Finally, the revolt

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 August, 2010, 12:00am

Wake up and smell the revolution - that's what I urged some months ago. Have you done it yet? Some of you may wonder: what revolution? Mobs are not fire-bombing shops or dragging people away to meet a ghastly end. The streets are quiet, the shopping malls are full and everything appears normal. But that's where you're wrong. Things are not normal.

They look normal only if you think of this as a textbook revolution. It is not. You won't see cars being burned or rocks hurled at the police. The last time Hong Kong saw that was during the 1967 riots, but people here are not prone to violent uprisings. What we're now seeing is a civilised yet seething revolution. People are going about their daily lives but they're mad - not just at some things but at everything.

Right now, their anger is being directed at the Octopus company. They're furious with company boss Prudence Chan Bik-wah for not telling the whole truth about selling the personal data of 1.9 million card users to telemarketers for HK$44 million. They now want her head, figuratively speaking, that is. The head of the parent company, the MTR Corporation, is not off the block, either. People are angry with the railway operator, which is majority-owned by the government, for refusing to share the blame in the privacy invasion. Mob anger, again figuratively, is building up against the government, too. People are saying: if the government owns most of the MTR Corp, which in turn owns most of Octopus, then surely it was the government indirectly selling the personal data of card users.

People wouldn't have so readily made or easily accepted that connection before. But something snapped during Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's second term as chief executive. People asked themselves: do we have a fair society? They decided they did not. That lit a fuse, and now people are too ready to be mad at everything. It has got the government running scared. Officials no longer seem in control. They are attacked whichever way they turn. Their policies are ridiculed and their performance mocked. They rule by always surrendering fearfully to the mob of public anger. That's why I'm calling it a revolution.

The roots of this revolution stretch back to the British, who built inequality into the system. But the first shoots sprang up only a few years ago, when angry young people tried to stop the demolition of the historic Central Star Ferry Pier. That defiance blossomed recently when many more of them ringed the Legislative Council building to protest against a pricey, high-speed rail link to the mainland, which they saw as benefiting only the business class - which has become a dirty word.

Suddenly, everything was fair game. People taunted the tycoons for their greed. They pressured the government to curb the excesses of property developers, abolish their dishonest sales practices and make homes affordable for ordinary families. They demanded an explanation for Henderson Land's shady behaviour in the sale of Mid-Levels flats. They forced legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan to eat his words for saying the minimum wage should be only HK$20 an hour. And they turned Caf?de Coral boss Michael Chan Yue-kwong into a heartless villain for warning that a decent minimum wage would reduce his profits. They forced the government to protect the harbour and preserve our few remaining heritage sites; now they're demanding that it stop the scarring of our countryside by wealthy businessmen who stealthily buy cheap land from villagers to build private luxury retreats.

You can say a class war is now under way in Hong Kong, a rebellion against the old order. Who would have thought the people would one day rise up against the tycoons who were once so admired? Or against the rot in the system which, most people once felt, they could do nothing about.

Now that the revolution has started, there's no way you can stop it. Those who refuse to wake up and smell it - the Tommy Cheungs, Michael Chans and Hendersons - will sooner or later face an even ruder awakening.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster