Fresh out of Sunday mass, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam declares that ‘some people’ think the eighth of Jesus’s Beatitudes is particularly appropriate to her. So which item on the Sermon on the Mount checklist was that? The one about the meek? Nope. The peacemakers? Guess not. No: it’s the one about those who are persecuted for their righteousness. As such, she is one of those who inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, and she reveals that a duplex with sea view in the luxury development in the sky already has her name on it.
Some may be taken aback that she is apparently seething with a sense of victimhood and personal injustice; others may feel unease at her presumption that Paradise awaits her. But what we are seeing here is no more than the Great Colonial Disconnect that defines Hong Kong leaders’ view of the city’s population.
From the 1840s to around the 1970s, the Hong Kong government’s job was to run a trading port and business centre to serve the needs of merchants and financiers. The ordinary people were simply uninvited guests. They were welcome to come, work, make money if they could, and move on elsewhere. They expected nothing from government.
In practice, government did have to start delivering some public services, simply to guarantee a functioning business environment – law and order, sanitation, and by the 70s, things like housing, schooling and transport. As a ‘community’ formed, colonial officials’ attitudes mellowed, from a Victorian approach of controlling the natives, to a post-war paternalistic attitude of ‘we know what’s best for you’.
Bureaucrats of Carrie Lam’s generation were brought up in this benevolent-elite mindset. It should have given way to the less arrogant, more humble governance style that would come with democratic accountability. But 1997 got in the way, and Hong Kong was essentially hijacked by vested interests co-opted as a power base by the Chinese Communist Party. The 1840s-1970s trend was reversed, and government actually became less interested in the local people’s well-being. The business-bureaucrat establishment has gone back to a neo-colonial or neo-Confucian disconnect, where the people are once again seen more as uninvited guests than citizens.
Which is why Carrie feels persecuted. She thinks she and her colleagues have done so much for the poor (‘allowances for 700,000 low-income families’), and can’t understand why the common rabble disagree (or perhaps how they got the idea they have the right to disagree).
In a similar vein, Education Secretary Eddie Ng and his bureau are in a mess over a school-assessment system called TSA. Cutting through the tiresome details, parents are complaining – quite forcefully, through ads in the papers and threats of boycotts – that the TSA is piling too much work and pressure on their kids.
The correct response should be to assume that the parents know what they are talking about. Instead the Education Bureau started by rejecting the complaints and denying a problem existed. Then they started blaming the schools (for which the bureau is responsible). Now they are promising a review. A horrifying loss of face at having to serve the community – rather than vice-versa – cannot be rule out.
The list of examples goes on and on. Lead in water? Not a problem, go away. Avenue of Stars renovation as collusion? Nonsense, all done in accordance with procedures. Too many Mainland shoppers? No you’re wrong, shut up.
Unresponsive and arrogant government happens everywhere. They key thing in Hong Kong is the historic trend. The city is going backwards, and that’s ultimately because a Communist one-party regime cannot accommodate popular accountability. Our ‘executive-led’ government must mean ‘shut up and know your place’ government. Now join the dots with the Liaison Office’s growing subversion of public-order and justice neutrality, and Johannes Chan-style political tests for office-holders, and the future doesn’t look good. Except insofar as the downtrodden and abused will get their reward in heaven (and even then they bump into Carrie Lam).