Year of the perplexed Pig

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 February, 2007, 12:00am

By the time you read this, the Pig will still be a suckling, having just awakened from a 12-year slumber to occupy unfamiliar terrain vacated by the Dog after its year-long reign.

The Pig was only two years into its long hibernation when Hong Kong's most memorable event occurred - the passing of the city's control from British to Chinese hands. Much has changed in our political, social and economic life since then, and the Pig will find it has awakened to a very different place. Over the coming weeks it will have to adjust to the new climate, environmentally and politically.

As it sniffs its way around the partisan politics, it will find that the air is also thick with particles of polluted dirt, threatening its very health. And it will wonder why it was born into record heat of 25 degrees Celsius, when previous reincarnations had always begun with chilly weather.

But its confusion will be brief. It will quickly realise that the seasons haven't changed, but that humans have foolishly altered the way nature works. They even have a term for this time bomb they have switched on: global warming.

If the Pig could fly, it would have a bird's-eye view of startling images such as melting polar ice, dying forests, expanding deserts, fierce storms and other phenomena that have altered the very nature of the planet it once knew.

So what else will the Pig find that's new after its 12-year absence? Well, that Chris Patten - who loves wolfing down food the way the Pig does - is no longer governor. In his place there is a chief executive, a more fitting title since the city is run more like a corporation than a community.

Barely five weeks into its rule, the Pig will find itself overseeing a divisive yet defining event - the first contested election for chief executive in more than a decade. And it will have the honour of presiding over a memorable occasion that could divide some but unify most others - the 10th anniversary of sovereignty changing hands.

During its last rule, the Pig had to contend with everyone fighting over something called democracy, which it understood to be the people ruling themselves.

It was a fight the Pig had seen start even earlier, and now, two reincarnations later, they're still at it. If it could talk, it would probably counsel people to learn from the 12 animals that take turns ruling, with none of this seditious murmuring from others in the animal kingdom.

After all, isn't that the authoritarian way in which the so-called 'leader of the free world' has ruled? In trying to understand how this leader, George W. Bush, became president when he lost the popular vote, the Pig will also have to absorb unfamiliar terms like the 'war on terror', militant Islam, 'Gitmo' and the Patriot Act.

But it will soon learn that these strange terms are interlinked: without one, the others could not exist. It will quickly understand that Mr Bush needed a permanent state of war to demand the loyalty of the people. But having already invaded two countries, he needed a perpetual enemy that was more a concept than a country.

Enter the 'war on terror', which targeted an enemy many found easy to hate - a foreign religion. To legitimise the attack yet preach religious freedom, he dressed it up as a war against the 'militant' side of the religion. The attack weapon is the Patriot Act - which disregards civil rights - and captives are held indefinitely without trial in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What the Pig will find brilliant is that this assault on religious, civil and human rights has been successfully sold as an act to safeguard democracy.

Equally ingenious, the Pig will find, are the many takes on how democracy is defined here in Hong Kong. Some say democracy is acceptable as long as it allows us to know an election result beforehand.

Others say it's fine to give the people a vote as long as their election choice can be overruled by a higher authority. Still others say democracy doesn't necessary mean we must all have a vote.

But, as the astrologers say, this Fire Pig Year is not for the faint of heart. So hang on to your hooves for the ride, if you dare.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster.