My Take

Cultural Revolution label oft misused

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 4:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 4:19am

It's fascinating how cultural references define us and how we in turn define them. If you mention the '60s, I automatically think Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Jimmy Page. So I felt like "a banana" when "an egg" pointed out to me how Western I was when I compared Hong Kong's democratic movement, in a recent column, to the '60s ethos of youthful rebellion, participatory democracy and idealistic flower children howling against the corruption and illegitimacy of "the establishment".

As my British friend, who is in many ways more "Chinese" than me, points out, for the vast majority of Chinese, the '60s would have meant the dreaded Cultural Revolution, Mao's Red Guards and a decade of chaos and destruction. But he observed that the comparison still holds in ways I did not intend it. Since the handover, the pan-democrats have been repeatedly compared by pro-government lawmakers and Beijing's media mouthpieces to Red Guards and their demand for full suffrage to the Cultural Revolution. It seems that while in the West, "Munich" is often cited to tar and feather your opponent; in Hong Kong, the Cultural Revolution serves a similar function.

Dr Jennifer Eagleton, a specialist in Hong Kong political development, has extensively documented how such references were used to denounce the pan-dems. When "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung was sworn in at the Legislative Council in 2004, he was accused of "taking the oath, Red Guard style". The four founder-barristers of the Civic Party - Margaret Ng, Ronny Tong, Alan Leong and Audrey Eu - have been called the "Gang of Four".

"Basically, fast democratisation = chaos and a CR-like situation," said Eagleton, who is firmly in the pan-democratic camp.

Not always, though. Earlier this year, Canning Fok Kin-ning, the boss of Hutchison Whampoa, compared the strike by cargo dockers fighting for their livelihood and working conditions to the Cultural Revolution. It has also been used by former chief secretary Anson Chan, who once accused Beijing of using cultural-revolutionary tactics. Like those Westerners who have misappropriated "Munich" as a historical warning, we are in danger of doing the same with the Cultural Revolution.