Some things are better lost in translation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2009, 12:00am

In our current political debate on Hong Kong democratic development, life within the Legislative Council has unfortunately become Hobbesian: indecorously poor, overtly nasty and intolerantly brutish.

The vulgarity of Hong Kong politics today deserves some ink.

Recently, the League of Social Democrats has been second to none in this department. Bananas aside, the LSD legislators regularly hurl, within the chamber, some colourful insults that have more than stumped the people of 'Hong Kong Hansard', the official verbatim report of the proceedings of the council meetings.

Lost in translation, the offensiveness of the words employed by these legislators cannot be fully appreciated by English readers.

Since their appearance in Hong Kong's political landscape, LSD legislators have reinvented the city's political lexicon. Among their favorites is 'slave/minion', which tops, at 35 times, the list of most uttered descriptions in one legislative proceeding in January. 'Dead wood or useless/incompetent person', should be more accurately translated as 'worthless piece of s***' and comes in second.

The adjectival use of 'dog', connoting meanings of disgust and meanness in Chinese, as in 'dog government official' and 'dog slave/minion', is customary in LSD vocabulary when referring to anyone who is not in its political favour.

Thanks to the LSD legislators' love for hate words, 'secretary' can now be omitted, and replaced with gung gung - not, however, used as a term of endearment, like 'grandpa'. Instead, it is used as a slur, by changing a certain official's name and office to that of a eunuch of imperial China when addressing him in the chamber.

It is no wonder that Hansard is struggling with how to translate all this into English, raising the question: how are we to be politically correct with the politically incorrect?

However, the most sinister in the lexical muddle that passes for our current political debate has to be the mind-bending idea that a certain group of legislators can claim a monopoly on 'democracy' because they can appropriate words like 'pro-democracy' and 'pan-democrats' for themselves and their political cartel.

When the Civic Party's Ronny Tong Ka-wah and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, alongside the Democratic Party's Albert Ho Chun-yan, dismissed Anna Wu Hung-yuk - Hong Kong's 'mother of equal opportunities' - as an advocate of democracy, they introduced a mind-twisting misrepresentation of what it is to be democratic into Hong Kong's political discourse.

Ms Wu, co-founder of the Hong Kong Observer in the 1970s and former chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, has championed our fights for equality.

She singlehandedly introduced the Equal Opportunities Bill and is most remembered for how she fought relentlessly for the passing of the subsequent anti- discrimination ordinances after her bill was rejected by the legislature.

Ms Wu deserves more than being categorically excluded at the pan-democrats' liking, just because she became an ex officio member of the Executive Council.

Simply by claiming the franchise on democracy, of which there is still no universally accepted definition, some of our legislators are not only redefining pro-democracy as a self-serving political shenanigan - they are also paving Hong Kong's road to their twisted 'pro-/pan-democratic' ideology of exclusion, instead of inclusion.

In the end, when this is joined with garbage political theories like the chief executive's 'friend-or-foe' dichotomy, it will guarantee us an illiberal democracy. All the acidic rhetoric and pointless platitudes haven't got us closer to the ultimate 'one person, one vote' democratic system.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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