Donald Tsang

You need more history lessons, Mr Tsang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen emphasised the need for more 'national education' - a better understanding of the country's development and sense of its national and cultural identity - during his policy address last week.

For that reason, he said, 'we will attach great importance to promoting national education among our young people, so that they grow to love our motherland and Hong Kong ... and have a strong sense of pride as nationals of the People's Republic of China'.

Mr Tsang seemed to be making great strides in his own 'national education'. Just as Beijing built 10 major projects to mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China, so Mr Tsang unveiled 10 major building projects to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover.

In June, President Hu Jintao issued his 'four insists' policy, calling for liberal thinking, scientific development, social harmony and a moderately well-off society.

Mr Tsang, ever the diligent student, came up with his own list of 'three insists', calling for economic development that is sustainable and balanced, and promotes social harmony.

But his national education was far from complete - as he showed during an RTHK interview on Friday in which he likened the Cultural Revolution to an extreme form of democracy. He called China's decade of turmoil an example of 'people taking power into their own hands'. And, he said, 'if we go to [such an] extreme ... then you cannot govern'.

Mr Tsang has since apologised for those comments, but it's interesting to speculate why he used the analogy in the first place. Perhaps he thought he was toeing the party line by comparing democracy to that era. After all, Zou Zhekai, then a deputy director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, likened the peaceful protest by half a million Hongkongers on July 1, 2003, to the Cultural Revolution.

Well, when Mao Zedong launched the revolution in 1966, his intention was not to bring about democracy - it was to cripple the government. That is why he taught the Red Guards the slogan 'bombard the headquarters' - targeting Liu Shaoqi , the head of state, and Deng Xiaoping , the party's general secretary.

In the end, both the government and the party structures were shattered, and the People's Liberation Army had to be called in to restore order.

Far from an example of democracy gone wild, the Cultural Revolution was actually a case of a demented despot gone berserk, setting off unthinking Red Guards to do his dirty work of torturing and toppling those who ran the government and the Communist Party.

The party issued its official verdict on the Cultural Revolution in a 1981 resolution. It said the decade of upheaval, which was 'responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses' suffered by the party and the state, had been 'initiated and led by comrade Mao Zedong'.

So, while the chief executive thought the Cultural Revolution was a case of 'people taking power into their own hands', it was actually a case of brainwashed teenagers being told what to do by their great leader, great teacher, great supreme commander and great helmsman.

If anything, the Cultural Revolution shows how dangerous it is to trust a country's fate to an unelected and unaccountable leader, who is free to create a cult of personality around himself and tolerate no dissent.

In fact, the Cultural Revolution shows how important it is for a society to have real democracy. This is the lesson that Mr Tsang should take to heart: democracy good, dictatorship bad.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.