Why would a reasonable and intelligent person declare loyalty to an organization that, among other things, requires its followers to give up their own freedom of expression and recite the Party line, however irrational or extreme it might be?
It’s hard to resist the parallels with religious conversion. With that in mind, we’ll disregard people who were born and raised into devout CCP-worshiping surroundings – a separate ‘Red’ Mao-era sub-culture.
At the ‘soft’ end of the scale of converts you have ‘instant-noodle’ patriots like the tycoons, who were co-opted into supporting Beijing back in the 1980s and 90s. Like generations of Overseas Chinese, they must preserve their family fortunes by automatically and compulsively shoe-shining whoever holds political power in that place at that time. Examples: Li Ka-shing et al. Also the Heung Yee Kuk rural mafia, which perhaps overlaps with the next bunch…
Lesser businessmen and professionals have also been lured into the Beijing camp by the prospect of opportunities or advantages. Over time, the United Front has replaced lures with implicit pressure – hence self-censorship and other pre-emptive kowtowing in media, entertainment, academia and elsewhere. Examples are chambers of commerce, university administrators, actor Jackie Chan, former pan-dem lawyer Ronny Tong.
All the above groups have one thing in common: like ‘Rice Christians’, they don’t really have their hearts in it. Interestingly, the CCP doesn’t much care how insincere loyalists are, provided they speak and behave correctly. This is surely a reflection of CCP elites’ own cynicism about the idealism and dogma of the faith – that’s for suckers. Which brings us further down the scale…
Next we have those who join the pro-Beijing camp for the satisfaction of being on the winning side and getting one over on people who are (probably) smarter than they are. Like the dimwits groomed to be DAB and similar ‘politicians’: Starry Lee, Holden Chow, Priscilla Leung, etc. Earlier examples could be Maria Tam and Rita Fan. This is the psychology of the pathetic loser kids who side with the schoolyard bully.
Useful idiots merge into the useful non-idiots. Some public-spirited figures feel they must make the rational hard-headed Ever-so Realistic decision to sort-of align themselves with Beijing in order to become Moderates, accepted as insiders so they can make the world a better place. Christine Loh is an example. Ronny Tong would claim to be one. Another would be Anthony Cheung, who was a founder in the 1980s of the proto-democracy group Meeting Point, then a member of the Democratic Party, then from 2012-17 the government’s top Transport and Housing official. Some labour activists – maybe the late Chan Yuen-han – also have sided with the pro-Beijing faction out of pragmatism as much as ideology.
And now we get to the interesting end of the scale. Another founder of Meeting Point was yesterday’s star guest, Lau Nai-keung. Something happened back then to convince him to embrace the CCP – and seriously, deeply mean it, even when it started looking psychotic. (In one of his classic columns, after lauding hard-working piano-playing Chinese children, he spat venomously at Western kids who merely learn guitar.)
My hunch is that this group were pushed rather than pulled. Maybe they were involved in rights protests and got beaten up by the police, or maybe they suffered from colonial-era racism, discrimination or snubs from snotty gwailos and their minions. It looks like, for whatever reason, they had major chips on their shoulders about the old establishment and its supporters. Supporting the CCP was revenge. For some, it seems the hatred never went away; perhaps the chauvinism and nationalism also satisfied an emotional need (some scientists theorize that there’s a genetic predisposition to religious-style faith). Other examples: the Tsang brothers (Yok-sing and Tak-sing), Elsie Tu (in her own way), and one-term-Chief Executive CY Leung, whose blind devotion to the CCP apparently even creeped out the CCP.
This is all pure guesswork.
I declare the weekend open with some stimulating diversions. The Guardian review of Ma Jian’s China Dream. Some interesting background on Beijing’s persecution of Uighurs. In case you never knew about it, the story of the Philippines as a refuge for Jewish refugees from Nazism. And a great documentary about young North Koreans who made it to the South (like Nothing to Envy one generation on).