Mental health corner

Hong Kong Free Press is on a roll at the moment, scoring an interview with former Governor Chris Patten, gaining accreditation from the government, apparently finding new office space – and keeping the stories coming. And now it gets the ultimate compliment: creepy letters from a deluded individual trying to sound threatening…

The epistolary forensics freak in me can’t help but go through the menacing missives. On the face of it…

In terms of style, the writer has native or near-native English ability, down to the typos. The few distinguishers reflect British usage. The writer has carefully used restrained and deliberate language. The voice is female or at least ‘effeminate’/’maternal’.

As for substance, the writer identifies as Chinese and pro-Beijing and expresses xenophobic feelings – but is also fervently Christian.

This isn’t a contradiction among some local cultural conservatives who manage to combine loyalty to PRC with Biblical fundamentalism. Such people typically have Mainland or ‘establishment-style’ material/business interests (earthly success being a sign of God’s blessing), and distrust of activists, gays, feminists (both un-Chinese and un-Godly). The author here quotes from: the judges in the sentencing of Joshua Wong et al (“unhealthy trend…”); the Basic Law (nationalistic intro and Article 23); and an astoundingly putrid hymn by one John Rutter (who has recently appeared in Hong Kong, and is in fact an agnostic).

The genuinely creepy part is that the writer writes directly to and mentions HKFP staff’s family members – which would have involved finding home addresses and other details. Such calculation and awareness of how to cause alarm could mean that the ‘racist Christian’ persona is a deliberate façade. But why go to the trouble of faking this sort of religious earnestness? More likely this is an actual racist Christian who is also sinister and malevolent.

The writer offers a link to an English-speaking Evangelical church in North Point. Given the anonymity in the rest of the materials, this does look like an attempt to mislead.

My tentative conclusion is that the perpetrator is a Western-educated Hongkonger or a locally resident Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese, consciously pro-establishment in terms of business and politics, a devout (probably convert) fundamentalist Christian, possibly with enemies at Island Evangelical Community Church. By ‘tentative’, I mean ‘probably BS’. Definitely pitiful.

I declare the weekend open with the hope that it’s not a certain person I know who – in total seriousness – prays to God for extra help when her secretary can’t book her desired table at a restaurant.


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Assault and Buttery

Is Avery Ng toast? The League of Social Democrats activist is being tried for common assault after throwing a fish sandwich in the direction of then-Chief Executive CY Leung last year. CY, known for his cunning and devious ways, nimbly evaded the item. A dutiful if perhaps less-agile policeman courageously managed to intercept it – an act of self-sacrifice that resulted in nasty stains on his shirt.

(The gastronomes among us may wonder what sort of fish sandwich. Assuming that Hong Kong’s foremost Trotskyist radicals would find sardines too exotic and consider salmon too bourgeois, it was presumably tuna, on plain proletarian white bread – probably from 7-Eleven.)

Ng had mentioned at the time throwing an Indian chicken roll, and a fellow LSD member has previously been charged with throwing an egg at then-Financial Secretary John Tsang. This does not reflect a thing about food as such. But the group has a tradition of creative direct action – as displayed by ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung’s banana-wielding and other protests over the years in the Legislative Council chamber.

The trial of Avery Ng is one of a lengthy series of politically motivated legal actions against higher-profile pro-democracy activists. Ng himself is involved in several others. Cases range from arguably serious-sounding to frivolous and result from the Liaison Office’s post-Umbrella Movement purge of Hong Kong’s opposition. It is taking ages; maybe the Chinese Communist Party’s locally based henchmen didn’t realize how long legal proceedings would take, or maybe they don’t care.

One victim of all this is new leader Carrie Lam’s expressed wish to unite and heal Hong Kong’s divisions. Another is the government’s prosecutions function, as it laboriously chases dissidents for breaches of the law that in decades past would have been considered too silly to bother with. Each case also imperils the judiciary’s reputation for independence. (This perhaps answers the question of whether the Liaison Office ogres care about how this looks – the United Front’s obsession with crushing supposed threats to national security overrides anything else. Chances are, the Mainland officials are happy about using this process to intimidate not only activists but judges.)

The longer the process drags on, the more vindictive but also ridiculous it seems. Wolf vs Sandwich-Psychopath is perhaps particularly laughable because it highlights the former Chief Executive’s thin-skinned and humorless nature. It also symbolizes – and betrays – the insecurity and vulnerability of the authorities. Whatever the verdict, the sovereign power and its local puppet regime look desperate, wetting themselves over a sandwich.

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National Education for (and possibly by) infants

So which will come first – a conspiracy theory that the Las Vegas massacre was part of a One World Government Deep State plot to turn patriotic country music fans into liberal atheist gun-confiscators, or a conspiracy theory that the whole thing was faked and everything you just saw was a bunch of actors?

While we’re waiting, here’s a Hong Kong kindergarten National Day story-telling activity. The outline is apparently distributed by an e-learning company. The blatant nationalism of this propagandizing aimed at little kiddies perhaps comes as a surprise. But so does the clumsiness, as if the people compiling the materials lack enthusiasm for the subject and are just hurriedly ticking boxes to comply with instructions. (Did you know National Day started in the Western Jin Dynasty? You do now. Maybe all the e-learning company’s output is this crappy.) Be sure to scroll down for the comments.

To show us how it should be done, look at a place called Korla in Xinjiang, where the authorities are confiscating Korans and prayer mats. (This follows reports of officials up there forcing Muslims to eat lunch during Ramadan, shave beards off, not give newborns Islamic names, carry alcohol in stores, and other ever-so subtle secularization.) If this doesn’t make the local population happy and eager to shed their cultural identity and heritage and embrace the joys of Han-Leninist enlightenment, what will?

Wow – that was quick. Still adjusting to this Post-Satire Age thing.

A glimmer of subversive wit survives in the form of nostalgia. Behold Toad-Worship.

Which brings us rather neatly to this…

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Stagnation by design

I recently mentioned the Penguin Specials on Hong Kong, which are all listed on Amazon’s page on A System Apart. A review of that book pulls some good quotes about how 20 years after the handover, Hong Hong’s economy…

“…is still dominated by a handful of companies, most of them run by ageing tycoons. No new business has risen up to challenge or replace them. No major new industry has been established.”

The reason is the post-1997 governance system that entrenches vested interests into the political structure…

“…opening the way for cronyism and corruption and preventing the kind of changes needed that would allow the city to maintain its economic dynamism.”

A historical summary: China’s 1980s leaders – with a crude Marxist understanding of a capitalist society – co-opted Hong Kong’s leading business players in the naïve belief that these property/textiles/banking families created the city’s wealth. To reward or keep these ‘various sectors’ onside, Beijing gave them undue influence over the city’s post-1997 government. The result is that our economy is in some ways frozen in the 1980s.

We don’t seem to hear so much about them today, but in the 2000s Hong Kong officials decreed a list of ‘Four Pillar Industries’. (Can you name them all, children?)

The imagery suggests that that they prop up our economy. But it might be more accurate to say they are propped up by our productive economy and long-suffering population.

One is logistics, notably the container port – a facility that London got rid of decades ago because it had better things to do with the space. One is the parasite known as tourism, the hugely subsidized space-hungry displacer of local businesses and source of dead-end jobs. One is financial services, which at least sounds appropriate for a 21st century developed economy, even if it’s probably a bit heavy on the money-laundering side. And the fourth (he checks on Google…) is something called producer and professional services, presumably the marketing/legal/accounting ‘shop front’ for the Mainland manufacturing base that is itself now in decline.

Missing from this is construction, notably of white-elephant infrastructure projects, which (as in the Mainland) boosts short-term GDP and benefits tycoon-linked interests. Also property, which is not an industry (just the buying/selling/renting of concrete boxes) – but it is a giant vacuum-cleaner that helps suck up the proceeds of enterprise along with the Four Leech Industries.

Also missing: the tech, innovation, creative, start-up stuff – but that’s the purpose of this system.

The point of this Friday-meander is that many Hong Kong people are so accustomed to the arrangement described in A System Apart that they don’t question it. They don’t see anything odd about the way the political and economic structures are mirrors. They don’t think it’s a strange coincidence that our entire ruling class comprises personalities who wouldn’t last five minutes in either a political or economic system that was open to competition. And of course, they don’t link the city’s stagnation with the Communist Party’s desperation to exert and maintain control.

I declare the weekend open with a bit of nostalgia for the laid-back old days – toad-worship.


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A lesson from the Ho Hoo-hah

And so, it seems, we say farewell to the Great 2017 Junius Ho Hoo-hah. Many observers will conclude that the pro-Beijing lawmaker himself comes out of it looking rather like what is vulgarly known as an asshole. But even at the best of times, pro-Beijing lawmakers come across as (say) turkeys, at least.

In a way, Junius Ho showed unusual originality and flair in demanding that supporters of Hong Kong independence be killed. This outburst was not in accordance with instructions from Chinese Communist Party officials. While they would approve of the sentiment, they could not have welcomed such a blatant call to violence at a time when the United Front would prefer to encourage local moderates to split away from ‘extremist’ radical students. Struggle sessions and Red Guard lynch mobs can wait for a later stage of Hong Kong’s Cultural Revolution.

So Junius Ho was actually using his own mind, ugly and shallow though it may be. This is slightly impressive. Usually, the DAB and other pro-Beijing stooges say and do only what they are told.

The saga continued with a fuss over Ho’s academic and professional qualifications. Put kindly, he perhaps absent-mindedly misrepresented rather than blatantly lied about his status as a legal practitioner in England. This led pro-dem veteran Emily Lau to call for the Legislative Council to verify members’ claimed credentials. This in turn reminded everyone of the case of ‘Dr’ Elizabeth Quat of fake-degree fame (ditto ‘Dr’ Philip Wong).

Which brings us back to the pro-Beijing camp’s sorry roster of turkeys. Behold, along with Ho and Quat, lawmakers Priscilla ‘Rat Queen’ Leung, DAB figurehead-boss Starry Lee or deputy sub-assistant moron Holden Chow. These are the best the Communist Party’s local front can manage to attract as their friendly public faces and ‘popularly’ elected members of our rigged legislature. Of course, this is a camp that by definition does not allow its followers to think critically. At best, they are opportunists reciting the party line for some sort of gain. At worst, they are genuinely devoid of the intellect required to make coherent arguments. Either way – embarrassments.

Not all pro-dems are geniuses, but as a whole they are in a different league. Edward Yiu (who like all holders of real doctorates doesn’t style himself ‘Dr’) can run rings around our land and housing officials and would in a democratic system likely be in charge of those portfolios, but instead has been disqualified from the legislature. Eddie Chu is, among other things, an expert on rural affairs and a Persian-speaker. From stodgy old Democratic Party moderates to fringe radicals, they can nearly all put up a decent verbal fight that would put the pro-Beijing dimwits to shame.

(Possible part-explanation: perhaps honest intellectuals have no choice but to question authority. Among the few pro-Beijing types you can imagine reading books are the veteran Tsang brothers, Yok-sing and Tak-sing, whose loyalty to Beijing dates back to anti-colonial activities in the 1960s.)


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It’s buying a second one that’s really scary…

Every Western journalist must mention two clichés about Shenzhen: that it used to be ‘a fishing village’ and that it is now the hyper-modern, space-age, high-tech, Silicon Blah-Blah, innovation hub of China that’s about to leave Hong Kong behind.

In reality, it has certainly improved from the days when the police used to handcuff child pickpockets to the railings outside the border crossing at Lo Wu. But it is still rich and glitzy only by Mainland standards. The average wage is probably at best half that of Hong Kong, and taxes are higher than here. Also, they don’t have a public housing system giving 40% of the population nearly-free apartments.

So when their housing prices hit (say) half the levels of Hong Kong’s (private sector) residential property market, you can infer extreme affordability ratios. The South China Morning Post does a feature on young Shenzhen-ers taking on frightening levels of debt – via family and no-questions lenders – to buy an apartment. Then maybe another one.

The mentality is that they have to buy now, because the prices will just continue to go up and up and up. It must seem logical to them, because they have never in their (10-year) adult lives experienced falling housing prices or any serious economic downturn. Indeed, there is probably little or no collective memory among most Chinese of a ‘property crash’. Housing used to be all public-sector. Then it was privatized and basically given away; reform and urbanization led to a huge uplift in values, and local governments adopted Hong Kong-style land-sales-for-revenue models and so had incentives to artificially manipulate prices up. More recently, Beijing started flooding the country with easy credit to keep GDP growth up at all costs.

Trying to look at a bright side… These are very long-term loans, and gradual productivity growth and wage inflation should shrink the repayments down in time. And, thanks to the one-child policy, each of these kids has two parents and four grandparents to leech off – so maybe we needn’t feel too bad about these grannies in remote provinces sacrificing their pensions so the precious offspring can get on the property ladder.

But, realistically, this looks like it could get ugly.


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Exciting waterfront plan unveiled

An award-winning architectural studio proposes a bold, visionary, daring, elegant, accessible, attractive, like-normal-cities-have plan to turn the Central Ferris Wheel Themed Tourist Observation Rotating Device Concept Zone/old General Post Office HQ area into a ‘crowning glory’ waterfront public space.

The company concerned is British and also contributed to the disruptive and radical hare-brained scheme to pedestrianize Des Voeux Road. It devised this waterfront idea in conjunction with Designing Hong Kong, a well-known hotbed of pro-democracy subversives, and the Urban Land League, which is probably a Jimmy Lai/CIA-backed front aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government. The artist’s impression clearly shows that their intention is to leave precious real estate without buildings on it, thus reducing government land revenues, starving core Central of the office space we need to compete with Singapore/Shanghai/Dubai, and depriving construction workers of jobs…

…not to mention filling the area with dangerous trees.

Fortunately, this fiscal/economic/planning disaster will never happen. We can confidently predict that officials from the Development Bureau and Anti-Pedestrian Department will consult with our deeply patriotic property developers, who will hire experienced local architectural partnership Podiums R Us to use their famous No-Curvy-Bits ‘Maximize GFA’ design philosophy to construct tasteful good-feng-shui vast slabs of concrete and glass, and produce something more in keeping with our harbourfront aesthetics…


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A few links…

…for those with time to spare.

A ‘reality check’ presentation on how the world’s new amazing almighty superpower is more screwed up than its official line lets on – rural China. Also in the ‘more interesting than it sounds’ category (and indeed in the ‘more screwed up than the official line lets on’ category): an update on Hong Kong’s dolphins.

Not least, a big paper on Beijing’s United Front. Specifically about how the Chinese Communist Party is getting its claws into New Zealand – but applicable to every Western democracy, and other places and milieus as well, including Hong Kong.

An interesting parallel here is with the spread of Wahhabi/Salafi Islamic supremacism in Western countries (let alone elsewhere, like Southeast Asia). Like the CCP’s United Front, the Gulf/Saudi theocratic malevolence systematically exploits Western freedoms to infiltrate diaspora communities and influence broader society and policymaking. Both are aided by Western squeamishness about recognizing ethnic/religious-based threats.

The CCP, at least, is possibly over-reaching itself.

Meanwhile, deep down in the freezing pit of Hell – Maria Cordero mooncakes…

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The anti-independence frenzy gets sophisticated

While Hong Kong’s student radicals are taking a break before moving on to the next scurrilous Outrage-the-Communists gimmick, the ponderous, officially contrived Great Campus Independence-Poster Mouth-Froth enters its next stage. Behold the Wow-So-Nuanced-‘Discussion-Not-Propaganda’-Angle. According to this finely crafted logic-mangling, you can debate independence, but not advocate it – because that ‘goes against’ the Basic Law, blah, blah.

Beijing’s shoe-shiners and puppets feel they are getting closer to the real issue by becoming obsessed with ‘independence’ as a concept and subject rather than as an alarming slogan on banners. Government officials, meanwhile, imagine they are being bold pondering the opening-up of Civic Square, a small specific concrete area where protests have occurred and could occur again if the fences are removed. In both cases, pro-Beijing forces think that the more strenuously they fixate on minor, irrelevant symbols, they less they need to worry about big bad reality. Focus on the symptoms, and the causes will go away.

Let’s seek truth from facts: Hong Kong people are unhappy because of bad governance (favoritism, cronyism, misallocation of resources, a semi-feudal domestic economy, arrogant mediocrities masquerading as leaders, etc). They want better, accountable government. The Chinese one-party regime expressly forbids them from having it. Hong Kong reacts through protests, which result in a heightened Communist Party clampdown in the city, bringing us to this current cycle of tit-for-tat action and retaliation.

Beijing’s supporters can’t or won’t go there. So let’s refocus our efforts on ‘discussing without promoting’ independence, and all will be fine.

I declare the weekend open with one of SCMP cartoonist Harry’s outstanding (presumably insufficiently politically correct) recent rejects

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Oh, and he’s got a new book out…

Hong Kong’s last British governor Chris Patten hits town. (His modern-day counterpart Chief Executive Carrie Lam dons an unspeakable blue jacket and visits the UK to hobnob with even earlier colonial relics – including an eerily preserved Lydia Dunn.)

For each minute of wit and each minute of wisdom, Patten usually comes up with several more minutes of self-serving platitudes about pre-handover decision-making – and some apparent naivety about the nature of China’s Leninist regime. His HKFP interview is no exception.

He misses the point when he insists that calls for Hong Kong independence are unrealistic. The ‘pro-independence movement’ was largely fabricated by Chief Executive CY Leung, presumably because the Liaison Office wanted a post-Occupy pretext for a heightened clampdown on opposition forces. Mischievous radicals quickly embraced the meme as a sure-fire way to anger and alarm Beijing. It’s hard to say who’s playing into whose hands. As China heightens repression in Hong Kong, ‘independence’ could take on more significance as a rallying cry among an angrier resistance. But as of now, no-one seriously foresees a city-state republic here, short of a collapse of the Communist Party.

Patten also pleads with the Chinese/Hong Kong leaders to debate and discuss with the young rather than alienate them through oppression. This is like advising Chinese officials to stop shaving beards off Muslim men in Xinjiang in order to improve relations with Uighurs – or to relax controls on the media, Internet and courts to nurture a more accountable government and innovative economy. Paranoid dictatorships don’t do obvious common sense.

The former governor is probably being diplomatic and prudent. Even the gentle suggestion that his successor should speak truth to Beijing will attract accusations of unacceptable interference in China’s internal affairs. And few other qualified overseas figures even take an interest. Meanwhile, over in London, perhaps the conversation is about how much a nice retirement place in Oxfordshire is likely to cost in 2022…

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