I think the correct word is ‘lightweight’

Sesame Street over the last 20 years was brought to you by the word ‘heavyweight’. As in ‘pro-Beijing…’.

The South China Morning Post reaches yet again for the trusty compound noun to categorize property tycoon Peter Woo, whose inconsequential remarks are considered newsworthy today.

A quick Google search reveals that the paper (and to some extent other local English media) rely on the phrase to describe a range of pro-Beijing figures who are prominent but do not strictly speaking have real jobs.

It does not refer to intellectual capacity (see the tycoon-groveling Standard’s extensive reporting of Woo’s inanities). Nor does it indicate influence in high places (‘heavyweight Rita Fan’, member of a Chinese rubber-stamp body, parrots the Party line but is no true insider). It doesn’t even have any connection with their physique (for every curvaceous ‘heavyweight Maria Tam’ there is a willowy ‘heavyweight Starry Lee’). It does tend to be used as a euphemism for ‘elderly’, but not always (like the aforementioned girlish quasi-politician Starry).

One thing all ‘pro-Beijing heavyweights’ have in common is that they are bores – but then so are many others who do not qualify for the label.

We can only conclude that the word has something to do with the pounds-per-square-inch exerted by these people when shoe-shining.

Fortunately, Sesame Street can offer a replacement, or at least alternative for occasional variety: ‘Muppet’.

Other 20th anniversary news… You would have thought that, after pro-democracy activists had embellished the Golden Bauhinia the first time, the Hong Kong Police would be alert to possible use of the hideous monument as a protest site, and surround it with barbed wire or something. But no – so the activists go back for Black Bauhinia Episode 2. This is when we are supposed to be under Top Code-Red Terrorist Warning conditions.

And the Chinese Communist Party’s PR/visual design/communications death-wish continues, with the covering of public areas with self-defeatingly ugly patriotic signage, guaranteed to trigger subliminal nightmares about Red Guards, struggle-sessions and anti-rightist persecution.

The international press is churning out its own propaganda, too. For anyone fed up with hackneyed stuff about ‘Hong-Kong-being-crushed-because-Shenzhen-no-longer-a-fishing-village’, here’s a vaguely decent analysis of how Beijing condemns Hong Kong to stagnation and discord.


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Hong Kong Then and Now: Cool

Before the handover: government officials appeared live on stage with rock bands

…and almost looked born to it.

Today: government officials cover up statues of Queen Victoria with tacky banners…

…and then wet themselves like panic-stricken weasels and change their minds when people complain.

Is it any wonder that Hong Kong has fallen so significantly down the World Cool Index in the last 20 years?

On a brighter note, thanks to huge gains in technology and increased output of source material, satirical videos have hugely improved…


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Alibaba – not just a pretty face

Flicking through my bedside copy of Aliway – Alibaba’s glossy manual of corporate culture – I find inspiring tales of employees’ heroic achievements. The cloud services personnel who protected international leaders from cyberattacks, boss Jack Ma’s globe-trotting and advice for the young, Alipay staff volunteers caring for homeless bunny rabbits, etc.

The empire’s new Hong Kong outpost, the South China Morning Post, doesn’t appear (no doubt it will be in the next edition). But Chairman Ma’s Little White Book does pay lengthy tribute to the Alibaba conglomerate’s secretaries. They are ‘invisible like air’, ‘working behind the scenes’ and ‘not hired to be a pretty face, and not a nanny either’…

One of those little examples of China wanting to be inclusive, committed to equality and respect and all the right modern hip and trendy things, but not quite Getting It, and sadly being cringe-making instead. (See also state media’s embarrassingly condescending features on foreigners’ amazing chopstick skills, Mainland airlines’ sexist PR fluff on cabin-crew recruitment, etc.)

Which leads us to the latest from Deep Throat, who has trawled through Alibaba’s latest 20-F statutory financial report filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. He helpfully translates the accountant-jargon into plain English and adds enlightening comment, such as:

“Even if each of the 300 newly created businesses had only 50 employees each, that would increase head count by 15,000.  So apparently, these 300 new businesses had relatively few employees (if any).  My guess would be that these “fly-under-the-radar” businesses were created solely to transfer cash (shareholder equity) to insiders, launder money and/or get cash out of the PRC.  Of course, this is only a theory, I’m not directly accusing anyone of any wrongdoing here.”

There’s a vast amount here (maybe scroll past the author’s vacation pix from India).

Many points to ponder. Little stuff like the SEC’s ongoing investigation into Alibaba and how Hong Kong tried desperately to get the company to list here. To the big picture, like how much extra, magnified asset-price bubble is all around us in Hong Kong when we compound the Fed’s low interest rates with state-linked/crony Mainland giants’ financial sleights-of-hand, leveraged by domestic pyramid savings schemes, spurred by panic to relocate capital, with added messianic self-delusion and vanity (and gullible regulators and investors) for good measure. Or… maybe Big Throat is wildly exaggerating and all is OK.

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HK launches anniversary extravaganza

Hong Kong’s Handover 20th Anniversary celebrations officially begin with surrealist performance art on a scale worthy of Bulgarian installation artist Christo.

I’m not thinking of activists draping a black shroud over the tacky Golden Bauhinia…

…meaningful and heart-warming though it is.

For genuine extreme breathtaking audacity-weirdness, it’s hard to beat mysterious Mainland mega-conglomerate HNA. The founder-boss of the sprawling airlines-to-anything-you-can-think-of empire is now claiming that the group paid other-worldly sums to acquire land at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak in order to bust the local evil property cartel and provide at-cost housing to its own employees.

To add to the hallucinatory feel of it all, the South China Morning Post reports this with a straight face. As if what may or may not be a giant front for Chinese elites’ capital flight/money laundering – which may or may not be ballooning on the back of a nightmarish Mainland ‘wealth-management-products’ Ponzi scheme – is suddenly besotted with fixing Hong Kong’s housing mess, and it’s perfectly normal.

It’s going to be one of those weeks.


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Zhou Nan adds to HK’s celebratory mood

To make the week complete and wish everyone a very merry 20th Hong Kong Handover Anniversary, former perhaps-recently-exhumed Beijing official Zhou Nan cheerily suggests re-education for Hong Kong people who stubbornly refuse to keep up with the latest, brand-new, wacky, who’d-have-guessed-it? true meanings of the Basic Law as announced sporadically by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

And I hope the South China Morning Post readers behind the disgraceful, uncalled-for comments on Old Joe’s physical appearance are thoroughly ashamed of themselves. No free ‘Diverse, Vibrant and Joyful’ SCMP T-shirt for you…

I declare the weekend open with a rainy afternoon’s entertainment for fans of Judy Dench (and many others) in half-forgotten classic Absolute Hell


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Familiar faces foretell familiar failure

The Communist Party demanded dullards who can’t do much but will do it unquestioningly – and they got them. Even fervent pro-establishment figures struggle to sound enthusiastic about soon-to-be-Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s cabinet line-up. The lady’s own glowing descriptions of their newness and passion almost sound tongue-in-cheek.

The funny thing is that the Chinese government expects Carrie’s administration to take on some very big, difficult, hard-sell tasks in the coming years.

Take three. There’s the toxic Article 23 national security legislation, which today’s no-nonsense paranoid-psycho Beijing will probably insist criminalizes words and thoughts as well as actions. There’s ‘National Education’, through which the toddler-brainwashing Communist Party will take possession of your children (won’t apply to Carrie’s ministers and others who can send their kids to the safety of private schools). And in theory there should be a renewed emphasis on livelihood and welfare issues to sweeten the above medicine and keep the masses from revolting.

Such hazardous missions do not come naturally to the bunch of oh-so elite civil-service Administrative Officers approaching retirement known as Team Carrie. Their key skills are prevarication, risk-avoidance, focusing on process rather than output, and blathering helplessly about consensus and a way forward.

Beijing has progressively tightened its grip with each Hong Kong Chief Executive since Tung Chee-hwa. Following the counter-productive hyper-loyalty of super-zealot CY Leung, Team Carrie represents the next, more-subtle, stage of micro-management – a puppet government hand-picked to be bland, predictable and obedient.

The Hong Kong public knows better than to expect this lot to deliver results. Beijing will only become more frustrated as it finds tighter control means even more incompetent and ineffective administration.


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Beijing launches latest HK charm-offensive

In case you didn’t notice – too busy eagerly preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover, perhaps – Chinese officials are bombarding Hong Kong with a new series of their ever-popular ‘You Are Worthless and Powerless Ingrate Scum’ charm-offensives.

Beijing’s smooth-talking Zhang Dejiang has declared, in essence, that all that Basic Law, One Country Two Systems, autonomy stuff can be disregarded: Hong Kong is just another part of the wider Leninist dictatorship, and the shrieking and hysterics will continue until you all jump up and down with joy over it.

Former apparently-still-alive Xinhua official Zhou Nan joins in by adding that Hong Kong people have been subjected to 150 years of colonial brainwashing, specifically in a pernicious and devious form known as ‘an absence of National Education’. The only remedy is the swift introduction of this missing ingredient, at high intensity and maximum volume.

These two guys are of course wielding the stick. For a bit of warm and cuddly carrot, along comes Tian Feilong (the Mainland legal academic and expert who criticizes foreign judges for sentencing cops according to the law).

Tian, seeing Hong Kong opposition groups becoming increasingly radical, lavishes praise upon the Democratic Party for its moderation. All they need to do now, he says, is: 1) stop advocating democracy; 2) accept that Hong Kong is China’s to mistreat any way it wants; 3) start seeing everything from a national CCP perspective; 4) understand the interdependence of Hong Kong and motherland; and 5) acquire sufficient and correct knowledge about the nation, One Country Two Systems and everything. Henceforth to be known as The Five Shut Up and Start Kowtowings.

Our next Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, is caught between this paranoid and psychopathic Beijing on the one hand, and the 7 million people of Hong Kong and the other. She deserves our sympathy.

Her initial (and sensible) reaction is to pat the paranoid psychopath sovereign power gently on the head, and assure it that she will make sure toddlers learn to say ‘I am Chinese’ repeatedly as soon as they enter kindergarten. This will buy her a few weeks, perhaps, until the Communist Party leaders read the latest report on how the number of young Hongkongers who feel they are Chinese has shrunk to a slightly less-than-overwhelming 3.1% (hey, it was a small sample). Then the Beijing grim-faced ogres will be back, and unhappier than ever.

On a bright note, her hyper-capable new cabinet will be there to support and advise her.

You can now get back to those 20th anniversary preparations.


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Searching for Mr Right

The South China Morning Post asks why Hong Kong’s soon-to-be Chief Executive Carrie Lam is apparently finding it so hard to assemble a ruling team that is even vaguely fresh. The paper quotes various lawmakers and academics about the local political structure, the supposed need for a stronger party system, and possible ways to nurture future politicians.

Pro-Beijing think-tank-person Lau Siu-kai says that Carrie could attract better people if her administration starts to ‘get things done’ (for which it of course needs… better people). Horace Cheung of the Communist-front DAB essentially admits that members of his party are too dim for such jobs (‘our task is to groom talent to win seats on councils’). Deep down into the report, City U expert Ray Yip Kin-man gets a word in about loyalty to Beijing.

That is, of course, the sole criterion. There is no shortage of smart, imaginative, energetic, even charismatic, potential leaders in Hong Kong. But the Chinese Communist Party is paranoid and trusts no-one here (they don’t even trust each other).

Once they have filtered out anyone with scary original ideas, critical-thinking skills, sinister foreign connections, wrong ethnicity, a spine, principles, insufficient shoe-shining and kowtowing inclinations, a reluctance to talk complete crap when ordered to, and too many (or too few) murky family ties, skeletons-in-closets and other aids-to-co-option – there’s hardly anyone left except bland, pen-pushing, unquestioning nonentities ‘with extensive administrative experience’.

The SCMP features an eye-catching illustration of Carrie, wistfully staring out of a rain-streaked window, wondering how, in this city of 7 million resourceful people, she can feel so alone and forlorn. Where have we seen this style of artwork before?

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So deep-rooted, no-one knows what they are…

Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive Carrie Lam announces that she has finalized her team of top officials. Rather than find fresh talent, she has decided to be ‘practical’ and go for fellow veteran bureaucrats. To such similes as ‘faster than a speeding bullet’, or ‘quicker than greased lightning’ we can now add ‘hit the ground running like a cabinet of Hong Kong civil servants’.

Rather unpropitiously, former top Mainland official Chen Zuoer chooses this moment to declare that Hong Kong must tackle its ‘deep-rooted problems’. We do not know whether these are the same ‘deep-rooted problems’ then-Premier Wen Jiabao told then-CE Donald Tsang to fix in 2005.

Communist Party practice is not to specify problems or ‘contradictions’. The vagueness is face-saving to all concerned, yet also comes across as menacing. (The phrase also appears in the classic Learning English With Regina Vol III, by Madam lawmaker Ip. Less subtle than Beijing officials, she tantalizingly continues the vocabulary lesson with references to the wealth gap and the shiftiness of Leung Chun-ying.)

So it could be that our deep-rooted contradictions are those reflected in the strange situation whereby a poor elderly widow is arrested by six urban services enforcers for selling a piece of cardboard, while owners of luxury cars park illegally with impunity. Or it could be that the contradictions concern the riddle of how we need to diversify our economy because sky-high rents disconnected from the real economy have driven out all but a narrow range of economic activities. Or it could be the apparent contradiction whereby Hong Kong’s plight is due to its people’s inability to understand the Basic Law, the meaning of which is carved in tofu and subject to change at the emperor’s whim.

No doubt Carrie’s new cabinet will work it out in a hypersonic blink of an eye.

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Handover Anniversary Word of the Day: ‘FILTH’

That rumbling noise in the distance is an avalanche of clichés heading our way. The international media’s nostalgic reminiscing about that rainy day 20 years ago – the Union Flag being lowered for the last time, Prince Charles taking the last rickshaw to Kai Tak, etc – has already begun, but is fairly easy to filter out. Harder to ignore will be the hackneyed 20th anniversary space-filler-dressed-as-analysis on What Has Changed? written by order of distant editors.

Today’s example notes that semi-qualified Brits known as ‘FILTH’ (which means blah blah) can no longer step off the boat in the colony and get a banking job before tiffin, with Royal HK Yacht Club membership as a perk – because demand today is for Mainland Chinese.

The FILTH-banker thing is perhaps part-myth, though I have hazy memories of a jolly late-middle-aged nonentity bumbling away for a long-vanished financial institution, spending millions on a Jaguar and an apartment for his dumpy mistress, losing all when the wife found out, and ending up in a straw hat and sandals drinking himself to death on Lamma. Would have made a good Graham Greene-style character, if he had had interesting secrets.

As the sun-setting-on-empire symbolism suggests, that is a lost and quaint little world of amateurs doing seedy deals for Southeast Asian shysters. It is now the 21st Century, and the big news is the Mainland whizz-kids: what are they doing, who are they working for, and whose money is it?

In fairness, sleuth-reporters are digging away (eg here and here), but no-one really knows what is going on. This is wealth on a vast scale, plundered or otherwise misdirected by the ruling elites of an evil dictatorship that is apparently on the verge of world domination (if you believe their charm-story) or about to collapse (judging from the capital flows). It is probably early days. So far, it seems safe to assume that in 20 years’ time, we will not look back and recall how they end up broken and fading away in a stupor on an outlying island.

I declare the weekend open with more exciting 20th anniversary stamps – and I must say the artist’s lack of enthusiasm and empathy for the subject comes through magnificently…


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