The Basic Law was drafted as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration covering Hong Kong after its handover to China on July 1, 1997. The joint declaration stated that Hong Kong would be governed under the principle of ‘one country-two systems’ and would continue to enjoy its capitalist system and individual freedoms for 50 years after the handover.
Basic values, rather than Basic Law, can make Hong Kong great again
Simon Haines says Hong Kong can mature into a 'mother city'
The critic Matthew Arnold, writing in 1867, seems to have foreseen the future of cities in an industrialising China. His most famous essay, Culture and Anarchy, written as Britain's own world-leading Industrial Revolution unfolded, warned against attaching too much value to the material development of a society while disregarding the social fabric, cultural institutions and places of humane reflection that make up civic society: those that make cities truly great, genuinely rich. Today, London is home to some of the finest galleries, museums, theatres and universities in the world. Indeed, culture is often quoted as the top reason people want to visit or live and work in Britain's capital. They seem less keen to move to Beijing: how many tourists go back for a second visit?
According to Aristotle, it's only in cities that human beings can fully become themselves. For him, a "metro-polis" was a "mother city", the true home of a people, the place that nurtures most of us.
Of course, it's very hard to get the civic balance right. The Greeks didn't: the prosperity of Athens herself, the mother city of democracy, rested heavily on slave labour. Civic dysfunction has been with us ever since.
On the other hand, for all their pollution, crime and poverty, cities are where people prefer to live. As physicist Geoffrey West has shown, exponentially with their size, cities have ever higher levels of good things as well as bad. For a research centre like ours, how much we flourish in cities, the degree and quality of our civic well-being, is a values question. And that doesn't primarily mean money values. Instead, we want to ask how much is a city or society esteemed, how much is it "valued": especially by its own citizens?
According to Confucius, its values, the virtues of its citizens, are more important to a state than its laws.
Hong Kong, is not just a "world city"; according to the Basic Law, it has retained many of the attributes of a city state, a real polis: not sovereign, but to a great degree autonomous, self-legislating. The collaborative making of a rule of law and thus respect for law itself (not just "rules") has helped make Hong Kong what it is. The chief executive is not just a mayor. This heightened civic, not just civil, status brings with it real responsibility. There's no reason to think the Chinese government has any objection to Hong Kong's exercising of this responsibility, within the limits of its own mini-constitution.
In an unusually fractious frame of mind, Hong Kong is heading towards an all-important milestone in 2017, when in principle its chief executive will for the first time be elected by universal suffrage. There is some scepticism about what 2017 will deliver. But just as importantly, there is a widespread sense that, for various reasons, the current executive is having trouble dealing with the city's many urgent dysfunctions: social, environmental, educational, linguistic, and cultural. Underlying this is a feeling that Hong Kong is losing touch with itself, with what has made it a great city. This goes to basic values, not the Basic Law.
So what are those basic values, the civic virtues underlying this city's success? Thrift - not meanness or greed. Industry - not mindless workaholism. Community well-being - not oligopoly wealth, functional or factional interest. Real, original policymaking - not just timid compliance. Repudiation of all civic corruption, not just some.
In some of these respects, Hong Kong is already a beacon for the mainland. But before a world city can become a mother city, a true metropolis, it needs to finish growing up. Its own mother, China, probably wants it to.
Professor Simon Haines is director of the Research Centre for Human Values at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The centre is hosting a public forum on the value of the arts and humanities in civic society on Sunday