Hemlock's Diary
30 Dec-5 Jan 2007
Sun, 30 Jan
To the disinterested bystander, Beijing’s
Imperial decree on Hong Kong constitutional reform is 100 percent predictable, dry and sparse, with an unmistakable hint of sourness where it comes to inserting the date 2017 into the otherwise noncommittal and hedged verbiage.  To our visionary, job-completing Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, it is the best thing since sliced jellyfish in sesame oil and well worth grinning excitedly about.  To the pro-democrats, it is a shocking betrayal, plunging everyone into desolation and depression.  The BBC’s headline writer, in his touching and childlike naivety, imagines that the document includes a solemn pledge to let the place choose its own government in 2017.

After ruling democracy out in no uncertain terms for 2012, the edict says only that universal suffrage might be possible for the Chief Executive election in 2017.  In a way, it is no different from the proclamation of 2004, which rejected democracy for 2007 but was silent on 2012, thus implying it was not impossible in that year.  However, by actually mentioning 2017 by name, the Central Government has unambiguously opened the door – which is why Sir Bow-Tie wants us all to be deliriously happy.  There are all sorts of hurdles, which can be raised or lowered at Beijing’s behest, but it is largely academic because the ‘universal suffrage’ alluded to through clenched teeth for 2017, will be strictly managed.  Those of us still in possession of life, residency, sanity or interest in nine and a half years will vote for whoever the Politburo has decided we should vote for.

So why not introduce it now and be done with it?  I discuss this with delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip this morning over dimsum in the sticky carpeted, mirror-bedecked, brown and yellow, 1970s surroundings of a walk-up restaurant in Queens Road West, not far from Wing On department store and other features of the time warp that is Sheung Wan. 

One theory is that the Big Lychee’s tycoons, who fear competition in politics as much as they do in business, are leaning on the black hair-dye brigade in Zhongnanhai to delay reform for as long as possible.  This sounds plausible because our captains of cartelized industry like the status quo – it yields them billions in Government largesse, protection and indulgence.  But it assumes they have clout up north.  The national leaders are cunning and evil men, and they know grasping shoe-shiners when they see them.  Conceited members of the business community might bask in the delusion that they guide Beijing, but the Communists are nowhere near that sad.  The plutocrats and functional constituencies will jump whichever way they are told on political reform or anything else.

Winky’s rather prosaic explanation is that it is all to do with timing.  “A new national leadership will be settling in around 2012,” she explains, “and the Chief Executive elected that year will be new, too – taking over from Donald.  Therefore, it will be easier to handle it five years later.  The Central People’s Government will be stable, and whoever comes after Donald will just be re-elected to a second term.”

My far more interesting idea is that the delay is simply out of spite. Making Hong Kong wait five years, then another five years, then another five years is Beijing’s way to send a message to the presumptuous and ungrateful rabble who lived under the barbarians and enjoyed it.  This is the People’s Republic of China.  You obey the Government not the other way round.  You get your make-believe democracy when we say so.  Most of all, perhaps, it is a message to themselves to sooth their paranoia.  We are in power.  We don’t do requests.
Mon, 31 Dec
In a city where philistines, rote-learning savages, money-obsessed zombies and flesh-eating bacteria all rub shoulders, it is heartening to know that there are some
well-read and discerning people around.  Even their noble presence, however, does not compensate for what is currently the greatest of all the big Lychee’s afflictions – earnest folk wanting to be Hong Kong deputies to the 11th National People’s Congress seeking nominations from the great and good.  Not just any great and good will do.  The more odious the would-be candidates, the higher and mightier the nominators they crave.

The NPC election takes place towards the end of this month, and the nomination period ends sometime soonish (the Chinese authorities who organize the polls for their country’s parliament do not over-exert themselves when it comes to publicizing details like dates).  Hong Kong returns 36 deputies, chosen by an electorate of 1,200 or so voters – largely the trustworthy representatives of the famous Various Sectors who elect the Chief Executive, plus assorted patriots with former NPC membership (again, specifics are a bit murky). 

To make it interesting – using the word flexibly, at least – some 100 people are planning to run.  Beijing’s agents in the Big Lychee try to spoil the fun a bit by issuing a list of recommended candidates, but inevitably in this small circle some voters will detest some of the favoured contenders so much they cannot bring themselves to tick those particular boxes.  The catch is that ballots must be filled up – that is, 36 boxes must have a tick.  Voters are allowed to nominate up to 36 people, and you only need 10 nominations to get onto the ballot.  In short, this is almost as much fun as a Legislative Council by-election and our local media will, in the next couple of weeks, probably deem it worthy of some coverage.

Aspiring NPC deputies take different approaches to the gathering of nominations.  Some of the old guard feel that sheer numbers make a big impression.  In the past, some have convinced over 100 electors to sign their nomination forms.  Others feel that they get sufficient face from attracting fewer, but high-quality, backers.  Tycoon Li Ka-shing’s support is especially highly prized, for example.

The Chairman of S-Meg Holdings is of course one of the 1,200 and while he is not in the KS Li league, there is no shortage of groveling, shoe-shining sycophants begging him in the most repellant, squirm-inducing manner for his approval.  He chooses recipients carefully.  Some charmed participants can afford to be fussy about whom they allow to nominate them, and the Big Boss likes to be among the privileged few.  Others have valuable connections or are owed favours. 

Sadly, this means some hopefuls asking him to nominate them have to be turned away.  Most are content with an excuse – sorry but I promised so-and-so I would nominate his brother, or sorry but the very important Mr Blah-Blah asked me to support Ms X.  But some just don’t get the hint.  Thus on the top floor of S-Meg Tower this morning, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary, two Pakistani security guards and I man the reception area armed with electric cattle prods and sharpened bamboo poles, forcing the sour-faced leftists and young, little-known pro-Beijing business types back into the elevators, along with their dreams of getting onto the ballot and being elected to the National People’s Rubber Stamp.
Wed, 2 Jan
As the rest of Hong Kong crawls back to work after the week-long period of contrived, laborious and unconvincing fun, I rise at a relatively late hour, looking forward to taking the next few days off.  I will need to fend for myself. The Filipino elves have absconded, one with her full-time employer, whose family somehow requires her services at a luxury resort in Thailand, the other to buy several remaining acres of the island of Cebu that she has not yet acquired. 

I switch the radio on and find that RTHK3’s listeners have voted Donald Tsang into third place in its Personality of the Year poll.  I immediately switch it off again, fearing the influence of the strange people out there entering Perpetual Opulence Mansions through the device.  I suppose if you think shouting loud in a disturbed manner on a chilly street because it is 20 seconds before midnight is clever or enjoyable, you might imagine Sir Bow-Tie has a personality.  From where I was sitting on the night of 31 December – my bed – the raucousness down in Soho as the last seconds of 2007 ticked away served as a reminder to turn the light off and sleep.  But not before reading the last few pages of
King Hui – the Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong by Jonathan Chamberlain.  An interesting, if not strictly speaking un-put-downable, book, and worth a review

Whether King Hui’s colourful recollections of his life are truthful is hard to say.  Sceptics will assume he was being flexible with the truth when he told Jonathan Chamberlain all these tales, and possibly a fantasist with delusions of grandeur.  Rather like a certain Chief Executive – though the King Hui of these pages does have a personality.

Thurs, 3 Jan
What better way to start the day than to switch on the radio and doze lightly in bed while catching up with the morning news – the latest updates and informed opinion on Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy, the chances of a US recession this year, soaring oil prices, the repercussions from the Iowa caucus, the increase in local cigarette consumption since the smoking ban, the chaos in Kenya and Pakistan, whether Donald Tsang still has the third wackiest personality in town, and so much more.  Instead, I hear that RP Singh has taken on the responsibility of strike bowler in Zaheer’s absence.  And he cut a swathe through the cream of Australia’s batting to have them on a mat of some sort at 134-6.  And there were 173 in 37 overs.  And Andrew Symonds made 137 not out.  And this Mr Symonds was on 30 (30 what, we are not told), leading an Aussie fightback with the unlikeliest of partners in Brad Hogg, when he nicked one behind.  And, to add a downright sinister touch to the whole thing, the said Hogg’s 79 from 102 balls was no less important.  And something called Instant Sharma – some sort of add-water-and-stir curry ingredient, perhaps – was a late replacement for the injured Zaheer Khan, who was possibly writhing in agony somewhere in the background, though this is unclear.  And then one Ricky Ponting was not given out by umpire Mark Benson after he nicked one going down leg off Sourav Ganguly.  Ponting, no doubt to the amazement of many, was then on 17, presumably of whatever it was the aforementioned Symonds was on.  Tabs of acid?  After some 10 minutes of this frenzied and riveting look at Hong Kong and the world today, I can stand the excitement no longer and switch the radio off to dream deeply about nicking one from behind on leg on 30.

Fri, 4 Jan
The bad news today is that those of us thinking of running in the election for the National People’s Congress face an unexpected hurdle – they must be patriotic and
support the constitution.  Up to now, the forthcoming poll reminded me slightly of my university days, when candidacy in student body elections was sufficiently open that pet rodents and items of furniture obtained places on the ballot.  I was planning to have a shot at the NPC myself on a ‘moderate anti-motherland’ ticket, to give voters a bit more choice.  The key points in my platform were to be what I call the Three Why Nots.

First of all, Why Not get the country down to a more manageable size?  This entails letting Taiwan become independent, provided there is no military or other disruption that upsets my stock portfolio, and letting Tibet and Xinjiang also go their own ways, on condition that they do not come under malevolent foreign influence and, for example, enable Russia to gain access to the Indian Ocean. 

Second, Why Not get over this nationalist thing?  This means everyone must stop wetting themselves about the Opium Wars, treaty ports, the Marco Polo Bridge incident, the rape of Nanking, the Belgrade embassy bombing and all the other examples of poor, tragic, weak China being mercilessly bullied and pushed around by evil foreigners.  And it means everyone must stop frothing at the mouth with puffed-up, almost-xenophobic pride about pointless achievements like the Olympics, manned space flight, soldiers karate-chopping bricks, breastless women doing somersaults and diving into swimming pools, and so on.  In other words, China is just another country, no more or less special than Peru or Botswana – live with it.

Third, Why Not try something different from feudalism after 3,000 years?  This means replacing the system under which the people serve the government with one that works the other way round, starting off with the overthrow and, probably, shooting of the communist leadership.  And, most important of all, dismantling that really irritating sign in Shenzhen, which has been there for years now…
My campaign plans lie in ruins.  Maybe next time.  I can console myself with the good news that Hong Kong is hosting yet more erudition!
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