Bus Uncle for CE!

27 02 2012

Just when you thought Hong Kong’s chief executive ‘election’ couldn’t get any weirder, local cultural phenomenon ‘Bus Uncle‘, AKA Roger Chan Yuet-dong, announces his candidacy.

Chan gained notoriety in 2006 when he was caught on camera going beserk at a fellow bus passenger, demanding an apology for a tap on the shoulder. He inspired mass debate about stress levels and etiquette in Hong Kong society, giving birth in the process to catchphrases such as “I’m stressed! You’re stressed!” (你有壓力,我有壓力, pinyin: Ni you yali, wo you yali) which teachers became so sick of hearing that they were banned in several schools.

He is running on a platform of giving 400,000 HKD to each person in Hong Kong, and promises that if he wins, Hong Kong people will be the ‘happiest urban residents in the world’ (世界上最幸福市民, pinyin: shijie shang zui xingfu shimin).

Unrealistic, vague promises from a complete joke of a candidate. Sounds strangely familiar…

Voting in the Unvotable

24 02 2012

Did we imagine it? Browsing the People’s Daily (人民日报 Renmin Ribao – the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece) website, Hong Kong’s political turmoil is so conspicuously absent that it starts to feel like it was all some elaborate daydream. Coupled with images in the local media of a smiling Henry Tang officially registering as a Chief Executive candidate on Monday, tycoon supporters in tow, the sense of having toppled down a rabbit hole grows.

In case your head has been firmly in the sand for the last week or so: following a half-baked smear campaign against C Y Leung, Henry Tang’s rival in the Chief Executive (CE) race, the mud came flying back in Tang’s direction with reports of an illegally constructed underground room in one of his houses – now fondly referred to by the media as his ‘underground palace’. Just when he seemed to have hit a low, with indications of deliberate illegal activity on top of previous revelations of extra-marital affairs, Tang stooped lower still by blaming the whole thing on his long-suffering wife.

War horses and Wukan-isation

The commentaries from both sides of the Great Political Divide have been verging on the delusional. First up for the fantasy fiction prize is the Sharp Daily’s To Kit 陶杰 (pinyin: Tao Jie) in a 15 February commentary, ‘Hong Kong’s Grand Minister for Wukan-isation’, gisted below:

Beijing turns its back for a few days to deal with the scandal at the US consulate in Chongqing, and Hong Kong’s two main CE contenders are at each other teeth and claws. The C Y Leung camp’s counter-attack on Henry Tang has led to public calls for Tang to withdraw from the CE race, and the pro-establishment camp are left floundering with no signal as yet on how to vote.

If Henry has to withdraw due to his illegal building works, shouldn’t C Y also withdraw due to the Western Kowloon conflict of interest scandal? In which case, wouldn’t Albert Ho automatically win? Hong Kong has already gone off Beijing’s script, and C Y’s ‘battle for the people’s will’ could lead to a ‘Wukan-isation’ of Hong Kong at any moment, with a ‘democratic village chief’ emerging who Beijing  is forced to recognise. Under this freak outcome, Hong Kong and Wukan would become a pair of ‘war horses’ for bringing about the democratisation of China.

Heading through the next looking glass into the harmonious world of the pro-establishment Wen Wei Po, Wednesday’s headline read ‘Henry Tang: Broad Nomination Base Shows Support From All Sectors.’

“Henry Tang indicated that his nominations from the Election Committee, which were quite broadly representative, showed that he had the full support of society.”

This despite some opinion surveys indicating that over half of Hong Kong people think he should step down. Then again, anyone familiar with Hong Kong politics knows that ‘broad support of society’ is one of the city’s most loosely used terms.

So, unthinkable as it should have been, it looks as though the hapless Mr. Tang could be pushed through regardless. What of the much-touted requirement of acceptability to the Hong Kong people? Perhaps through this particular looking glass, the onus is on the people to find their leader acceptable, not on the leader to make himself so.

The Language Pages Are Up!

16 02 2012

I’ve finally made a start on two new language pages, 1) Glossary of Chinese Names and 2) Buzzwords and Idioms. They’re still in development, so comments on format/usefulness would be very welcome.

Tinker, Tailor, Hero, Traitor?

15 02 2012

Nobody’s sure what the truth behind Chongqing gang-buster Wang Lijun’s (王立军) Beijing ‘vacation’ really is. But whatever the case, it is bad news for Bo Xilai’s (薄熙来) Politburo prospects.

The microblog rumour mill has been in overdrive for the last week, with the intriguing tale of Wang Lijun, former superstar police chief under Chongqing Party boss/professional self-promoter Bo Xilai. Wang took refuge in a US consulate, before being whisked off to Beijing amidst a scuffle between Sichuan police and central authorities. For a good overview of the story so far, see the China Digital Times’ coverage here.

While I enjoy a good scandal as much as the next person, with so little known I am choosing instead to focus on the wider political ramifications of the event. Crucially, this has been a huge loss of face for the populist Bo Xilai, who had hoped to ascend to the shining ranks of the Politburo Standing Committee at this autumn’s Party Congress. Ming Pao 明报 commentator Sun Ka-yip (孫嘉業, pinyin: Sun Jiaye) links Bo Xilai’s woes with recent attacks on Hong Kong Chief Executive hopeful C Y Leung (梁振英, pinyin: Liang Zhenying). In the following article, he interprets both cases as a Party backlash against those who dare to seek promotion based on popular support, rather than (presumably) inner-Party bootlicking. If correct, this offers an interesting insight into how much the CCP values ‘the will of the people’ (民意 minyi): in ascending the ranks, subservience to the Party centre still comes first, popularity a poor second.

CY Leung and Bo Xilai’s Political Troubles (Ming Pao, 14/02/2012)

“CY Leung and Bo Xilai, one a Hong Kong political figure, the other a senior CCP official; one from Shandong, the other Shanxi; CY is year of the Horse, Bo Xilai is year of the Ox. You could say that “the horse and the cow in heat do not look at each other” [风马牛不相及feng ma niu bu xiang ji, i.e. they have nothing in common]; yet the two men do have many similarities. Both are part of the establishment, yet their actions seem to be somewhat at odds with standard establishment behaviour. This year is a key year for both men, but both are currently encountering political difficulties…

C Y Leung broke with the establishment norm of putting forward just one candidate for the Chief Executive election [sic], and deviated from the … [norm] of focusing on winning over the election committee, going instead for the grassroots vote, … raising eyebrows among many businesspeople and government officials, until at last the government revealed a decade-old issue involving integrity in judging a competition in West Kowloon, and his response is looking weak.

When Bo Xilai was sent to take over Chongqing four years ago, it was thought that he had been removed from the centre of power and marginalised, but he surprised us by refusing to be packed off. On the contrary, he went against the iron rule within CCP circles of adopting a low-key, restrained attitude of ‘people should fear fame, as pigs fear fattening’, with his ‘singing red, fighting black’ [唱红打黑 changhong dahei = singing revolutionary ‘red’ songs and fighting the ‘black hand’ of the mafia]. This went on and on, until the ‘Chongqing model’ had attracted a certain popularity in the Mainland, but then suddenly disaster struck, with his beloved general Wang Lijun entering the US consulate. The incident is still playing out, and as for Bo Xilai’s chances of entering the Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th Party Congress, everyone is keenly looking on to see if this cooked duck will be able to fly.

I’m not sure which animal metaphor I enjoyed the most.

A new era of political reform? Whatever

3 02 2012

If there’s one thing we’ve seen from the last couple of posts, it’s that Hong Kongers quite enjoy a dig at their Mainland compatriots. You might conclude that they also enjoy reading the many anti-CCP magazines stacked across the city’s news stands, complete with paparazzi-style cover photos of Politburo members caught off-guard.

You would be wrong. Your average Hong Kong newspaper reader could not give two hoots about the latest political machinations of the various CCP factions. These magazines are written for, and bought by, mainland visitors. It’s important to bear this in mind when reading them, because while they fulfil a valid desire for uncensored political analysis, they also cash in on a desire to see two fingers stuck up at the Chinese regime. Please administer salt as required.

The Cheng Ming Monthly 争鸣 is just such a publication. In February’s opening piece, ‘The “Four Whatevers” must be smashed’,* the author calls for Deng Xiaoping’s ideas to be abandoned once and for all in what he hopes will be a new era of political reform.  A gist follows:

China is at a junction between the second and third 30-year periods in its modern history. The first period was Mao Zedong’s time, by the end of which Mao Zedong Thought had been thoroughly discredited. The second era was Deng Xiaoping’s time, when economic reforms were brought in to save the country, and the Party itself, from ruin.

It is now the end of the road for Deng Xiaoping thought. It is getting harder to maintain stability through violence and lies, and corruption has become endemic. Conflicts between people trying to protect their rights and officials trying to maintain stability are erupting everywhere. China is a pot about to boil over.

The Wukan incident of 2011 shows how conflicts can be resolved when the authorities make concessions. This is what needs to happen in the next period of political reform: The CCP needs to cede some of its power. But who would give up power willingly? The people need to continue to put pressure on the authorities, in order to avoid revolution, for the good of both the country and the Party itself.

The intellectual prelude to reform has already begun. There needs to be a new thought liberation movement, like the one that preceded Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. This time it needs to throw out Deng Xiaoping Thought, because strengthening one-party rule was at the root of all Deng Xiaoping’s ideas – even the economic liberalisations.

I first saw reference to 30 year periods in modern Chinese history after Wen Jiabao’s (温家宝) August 2011 speech on political reform, coming as it did 30 years after a landmark speech by Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) which set China decisively onto a track of economic reforms. I’m somewhat surprised to see a commentator in 2012 still talking as if the next era of political reform is just around the corner, given that 2011’s crackdown on dissidents has done little to lend weight to the idea. The perceived success of the Wukan villagers is already being called into question, and there is little evidence that democracy in China will go beyond Wen’s warm and fuzzy Internet chat with the people once a year.

Still, if you’re a pro-democracy Chinese citizen you seem to have the choice between optimism verging on delusion, or despair. I have to respect the optimists.

*A link to a note on the ‘Four Whatevers’ and other political terminology will follow soon.