Unity is strength
Officially, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Li Ruihuan plays no direct role in overseeing Hong Kong affairs. But on the few occasions he has revealed his thoughts on the territory, he got a receptive audience here.
In 1996, he struck a chord with Hong Kong people when he compared it to an old teapot, saying it was the stains inside that made the container priceless. In veiled reference to efforts by the conservative forces to rid Hong Kong of its so-called colonial trappings, he warned that any efforts to remove the stains would destroy the teapot's value.
Yesterday, the former carpenter who received little formal education told another interesting story.
In the Han dynasty, the story goes, the Tian brothers lived harmoniously under one roof, and a bauhinia tree in the family courtyard blossomed beautifully. When the trio fell out and argued about splitting the family fortune, the tree withered overnight.
Mr Li hopes that the moral of the story - that unity is strength - will encourage Hong Kong people to put aside their differences and work together to build up the SAR. For in his view, while the SAR's overall situation is sound, it will take a long time to address the many problems left over from colonial rule and exposed by the Asian financial crisis. Moreover, keen competition is coming from surrounding economies, and globalisation, while presenting valuable opportunities to the SAR, is also posing difficult challenges.
For a community such as Hong Kong, which treasures free speech highly and takes pride in having a multitude of voices, Mr Li's story about the bauhinia may not go down as well as that about the teapot. But his concerns are understandable.
Any distant reader of SAR newspapers may be excused for forming an impression that Hong Kong people seem to be quarrelling among themselves all too often.
But if the reader would look closer, he would realise that it is in the character of this community to debate issues rigorously. Most Hong Kong people actually shun confrontation, although some use excessively harsh rhetoric in articulating their views.
Yet, Hong Kong people should heed Mr Li's well-intentioned advice to try to better appreciate the other side's case and think more about the overall situation as they debate how best to manage public affairs, if only because that is the right thing to do.
Unity is indeed strength, as long as it does not entail the suppression of legitimate dissent.