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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 7:23pm
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PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 3:27am

Hong Kong's road to universal suffrage is paved with contradictions

Frank Ching says the uproar over British official's comment shows the complexity of Hong Kong's political development, now and in the past

British Minister of State for Asia Hugo Swire set off a firestorm with his article voicing support for universal suffrage. On one level, it does seem hypocritical for a British official to say that "Britain stands ready to support" Hong Kong's move towards universal suffrage when, in fact, Britain obstructed democratic development when Hong Kong was its colony.

Indeed, until Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to China, there were no elections to the Legislative Council. So it is somewhat contradictory for Britain today to depict itself as a champion of democracy. But then Hong Kong is full of contradictions.

In fact, China itself is on rather delicate ground when its foreign ministry, in response to Swire's article, asserted that "Hong Kong once suffered under colonial rule for a long time".

It is unclear to what period of time the ministry was referring. Historically, the British colony provided safety for Chinese fleeing political turmoil or tyrannical rule on the Chinese mainland for over a century. Revolutionaries like Dr Sun Yat-sen, wanted by the Manchu government for attempting to overthrow the dynasty and establish a republic, were safe in Hong Kong, precisely because it was under British administration.

Even communist agents made use of the British presence to operate in the colony, where they were beyond the reach of the Kuomintang government.

And just as British Hong Kong provided refuge to communists before 1949, after the establishment of the People's Republic it offered a haven to those who wished to flee communist rule.

Many of the people now praised as patriots by the communist government are in Hong Kong because their parents fled from the communists. The shipowner Y.K. Pao moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong on the eve of the communist takeover and, ironically, subsequently forged a special bond with Deng Xiaoping . Another shipping magnate, C.Y. Tung, the father of Hong Kong's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was also a refugee from the Chinese communists.

The list is long. In fact, the majority of the residents of the special administrative region are here because their parents or grandparents couldn't stand the idea of living under communist rule. Suffering "under colonial rule" was evidently considered a much better alternative to life in the communist paradise being created by the party.

Last year, a boatful of Hong Kong political activists landed on the Japanese-administered Diaoyu Islands to assert Chinese sovereignty. The Japanese media depicted them as pro-China activists but many are not even allowed to visit the mainland because, in Beijing's eyes, they are not patriots.

But, of course, it is possible to be a Chinese patriot as well as anti-Communist at the same time. It is important to keep this in mind, at a time when Beijing is insisting that any chief executive hopeful must be a patriot. Let's also remember that Hong Kong's democrats, often accused of being unpatriotic, were the first to welcome the return of the British colony to Chinese sovereignty.

Hong Kong is a bundle of contradictions, almost as contradictory as "one country, two systems".

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@scmp.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1

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321manu
Great piece. All too often, people fail to recognize that being pro-HK and anti-CCP, or pro-China and anti-CCP, are perfectly legitimate and logical positions. After all, the CCP is but a political party. Problems arise because the CCP chooses to monopolize the process.
Dao-Phooy
Good observations. The Central Authorities can't accept the reality that a majority of HK people were content to remain under British rule - at least the Government had talented people and the civil service did its job. Now? No talent at the top and inept senior civil servants who on the whole are mediocre paper pushers who have been promoted way above their obscene pay grades.
hard times !
Ironically, geniune patriots like Mr.Tsang Kin-shing (Ah Ngau) was denied the entry permit to go to his mother country---the PRC for his political views and acts committed here in Hong Kong. Yet it is he and his comrades who risked to be arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard men,landed on the controversial islets in East China Sea---the Diaoyu Islets/Senkaku ! Maybe in Hong Kong, one can be considered a patriot while being anti-Communsits as Ah Ngau did/does ! Fully agree with Frank Ching said, 'it is possible to be a Chinese patriot as well as anti-Communist at the same time'! Lawmaker Wong Yuk-man once publicly said that he loved China very much except the Chinese Communsit Party and its government which is an autocratic ruling regime which oppress its people while grabbing benefits for its members (especially the senior ones and their families) !
kctony
"Hong Kong once suffered under colonial rule for a long time." I wish that suffering will never end. Under the colonial rule I happened to "suffer" the knowledge of western education and still enduring the suffering of never being able to break par in golf, while my mainland cousin who never lived to have a taste of Coca Cola died during the Great Leap Forward. He would have been 61.
Louis Cha Leung-yung's first novel "The Book and the Sword" convinced me that life is more important than nationlism. In the story, the revolt leader Chan Ka-lok persuaded his half brother, the emperor Chien-lung, to join him to end the Qing Dynasty. Chien-lung said the Qing Dynasty has been feeding the nation well. He asked Chan if a revolution is worth the price of calamity and famine across the nation as has been through out the history of China. I have never thought of that dilemma until I read that book.
Patriotism is taught. Hunger is real. Those Shanghai entrepreneurs made their choice (did they have a choice?). I am glad they did.
EHI
How about looking at it this way: there is no contradiction, Hong Kong has always been a part of China as a civilization regardless of its political affiliation, be it Ming, Qing, communist or nationalist. Frank Ching can spin it in any way to his liking but needs to be reminded that Dr Sun Yat-sen's final resting place was in Beijing.
It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that western powers were, and still are, in Asia hankering to take political and economical advantage over a situation of which they themselves were the culprit.
Hong Kong is neither a country nor a city state like Singapore. Regardless of how Beijing and the current government of Hong Kong hammer out political reforms for the city, the citizens of Hong Kong need to understand that should there be another "三年零八個月" or similar situation in the city, they themselves and Beijing would be the only people they can count on.
321manu
pslhk,
Referencing your 3rd paragraph, "delicate ground" would not have been my choice; I would have said "doesn't have a leg to stand on" in relation to the CCP ministry statement of "Hong Kong once suffered under colonial rule for a long time". 'Existed', certainly. 'Suffered'? I think in the eyes of most Hkers, hardly. Word choice aside, that's one of FC's arguments. He then proceeds to support his argument with examples of where British rule of HK was to the benefit of Hkers, and for that matter, mainlanders. To counter that argument, one would have to provide evidence of this apparently prolonged suffering.
Instead, you chose to focus on his word choice, and on "precisely", um, to be precise. You didn't argue against his argument; you argued against his vocabulary.
His second point addresses the moniker of "patriot". Again, his word-choice and use of "communist" is clumsy. He argues that you can be a Chinese patriot while having no love for the CCP. The counter-argument would have to establish why a Chinese patriot must love the CCP. FC never defines "patriotism". You mock his understanding of "patriotism" without defining exactly what you are mocking, and without offering up where you stand. BTW, posing supposedly rhetorical questions is not a facsimile for an argument.
I'm not sure of the purpose of that whole Stockholm tangent, but your metaphor/analogy falls far short of detracting from FC's argument....
321manu
...now, FC's vocabulary, word-choice, and writing style may not be your cup of tea. But this isn't English class. If his arguments are unworthy gibberish, you haven't shown them to be such, at least up to this point.
You seem like a well-read guy. FC,and any other columnist who puts his/her opinion out there, should expect to have people pass judgement on their arguments. But worrying about style and overlooking the arguments themselves is missing the forest for the trees. That's low rent stuff, and it should be beneath you.
321manu
Indeed, I do not utilize the tin-foil hats you seem to prefer, so it's little wonder we speak at cross-purposes. That said, even ardent tin-foil users should be capable of focusing their comments on the article at hand, but this appears to be yet another skill you do not possess.
Your comments, insofar as I can tell, are always ad hominems. You dislike FC's opinions, without actually saying what about them is substantively deficient. That's fine for some, I suppose, but it doesn't lend itself to an intellectually rigorous discussion.
BTW, Stockholm syndrome refers to captives developing empathy towards their captors. This article refers to nothing of the sort. To use your convoluted and irrelevant analogy, FC is not suggesting HKers long for the Brits. If you bothered to read it, you might even slowly come to that realization. But that's probably expecting too much of you. So instead, I'm expecting more brilliant references to fictional characters. And man, if what you've been doing up until now is an attempt at teaching, then among other deficiencies, you are one god-awful teacher.
321manu
"Teach them how to fish betters than give them fish"
---first of all, it's a proverb; not a cliche.
Second, if you're gonna use it, do it right:
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
BTW, kctony is not equating Coke with western education. What is the problem with your reading comprehension?
lamlm38
there was never a real intention to have an Universal Suffrage in the first place.. just ask Deng, err he is not ard anymore :)

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