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.


Racism without races

22 01 2012

What links:

1. Donald Tsang’s promise to limit mainlanders’ contribution to Hong Kong’s high anticipated birth rates in the Dragon Year;

2. theoretical wrangling over Hong Kongers’ sense of identity (see last post); and

3. thousands of protestors encircling Dolce and Gabbana’s Tsimshatsui store to defend Hong Kong’s public spaces?

According to Denny from the independent media outlet InMedia, they all boil down to Hong Kongers’ peculiar mix of superiority, insecurity and above all animosity towards mainlanders. In his editorial, Local war of words and the locust concept, he questions the motives behind the D&G protests, asking why crowds didn’t gather to protest previous infringements of public space, such as a ban on painting in public parks? To him, the discourse says it all:

“… Some voices online complain that ‘there are no Cantonese people on Canton Road, and only Beijingers on Beijing Road.’ … If hoardes of white people used Canton Road, we’d probably be vaunting it as an area with a trendy mix of Chinese and Westerners, enjoying a sense of Hong Kong’s superiority as a world city. No matter where you stand with regard to the current cacophony of controversies, none of us can deny that the issue is closely related to Hong Kong people’s anxiety over their identity.

With public sentiment raging, the whole of Hong Kong is talking about the so-called plague of locusts… [emphasis added]”

The concept of a plague of locusts is the idea that mainlanders are flooding Hong Kong in the post-handover period, over-stretching housing, medical and other resources that have been built up by hardworking, tax-paying Hong Kong citizens. The author quite rightly argues that the use of what he describes as “racist” stereotyping prevents sensible discussion of the issues behind these controversies. For example, people could instead be debating Mainland China’s one child policy or why a city as wealthy as Hong Kong has insufficient medical resources.

He suggests that the situation in Hong Kong reflects what French philosopher Balibar described twenty years ago as a new “racism without races”, which plays down biological differences to emphasise the idea of incompatible cultures.

Another interesting concept Denny mentions is the “Hong Kong City State Theory”, as advocated in a recent book of the same name by Chan Wan (陳雲). To the consternation of pro-Beijing commentators, this proposes that Hong Kong should view itself as an ancient Greek-style city state, defending its own values, culture and political system, and not waiting around for the rest of China to democratise.

Whether it expresses itself as defence of a democratic way of life, unwillingness to share stretched resources, or “racism without races”, this insecurity felt by many Hong Kongers as it integrates further into Guangdong province has probably not yet peaked.

As Hong Kong’s media workers are off enjoying illegal explosives and other festivities this week, the next update to this site will involve developing some language pages.



Identity Crisis

16 01 2012

Delving into the earliest editorials and opinion pieces of 2012, first up for review is the recent bickering over Hong Kong people’s sense of identity. This was sparked by the public opinion survey results released in December by Dr. Robert Chung Ting-yiu, who runs Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Programme (POP). The soundbite to emerge from December’s results was that locals’ sense of being ‘Hong Kong people’ was at a ten year high, while their sense of being ‘Chinese people’ hit a twelve year low.

The story probably would have fizzled out after a day or two, had it not been for one Hao Tiechuan of Beijing’s Central Liaison Office (CLO) fanning the flames. Mr. Hao lambasted Dr. Chung’s survey as being both unscientific and illogical. Cue pro- and anti-Beijing commentators to take up rhetorical arms for an entrenched war of words:

Next Magazine 壹周刊 dives straight in with an indignant counter-attack entitled CLO violates Basic Law (link is subscription only):

“…it states unequivocally in Article 22 of the Basic Law that: ‘No department of the Central People’s Government … may interfere in those affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) administers on its own according to the Basic Law.’ This includes the CLO, so why do we have Director Hao pointing fingers at a survey conducted by a university and talking nonsense?

And unfortunately, attacking a university survey as unscientific was not the first instance of the CLO contravening the Basic Law. In August of last year a deputy-director of this office, Li Guikang, even more brazenly interfered in the legislative process, openly calling on those in business circles to support the passing of the competition law ‘in the name of the big picture and unity, as well as its content’. Then during November’s District Council Elections, the CLO went on to join hands with the CCP’s United Front Work Department to ‘do work on’ Hong Kong’s representatives to the provincial and municipal Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conferences (CPPCCs), organising pools of voters for each district, in fact ‘cultivating votes’…

… The CLO and the United Front Work Department are not the only Central Government organisations that have interfered in Hong Kong’s affairs. Last year, head of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Wang Guangya, when he had only been in office for a short time, decreed that the SAR Government should resolve the inflation and housing problems, causing an overseas Donald Tsang to hurriedly change his stance and announce that more houses would be built.

What is hard to stand is that this slavishness reflects and proves Wang Guangya’s [power over] Hong Kong officials…”

Moving swiftly on from mouth-frothing disgust at the establishment to mouth-frothing disgust at, apparently, Dr. Robert Chung’s weak grasp of the Ancient Greeks’ laws of logic, we have the solidly pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po 文匯報. CPPCC delegate Long Ziming, whose surname translates as dragon, gives us the rather self-importantly titled The dragon’s voice rises up: Making a distinction between Hong Kong people and Chinese people is illogical.

“Mr. Robert Chung’s categorisation of Hong Kong people in his opinion survey is completely illogical. From the perspective of the law of identity as used in logic, when applying a concept, the concept’s intension and extension are fixed, and cannot change at will. If you violate this requirement, then you commit the fallacy of ‘confusing concepts’ or ‘surreptitiously substituting concepts’. ‘Hong Kong people’, ‘Chinese Hong Kong people’, ‘Hong Kong Chinese people’ all fall under the category of ‘Chinese people’. By not putting these all at the same level, Mr. Robert Chung’s categorisations divide a group of people who all fall into the same category into different categories, so changing at will the concept’s intension and extension, and violating logic’s law of identity. In setting Hong Kong people and Chinese people in juxtaposition and opposition, the survey also shows contempt for the feelings shared by Hong Kong and mainland people of commonality and blood ties.”

[Translator’s note: If you’re as lost as I was, you can read more on the law of identity, as well as the definitions of intension and extension here.] The above points are then expanded on for some time, until at last theoretical discussion of logic gives way to a more emotive argument:

“Looking back at the last 14 years, Hong Kong people have been identifying themselves more and more as Chinese people and part of the Chinese nation. When the Shenzhou spacecraft was launched, when the ‘Chang E’ flew to the moon, when Shenzhou-8 completed a space-docking mission with Tiangong-1, and when China successfully hosted the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo, Hong Kong was cheering for the motherland, and these things made Hong Kong people’s identity as Chinese people more prominent. When the Mainland was devastated by floods, shaken by earthquakes, and great numbers of people were suffering, because blood is thicker than water, Hong Kong people were moved to tears and held out a sympathetic hand, working to alleviate the disasters – this is because their identity as Chinese people made Hong Kong people feel honour-bound to help.”

And as with all good pro-establishment commentaries on Hong Kong, the article is neatly rounded off with some sticks and carrots:

“As China’s economy has taken off, cooperation between Hong Kong and the Mainland has become increasingly close in all kinds of ways, and it is only by integrating into China that Hong Kong will have yet more potential for development. If it does not recognise the nation, how can Hong Kong develop?”

I’m handing the last word to an editorial from the Asia Weekly 亚洲周刊, because it actually addresses the issue of Hong Kong people’s feelings towards China. Like Mr. Long, the author cites instances of Hong Kong people showing their support for events in the motherland… but is just a little less politically correct in his selection. Hong Kong people’s Chinese sentiment goes beyond the ruling Party:

“From the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 to the Guangdong-Hong Kong strike of 1925-6, from the War of Resistance against the Japanese (1937-45) to the demonstrations in defence of the Diaoyu Islands of 1971, and to the Tiananmen incident of 4th June 1989, Hong Kong people have always vigorously participated [in Chinese affairs]. Who could dare to say that Hong Kong people do not identify themselves as Chinese? …

During Hong Kong’s gradual evolution in modern Chinese history, the pulse of Hong Kong society has never separated from that of China, and Hong Kong people’s identification with China goes beyond partisan affiliations. Perhaps in recent years an increasing number of human rights problems have left people unhappy with ‘China’, while there have also been setbacks to Hong Kong’s democratic development. As a result, in a historical context where the ruling party has monopolised the ‘China’ brand, all this has caused severe national identity issues for Hong Kong’s younger generation.

As Mainlanders often say: ‘The Party’s policies are like the moon, different at the start and the end of the fortnight.’ The governing party’s power may be usurped, and policies are even more fluid, but the country and the culture are eternal. If some Hong Kong people feel conflicted, then it is just because they have to face the hegemony of a party that wants to merge the party and the country, and monopolise the ‘China’ name. Do you really have to identify with the CCP in order to identify with China? According to that logic, could you claim that Chiang Kai-shek, who saw the CCP as his life-long enemy, was not Chinese?”

Gong hei faat choi.