Encounter with a poor wretch

It used to be easy and relaxing to be a moderate, even liberal-minded, member of the establishment in Hong Kong. Rule Number 1 was that you didn’t openly criticize the local government or its far-away masters or other respectable ‘elites’, like prominent tycoons. Rule Number 2 was that you further proved yourself by engaging in a bit of mild and effortless shoe-shining. And that was it – you could be an insider. You could be friends with the more venerable pro-democrats or voice support for reputable human-rights or environmental causes, and still be appointed to government advisory boards and awarded Bauhinia medals. They were kinder and gentler times.

The rules have changed. Today’s Hong Kong government, under orders from Beijing’s local Liaison Office, is engaged in a struggle with pro-democracy forces that are part of a foreign plot to overthrow the motherland’s Communist regime through ‘colour revolutions’. You are either with us or against us. If you sit on an official-sounding committee, you are expected to take part in crushing the pan-dem evil. None of this decadent, sitting-on-the-fence, even-handed ‘Hong Kong values’ stuff anymore.

It is putting these poor wretches in an impossible position, trying to straddle Hong Kong’s divide between decency and despotism. Several members of Hong Kong University’s council, we can be pretty sure, have gone through torment after learning – from whatever indirect and informal persuader – that rubber-stamping the Search Committee’s choice for a new pro-vice chancellor was not an option, and nor was neutrality. ‘Serving the Community’ just got a lot more demanding.

I recently bumped into a well-intentioned and modest poor wretch of this sort. In exchange for no financial reward or any hint of fame or glory, he long ago accepted an invitation to sit on a committee to offer occasional advice that – should it get through bureaucrats and other interests – might make Hong Kong a slightly better place to live in. And now, all of a sudden, his little board of dedicated volunteer do-gooders have the Proposal from Hell dumped upon them.

They are expected/required to ‘recommend’ that certain Post Office mailboxes featuring PostOfficeBoxthe colonial royal cipher be stashed away in dark corners as Disneyfied ornaments for ‘conservation’ purposes. In practice, he fears, this means publicly endorsing the plan to place metal plates over the images on the remaining operational boxes, thus to cleanse Hong Kong, China of this inappropriate British symbol. Apparently, other advisory bodies concerned with particular types of location are being dragged into this, but his colleagues feel pressured and exposed, having to do someone else’s dirty work.

Who is behind this? He confirms the official line that it goes back several months; Beijing ogre Chen Zuoer’s comments about decolonization came after and were unconnected to it. Some obscure patriotic group demanded the ciphers’ removal and left officials with the impossible alternative of defending the offensive foreign emblem.

Did the patriotic group think up the idea, or were they acting on behalf of (say) the Liaison Office? He hasn’t considered this possibility. There was a Rule Number 3: that you lean towards guilelessness and are incapable of cynicism. Has anyone anticipated that the defaced mailboxes will attract young nativists, who will most likely fix stickers or posters of their own witty pro-colonial/pro-independence design upon them? Rule Number 3 kicks in again, and he finds the prospect hard to believe but slightly amusing – it makes him feel slightly better for a few minutes. I console him with the thought that his advisory board is so obscure that no-one will even notice he was involved. He will avoid civic duties in future.

I declare the weekend open with the exciting answer to the question on all South China Morning Post readers’ lips: what was in that heavy glossy insert ‘Style’ stuff that I chucked straight away? Here you go (and you’re welcome)…


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14 Responses to Encounter with a poor wretch

  1. Docta G says:

    I think you could start the resistance by calling Peking Peking. And of course you live in Victoria, not Hongkong.

  2. reductio says:

    I defy anyone, ANYONE, to read through “Style” magazine without gagging. I managed to navigate through the inane editor’s introduction, pass by the ridiculously overpriced ‘exclusive’ monstrosities littering most of the pages until (courage faint heart) I hit the Beautiful People at Parties section. Visit to the bathroom time. And believe me, glossy paper has almost no absorption value, as I learned to my cost.

  3. Big Al says:

    Not that I ever read the Style Magazine (or indeed the SCMP, although I understand it is a lot more absorbent than the former), I would suggest the following answer to the question posed “We haven’t”.

  4. Qian Jin says:

    @”None of this decadent, sitting-on-the-fence, even-handed ‘Hong Kong values’ stuff anymore.”

    I don’t remember much of this during the British administration…… well until Patten planted the seeds of this rot. If I am wrong on this score , certainly there weren’t too many MBEs handed out to fence-sitters or those openly calling upon the British to bring on democracy and/or called “human rights” .

  5. Cassowary says:

    The establishment moderates not only have to join in the witch hunts, they have to stand there look respectable and say that of course everything’s fine, we just happened to come to the exact conclusion that Beijing wanted after fair and impartial deliberation.

    That way, an assembly line of pontificating Mainland officials, Ta Kung Pao, obscure “patriotic” groups and dickheaded trolls like Arthur Li can run around spewing their fire, brimstone and bile with complete impunity. The respectable establishment is there to give them cover. Move along. nothing to see here. My, don’t you democrats have wild imaginations. Are you sure you’re not the ones who are trying to politically interfere with our completely unbiased bureaucratic processes?

    As for the Style section and its ilk, I imagine it’s one of those things that everybody knows is complete bullshit (including the people who produce it), but they keep doing it anyway because maintaining the pretense that people take it seriously it keeps the money rolling in.

    Not unlike the Hong Kong government.

    At least a few of them have the decency to look awkward. Arthur Li clearly enjoys it.

  6. Red Dragon says:

    A long history and an emphasis on tradition and exclusivity versus the need for prevalent technology and accessibility. Now there’s a poser!

    Whatever it means (and I suspect that it means absolutely bugger all), this looks like the kind of conundrum that would tax the imagination of even the most adroit hotel manager; especially one with a Blofeldian inclination to stroke pussies.

    As for the royal cyphers, I’d just like to inform the Postmaster-General, and all the other oiks and deadbeats involved with this tacky little act of historical revisionism, that I find it “inappropriate” to live under communist rule. Accordingly, might I ask that they arrange for a Ned Kelly style iron mask to be fastened securely over CY Leung’s head so that I shall no longer be “confused” by the image of his vulpine face?

  7. stinky foot says:

    Oh, Mimi (aka @Qianjin), perhaps I have a longer memory. I recall sitting with the fifth columnists, all very congenial, where they outlined their plain to oust the Gov (the ‘sinner of the millenium’ -their words) and aspired to bring done PM Major’s government. The ‘second stove’ is what they got. You are right that the UK gov. didn’t recognise the advocates for democratic change though they did listen however uneasily. Thus, those who laid down their rhetorical swords, were voices calling in the wilderness.

  8. LRE says:

    Re Post Box freak out:
    I love how insecure the poor old CCP via the HKSAR misgovernment is about this. A more mature government would say: “Meh. It’s just a bit of history.”
    I note that a similar hark back to imperial times has not been removed or covered up with a metal plate in Beijing — indeed the Forbidden City has now turned into something of a tourist attraction, despite being the antithesis of appropriate in Communist China. They even feature the oh-so-inappropriate Qing dynasty flag at new year.

    As to the discomfort of the moderates — moderates are much in need once a democratic system with rule of law has been established, sadly this is not the case in Hong Kong, with no democratic system and what little rule of law there was slowly being dissolved into rule by law by the corrosive actions of the CCP.

    At the moment, “moderates” who want to be in the establishment are de facto in the extremist “pro-Beijing” rabid CCP camp — what we need more of right now are fearless, stubborn revolutionaries and mindlessly optimistic extremists who are “pro-Hong Kong”. Some of the pro-Hong Kong camp used to be “moderates”, but frankly a lot of the self-styled “moderates” like Benny Tai et al mostly just hamper meaningful action now.

    People like Ronny Tong who want a middle road should just go to whatever fantasy land where that’s an actual option. NB: Getting there may well involve smoking opium, which could be considered an inappropriate throwback to colonial times.

    Re style supplement:
    The dodgy smile, tiny eyes & white fluffy cat = actual real life traditional Bond villain. Makes me sort of want to buy things from him just to support construction of his volcano lair filled with henchmen and inevitable attempt to hijack nuclear warheads from space / nuclear submarines / former soviet republic.

  9. Chinese Netizen says:

    I’ll take British paternalism any day over CCP inbred Chinese despotism.

  10. Chinese Netizen says:

    @LRE: and see how the CCP holds up Shanghai’s (Western influenced/funded) Bund, tree lined former concessions and regal manors as major tourist draws and ingrained “charming” characteristics of the city….NOT a sign of undue colonial naughtiness!

  11. PD says:

    In other news, the PCMP has appointed an editor-in-chief who struggles with simple English: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2015/11/06/south-china-morning-post-to-have-new-editor-amid-mass-exodus-of-staff/

  12. Joe Blow says:

    If HK civil servants are going to cover up some postbox ciphers in order to suck up to their puppet masters, shouldn’t Tianjin, Xiamen, Qingdao and Harbin knock down their colonial architecture too ? Or is there nobody to suck up to, over there….?

  13. stinky foot says:

    @PD, I read that and the comments. It will be interesting to watch what she brings to the table (not much by the commentators). Perhaps she was appointed to bring the paper down, though I read somewhere that the CCP favours the Namhua to leak stuff they want out there. I don’t know.
    @ Jow Blow makes an excellent point about double standards. Will HK elites and their subcontractors understand this?

  14. Does anyone have a list of the operational postboxes that still bear the royal cipher? I think we should all make a point of posting our letters in them to demonstrate our lack of confusion.

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