Hypocrite heaven

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 December, 2009, 12:00am

The Tourism Board's booklet about Hong Kong superlatives has one gaping omission - it fails to mention that this is one of the few places on earth that manages to have sex scandals without sex taking place. The latest of these, involving legislator Kam Nai-wai, contains not even a hint of bodily contact.

This is not to say that sexual harassment, proved or alleged, necessarily involves physical engagement, nor is there any reason to trivialise this matter. But, there is a curious hypocrisy in Hong Kong that elevates some sexual matters to heights of importance they do not deserve, while resolutely ignoring others.

It is, for example, well known, that many of Hong Kong's most prominent business leaders have relationships with what are coyly known as 'mistresses'. The fact that many of these relationships involve the exchange of cash is also quietly overlooked.

Equally well known is that one of China's most extensive sex industries is located across the border in Shenzhen and that, to a high degree, it is patronised by Hong Kong residents. Indeed, not only is there a thriving sex industry, there are also a large number of so-called 'second families', with children born to fathers who are supposedly happily married to other women in Hong Kong.

When a B-list Hong Kong entertainer was discovered having sex in clips splashed across the internet, there was an outbreak of self righteous tut-tutting, forcing him to temporarily retire from the industry. This is an industry where young female aspirants are regularly subjected to sexual harassment by those in a position to promote their careers and where, let's face it, the majority of performers are young and relatively attractive. It is hardly worth stopping the presses to announce that young people are sexually active.

Hong Kong is not alone in scaling the heights of sexual hypocrisy - far from it - as seen in the sex scandals involving holier-than-thou Christian charismatic preachers in the US. However, this form of hypocrisy is becoming institutionalised here. While the local media and community leaders are ever ready to express shock and distaste for extra-marital relationships, they are equally likely to dismiss the rights of single mothers, whose children are born as a consequence of these relationships. In Hong Kong, the subject of same-sex relationships seems to be viewed entirely through the prism of the sexual act as opposed to the wider meaning of partnerships which are denied any status in local law.

Meanwhile, in the Legislative Council, the government's closest supporters, scenting the fetid aroma of a sex scandal, showed little compunction in abandoning the elementary rules of natural justice by initiating an inquiry into the Kam scandal without the presence of a so-called plaintiff and over a matter that appears to be more appropriate for the Labour Tribunal, because it involves a case of alleged wrongful dismissal. However, no complaint has been made to this body.

Among those voting for a Legco inquiry was a functional constituency representative who was central to a scandal that almost caused the collapse of the stock exchange in 1987, while Legco's only convicted criminal, Chim Pui-chung, 're-elected' to the chamber, on his release from jail, by the financial services rotten borough, was gracious enough to abstain. It is no small matter for Legco to set in motion a course of action that can lead to the expulsion of one of its members, yet members have ploughed ahead at the mere hint of a sexual implication, something deemed to be more important than financial impropriety.

However, logic and proportionality are often cast aside when there is the smallest suggestion of a sex scandal. Hong Kong has much to learn from France, where a very sharp distinction is drawn between the private lives of public people and their public activities, as long as one does not impinge on the other. This is a grown-up society that refused to discuss whether it was right for president Francois Mitterrand to have a mistress, as long as he was doing his job. Maybe Hong Kong will also grow up some day.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur