Let's have less gloom and more of that Hong Kong 'can-do' spirit

Bernard Chan says city has many reasons to be proud and optimistic

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:46am

On several occasions recently, friends and contacts of mine have asked a similar question: why is Hong Kong going through such dissatisfaction and gloom, when signs of our traditional "can-do" spirit are all around us?

One of them pointed out a whole range of examples from the sporting world, from this month alone. Tang Yik-chun, Lai Chun-ho, Ng Ka-fung and Tsui Chi-ho won the men's 4 x 100 metres relay at the 20th Asian track and field championships in Pune. Olympic medallist Sarah Lee Wai-sze won two women's events at the International Track Series cycling competition in Adelaide. Snooker star Marco Fu Ka-chun won the Australian Goldfields Open in Bendigo.

In other fields, Hong Kong people have been beating the odds. Sixteen-year-old Jeremy Lin Chong-rang hit the headlines when his film script Senior Project was accepted by Hollywood. Perhaps most impressive of all was the story of Tsang Tsz-kwan of Ying Wa Girls' College, who achieved outstanding results in Diploma of Secondary Education exams despite being blind and hearing-impaired and having to read Braille with her lips.

Most of us can probably think of other examples. That can-do spirit is one reason why Hong Kong recently came top in Asia and seventh in the world in the Global Innovation Index survey. It is why Hong Kong's creative influence appears so much around the world in fashion, computer games, architecture and fields such as industrial and automotive design. On a day-to-day basis, probably hundreds of thousands of people face personal or professional challenges and overcome them; this city wouldn't have its success and energy otherwise.

Yet we are bombarded with negative ideas. The people who make the most noise seem to give us the most reasons to be depressed and to lose confidence. They tell us Hong Kong has no future because the mainland is overtaking (or taking over) us. They claim we are doomed to have problems with housing, or pollution or poverty. Some of them say the city is finished unless it can adopt their own favourite, specific model of constitutional reform, and no other.

The people who make the most noise seem to give us the most reasons to be depressed

I am aware that we face some serious problems, but I do not see the need for so much pessimism. The rapid development of the mainland means that the gap between Hong Kong and the rest of China is narrowing. But it is absurd to see that as a bad thing for us.

Obviously there are side-effects from things like the presence of so many mainland shoppers. But more people from the mainland are coming to Hong Kong because they believe their own can-do spirit will flourish here - which is how so many of our success stories started in the 1950s and 1960s. If talented young mainlanders have confidence in Hong Kong, why shouldn't the rest of us?

Our domestic problems are very real, and like many people I am not satisfied that we are doing all we can to address issues such as poverty, the environment and the need for affordable homes. Yet many serious activists are involved in these areas, clearly believing in their own ability to bring about change for the better. They too have a can-do spirit.

That, surely, is the key. We do face challenges, not least our existing political structure, which is a barrier to change. But the solution is to work on the assumption that we can overcome that and other barriers. Yes, it means give-and-take: it cannot be winner-takes-all. But we can do it.

Isn't that attitude behind the success of our athletes? Isn't such positive thinking behind the exam results Tsang achieved despite her handicaps? The chance for political reform is coming, and our ability to fix our other problems can only improve as a result. This is a time for the can-do spirit: it worked in the past, and still does all around us today.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council