ship within 12 miles thereof. If such bit of rock could be within 24 miles, and preferably 12 miles, of a Chinese built upon bit of rock then maybe the PRC could be persuaded to withdraw. If not, then either stalemate (fine) or WWIII kicks off.

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