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  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 5:00am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 3:33am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 3:33am

Colonial revisionism based on fantasy

I love Chris Patten. I am among his legions of fans in Hong Kong. I was awestruck as a cadet reporter when the last British governor went on stage at City Hall, gave a short, funny speech and took questions from the floor for more than an hour without notes.

That was sometime in 1994 or '95. It was hard to recall any other colonial officials being so informal and open with the public. Indeed, that was how the colonial government billed the event at the time: a groundbreaking "summit" with the public. Everyone was so excited, we all fell in love with "Fat Pang" back then. Before Patten, a governor was someone remote, unaccountable and unapproachable.

Patten's popularity has given us a false sense of what much of post-war colonial times were like in Hong Kong. While on a visit to the city, Patten said he felt "flattered" by nostalgic Hongkongers who missed colonial rule and waved the colonial flag. I am afraid he jumped the gun, considering those who do so in protests nowadays are mostly young people who were either children or babies during or before the Patten years and had little real colonial experience.

And while the rule of law and freedom of the press and of speech, which Patten also cited proudly, are admittedly long-standing British values, it's far from obvious they were widely practised during colonial times. A data search of such phrases in public documents and newspapers during the colonial era would probably find they were terribly underused or not mentioned at all. Colonised subjects like me just assumed the local press was muzzled. Those "core values", useful for sloganeering, are only of recent usage.

Did you ever try getting answers and statistics from senior colonial officials? An exercise in futility. Today, hacks like me can practically scream at policy officials and their secretaries if we don't get answers by the end of the day. For all its flaws, the post-handover government is more transparent than it ever was under the Brits. But young people have idealism rather than memory.

In our hatred and frustration with the post-1997 government, some of us are now practising a dangerous "revisionist" history of colonial rule that is not based on facts or experience, but fantasies and ignorance.

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P Blair
Every time Fat Chicken Chris Patten comes back to HK, Hongkongers becomes nostalgic about the glory days of British colonial rule where nothing was actually democratic, including Fat Chicken Chris Patten fat salary and the appointed Legco. For the fat colonialists like Fat Chicken Chris Patten, the colonial days were golden days, badly missed fondly recollected, just like the anguish plenty of district officers in British India felt when India and Pakistan became independent. Up to today, there isn't a better job than being a DO in British India or Colonial Governor of Hong Kong where the only qualification needed is that you should be a failed British politician with a smattering of indelible Cantonese!
auyeungy
Come on, man, I'm one of those 五十後, and I would've been at the airport waving the colonial flag if I'd known the time and date of his arrival. I may be a lot of things, but ignorant, I ain't. My love for British Hong Kong is indeed based on up close and personal experience.
honger
"the reason democracy was so slow in coming under the colonial government was because the mainland would not allow it, as simple as that."
The mainland would not allow it in the 90s on the eve of the handover when Patten came. If the Brits had put direct elections in place before the Joint Declaration in 1984, HK would have stood a chance. There was no China to object.
The Brits introduced direct elections and the British style of parliament to their former colonies only AFTER they had left! There was no "motherland" to contend with where India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, etc, were concerned. I do not want to discuss the tragic case of Palestine here.
And please don't presume like dai muff that being anti colonial equates to pro China and anti democracy!
chuchu59
I was also born in the late 50s and have fond memories of colonial HK though I wont be waving a colonial flag here nowadays. At that time, HK was a splendid place to live in and the population was free from the political bickering prevalent nowadays. You can say the Brits were more cunning but they did know how to rule and the Financial Secretaries then were simply great. Patten was a charmer and I had the opportunity to meet and talk to him in person. We don't have these personalities nowadays and none of the CEs since the handover are able to woo over the people.
Certainly Alex cannot speak for me. I liked Chris Patten despite him being a Brit and me being Chinese.
dienw
"A data search of such phrases in public documents and newspapers during the colonial era would *probably* find they were terribly underused or not mentioned at all." Mr Lo your entire article falls on the word "probably". Why not do the research so that you can say this definitively? In any event, assuming that they were underused, the reason would be because these freedoms (rule of law and freedom of speech/press) were not under threat during colonial times unlike now.
-
Then: "Did you ever try getting answers and statistics from senior colonial officials? An exercise in futility". Where is your evidence for this statement? This is very questionable indeed. I tend to agree with Dai Muff in one of his earlier comments.
-
A generally lazy, tendentious, misleading article. The fact is that millions of mainlanders fled the horrors of the Mainland to the safe haven of Hong Kong and were able to make for themselves a decent living here, many rising from poverty to wealth and affluence. It is hypocritical for correspondents here now to demonise colonial Hong Kong. And...the reason democracy was so slow in coming under the colonial government was because the mainland would not allow it, as simple as that.
-
Finally: "some of us are now practising a dangerous "revisionist" history of colonial rule that is not based on facts or experience, but fantasies and ignorance". Indeed, Mr Lo, indeed. How ironic!
hk.speaks
I grew up in colonial Hong Kong and saw how the Colonial Government fought and got rid of rampant corruption. I also witnessed how the Colonial Government started and successful built a public housing program that today continues to provide many people of Hong Kong a home. Indeed, more than half of Hong Kong's population have either lived or are presently living in public housing. Before 1997, Hong Kong was celebrated by the world as a miracle. Today we are constantly told that Hong Kong will die without China. Young people today may not have lived the colonial times but they can read. The good things they read about Colonial Hong Kong are not fantasies. They are real. I saw them and so did millions of other Hong Kong people.
Dai Muff
Love how some of my fellow citizens have such long memories of the Opium War and such short memories of the upheavals in the mainland which brought them scrambling to live under the evil "colonists".
meoii
It's a joke how some people are mesmerized about colonial rule and Briton. Those fanatics who waved the HK colonial flag think they are more British just because they hate the post 97 government, had a "white guy" as leader, love Man United and can recite the whole Premier League teams. By these facts, some Hong Kong people have deducted they are not Chinese.
-
Maybe it's hard to judge one's self. Let's take a look at Indians pre and post colonial rule...have they become more British?
Dai Muff
You continue to miss the point. There is a difference between being ruled by a democracy and being ruled by a oligarchic dictatorship. 90% of the people in Hong Kong today are the descendants of people who iknew that only too well and voted with their feet. HK may not have had full democracy but - administered by one - it was a liberal society with a Rule of Law that is the best expression of a democratic process, Now we are ruled by people who can do what they like to us, as they did in June 1989, and have no fear of ever losing an election.
chaz_hen
At least it would be possible in the UK to have a "Hongkee" immigrant become PM one day. Try that in HK where one has to also prove "love of country" (aka the CCP) on the CV in addition to being a good lapdog.

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