Hemlock's Diary
21-27 October 2007
Sun, 21 Oct
Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, the man tasked with slapping Hong Kong about after its untrustworthy, British-brainwashed populace got uppity in 2003,
stands down from his official role in China’s leadership.  Will this mean a more constructive and mature attitude on Beijing’s part towards the pro-democrats and the majority of the Big Lychee’s people who have the temerity to support them?  Or will the United Front tactics of treating anyone with deviant ideas as non-persons be redoubled?  It was also Zeng, after all, who mounted the 2005 charm offensive that briefly enabled personae non gratae opposition legislators to set foot on the Mainland.
Passing the pub in Lan Kwai Fong, I spy a meeting of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins in progress.  They show little interest in affairs north of the border.  The big topic of conversation is last night’s rugby game, in which – from what I saw on a big screen in the Foreign Correspondents Club at lunchtime – a group of plucky, ruddy-cheeked English lads ran up and down a field, pausing occasionally to jam their heads between the thighs of remarkably bovine (even by their standards) Afrikaaners.  So important is this 90 minutes of stampeding and buttock-clutching that the leaders of half the Western world saw fit to attend. 

Ted the loveable, cheeky, Cockney teacher of glottal stop-ridden English at low-rent night schools, introduces a friend who has retired to Thailand, who proudly announces that he owns five buffalo.  I ask him why – for breeding, or plowing perhaps? – and he becomes slightly defensive, saying that he just has them.  When I ask where he keeps the beasts it transpires that he has only ever seen photos of them.  They are in a distant, impoverished province, where they are prized assets and outward signs of wealth.  Suspecting a financially inadvisable entanglement with a native female, I probe further and learn that an apparently lovely bar-girl several decades his junior talked him into providing them for her family.  If the two wed, which he says is a possibility, she will be his third wife.  He married his previous one for the sole reason that she looked like Mia Farrow.  A strange thing to do with a woman who looks like Mia Farrow.  Were I confronted by such a lady I would be more inclined to cover her up with something – sacking, perhaps.  Either way, a hooker with five buffalo is probably quite a catch in comparison.

Mon, 22 Oct
The sound of newspaper readers choking on their congee echoes through the streets of Hong Kong, as an article in The Standard expresses a view that goes well beyond the beliefs of even the most ardent subscriber to the theory that if it irritates China’s communists it must be good.  Like most mainstream media organizations in Hong Kong, the Sing Tao group adheres to a broadly mild pro-Beijing editorial line – not censoring opposing views, but generally downplaying them, and avoiding anything blatantly inflammatory.  If I were the editor of its English-language free sheet I would be praying that no-one in a position of influence reads today’s Opinion page. 

A slightly desperate but serviceable excuse would be that it’s a typo – the ‘9’ should be a ‘6’, referring to the island’s occupation by Ming Dynasty loyalists fleeing Manchu invaders in the mid-17th Century, before coming under Qing rule a few decades later.  That still wouldn’t be good enough for patriots, for whom Taiwan is a sacred and inseparable part of the Motherland, and has been overflowing with Han people for every minute of the 5,000 years of non-stop civilization.  But most objective historians would agree with it.  It would also probably have been fine by Mao Zedong, who in the 1930s put Taiwan in the same category as Korea – a place under Japanese colonial rule whose people deserved comrades’ sympathy but no active involvement. 

As the column’s writer points out, China’s leaders have painted themselves into an impossible corner over the one province where Communist Party rule has never reached.  Everyone in the Mainland under the age of 60 has been brought up to believe with extreme passion that Taiwan is theirs and must be returned to the fold whatever the cost, while everyone who visits the place cannot avoid noticing that it’s an independent country.  If the Taiwan Government wants a bit of fun, it should open the island’s doors to tourists from across the Strait and let them see that their leaders lost the place ages ago.  Meanwhile, I will discreetly turn
The Standard’s Opinion page and pretend I never saw what I just read.
Tue, 23 Oct
Anson Chan, fragrant puppet of imperialists and expensively coiffeured oppressor of the masses, presents herself as the
anti-grey roots but pro-grassroots candidate in the upcoming Election of the Century for a Hong Kong Island seat in the Legislative Council.  The conversion to champion of the downtrodden working class is partly by necessity.  Fearful of the wrath of Beijing, business figures who have long been more or less well-disposed towards her have slunk away and are now hiding under their giant rosewood desks, curled up in the trunks of their limousines, or lurking quietly at the fringes of a distant golf course.  Dame Conscience now regales her adoring people with tales of her deprived early childhood, crawling in rags through heaps of garbage, eating tree bark, etc, etc.
The problem is that this part of town has a relatively small proletarian electorate.  The sudden revelation that she slummed it as a clerk in a hospital for a short time makes little impact.  Even the poor on Hong Kong Island are mostly well-groomed and nicely spoken.  The public housing estates, with their sea views and plentiful transport to Central, would be downright middle class on the other side of the harbour.  The only genuine, dirty-fingernailed, horny handed sons of toil here are the bitter and scowling non-Cantonese in the older districts along our northern shore – and the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong have already signed them up for a free lunchbox and a vote for Regina Ip on the big day.
The battle can now commence.  On one side we have a woman who has never shown any inclination to embrace a broader-based political structure, and on the other side, we have  a woman who is exactly the same but also thinks Hitler came to power through universal suffrage and who supports a Chief Executive who says the Cultural Revolution was an extreme example of democracy.  It is a tantalizing choice, and my fear is that thousands of us will spend the whole of election day frozen in indecision until the polls close and we find only half a dozen demented old Fujianese actually voted.
THE GOOD news is that, if the rumours are correct, the South China Morning Post’s weekly magazine will soon be packed with features too breathtakingly riveting to put down, as one Daniel Jeffreys takes over as editor.  As an affectionate 2002 story in New York suggests, the veteran of various fine UK newspapers knows how to make a dull story interesting.  Will it be any wonder when no-one turns up to vote on that forthcoming Sunday in December?  The Post Magazine – hitherto mainly a picture gallery of pouting waifs modeling ugly clothes – will have become that much more exciting and entertaining to read.
Wed, 24 Oct
In the presence of much-loved heritage feature and former colonial official David Akers Jones and the half-Martian, pleasure-domed publican Allan Zeman, Dowager of Demi-Democracy Regina Ip unveils her Legislative Council election platform.  The masses, however, cast it aside and pounce instead on the lady’s
proposals for political reform, which date back over two weeks. 

Were this plan implemented in full, Beijing would continue to choose the Chief Executive and appoint him (or her, to be precise) via a ritualized, make-believe election in which a handful of people representing the usual ‘sectors’ take part.  No substantial change, in other words.  This is why the DAB are saying that she has adopted their preferred model.

Legco, on the other hand, would see functional constituencies scrapped and replaced with directly elected at-large members.  Each elector would have one vote for their existing geographic constituency and one for the Hong Kong-wide poll.  It is a clever formula, in that it still offers well-heeled, nice-but-dim political dilettantes who inherited part of a cartel some chance of winning a seat.  (“It is expected that people with professional experience and expertise would be encouraged to enter LegCo.”)  The Liberals, fearing a reduction in their ability to gouge free lunches for their industries out of the Government, hate it but are under orders to play along.  Thanks to this part of her plan, the pro-democracy Civic Party are expressing their delight that Regina has adopted their preferred model.

Since only pro-democrats and heavy opium smokers seriously imagine that the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China would actually allow a major city’s leader to be chosen through universal suffrage, Regina’s political reform can be said to be pragmatic, and thus rather on the boring side.  The only reason she is bothering with any of this is that she has her gleaming eye on the Chief Executive’s office, which is why we pick our copies of her
overall platform back off the floor and have a flick through. 

It is the usual policy mishmash of the naïve, the vague and the obvious.  But certain phrases leap out and wave their arms around.  “Jumpstart economic restructuring.”  “A new economic transformation.”  “Widen Hong Kong’s economic structure.” “Integrated technology parks.”  “Lok Ma Chau Loop.”  “Develop hi-tech clusters along boundary.”  “Technology collaboration with Mainland China.”  Clutching my wallet in fear, I find myself confronted by a vision.  It’s Singapore run by a Hong Kong civil servant who studied Elizabethan poetry and got seduced into 1970s-style Colbertism by freeloaders spouting cyber-waffle.  Not good.
WHOSE MICROPHONE was that hogging the best position on Regina’s table at the press conference yesterday?  NTDTV – New Tang Dynasty Television – is a front for the Falun Gong, the wacky quasi-Buddhist sect that frightens the leadership in Beijing so much that followers have been rounded up, beaten, jailed and even killed.  In response, the movement has occasionally hijacked Mainland satellite channels and broadcast anti-communist diatribes to millions of bemused Chinese viewers, which, for some inexplicable reason, makes the Central People’s Government even more determined to wipe the ‘evil cult’ out.  Although free to practice – and hand out their bizarre literature – in Hong Kong, they are ‘unofficially officially’ taboo.  No-one in Government or the pro-Beijing camp will so much as acknowledge their presence, and immigration officers often turn away foreign adherents at the airport.  One of our patriots’ favourite and most bitter criticisms of Anson Chan is that while in office she treated them like any other group of citizens and let them rent public meeting rooms.  At least she didn’t let them walk right up and put electronic listening devices straight under her nose.
Thurs, 25 Oct
The Big Boss is in one of his defensive moods in the morning meeting.  “It’s alright for him – he’s only got three or four of those people on his payroll.  What about us?”  He is referring to CY Leung, the part-Rumanian property dealer and Executive Council member, who has loudly announced to the world at large that his company is giving its lowest-paid staff members a major pay rise.  (In percentage terms.  By his own admission, the difference to the firm’s bottom line is sub-atomic in scale.) 

This follows dynamic Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s latest visionary attempt to win the Most Desperate Poverty Alleviation Band-Aid Award.  After setting up a voluntary minimum wage ‘movement’, which embarrassingly few actual employers of security guards and cleaners joined, he is now leaning on businessmen to be good sports and jack up wages for employees whose remuneration currently falls on or around the mark where the Hong Kong poverty line would be if we had one.  And if they don’t, he will (out of concern for their service levels, apparently) bring in a statutory minimum wage.
“It’s moral blackmail,” splutters S-Meg Holdings’ Chairman.  At the far end of the table, Human Resources Manager Doris Pang angrily fingers her rhinoceros whip while lamenting the effect Leung is having on staff expectations.  Also, she adds, differentials are a problem.  If everyone on 5,000 a month gets 6,000, those on 6,000 will want more, and so on.  What she doesn’t mention, because hardly anyone on the senior management team even thinks about it, is that this company is already running a big social welfare system.  In the framed black and white photograph on the conference room wall, the Big Boss’s late father gazes down on us from the confines of his iron lung.  However feudal the employment terms and working conditions, he never fired anyone.  To swipe a family’s rice bowl away would invite the anger of the gods, whose revenge would ultimately take the form of lower profits.  It was a hardheaded trade-off.

So, years after email came along, high school dropouts in maroon uniforms plod between floors in search of envelopes to carry.  Every department comes with a gaggle of middle-aged women whose working day consists of counting paper clips, watering plants or getting stuck into a Mickey Mouse colouring book.  When the extremely hard-working and over-burdened Company Gwailo complains about a flickering light, four men in overalls come to his office to change the tube, complete with bossy female supervisor to ensure quality control.  By how much would unemployment rise if Hong Kong’s inefficient old family firms countered a minimum wage with maximum layoffs of redundant staff?  It’s something the Big Boss, now he mentions moral blackmail, might like to invite Donald to consider.
Fri, 26 Oct
Another skirmish in Hong Kong’s culture wars
breaks out on the Legislative Council’s doorstep, as a motley assortment of working-class patriots come to accuse pro-democracy multi-millionaire lawyer Martin Lee of being a traitor and a disgrace to the Chinese race.  Lee’s sin against the glorious motherland was to write a Wall Street Journal article that was so riveting no-one noticed it for a week.  (Or did they?  I have a vague recollection of turning a page in the paper some time in the more-or-less recent past, and seeing something that had something to do with him.  Or at least I have a very hazy memory of my eyes glazing over upon seeing something – which in retrospect may well have been the offending column.  But maybe I dreamt the whole thing.)

The article included a pious plea to US President George W Bush to somehow use the 2008 Beijing Olympics to pressure the Communist leadership into risking its own downfall by allowing its subjects to say what they want.  How amusing that the very things that make Martin so exciting in the eyes of a Dow Jones op-ed page editor make him such a bore to his fellow Hongkongers!  But the cultural gap of most interest today is surely that between the Big Lychee’s pro-Beijing proletariat and its refined, upper-middle-class campaigners for universal suffrage.
Could it be that ideology is not the cause of these two group’s animosity but simply a useful weapon with which to hit one another?  The old loyalists in their public housing estates do not hate Martin Lee and his peers simply for the latter’s adherence to the values of John Locke.  They hate them because they are rich, smug, educated and cosmopolitan.  They detest their fluent English, their knives and forks, their Christian churches and their miscegenist friends with half-breed kids.  They despise them for acting as if China were alien, for refusing to conform and for being willful.  And the pro-democracy elite find these shabby, bullying morons as repulsive as refined, urbane folk the world over find their rambunctious, atavistic lower orders.  In the spirit of the bourgeois who disguises his fear of the angry unwashed by determinedly finding them amusing, I will concentrate on the brighter side.  We have Saturdays off – they don’t.  I declare the weekend open.