• Thu
  • Oct 16, 2014
  • Updated: 5:02am
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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This article is now closed to comments

321manu
I would agree with Mr. Lo insofar as being a colony is probably not something worth striving for. On the other hand, being controlled like a part of mainland China proper is probably not a walk in the park either. HK has a pretty good arrangement for the next 33 years, assuming that Beijing allows for it (and that in itself is a substantial assumption). After that, the outlook probably isn't so rosy.
All that being said, it seems not unusual for people to reminisce about the "good-ol' days" with rose-coloured glasses. Or for people to look fondly towards the past when they have dim outlooks for the future.
cheeky
For a long time now, HK people just look down on mainlanders. How do you think HK people feel about being ruled by people they perceive to be lower than them. They hate the HK government because HK people treat it as a Communist's puppet. Their ill feelings towards mainlanders won't change easily.
It is not a right or wrong matter, Chinese people (me included) are just like that, not united at all and often feeling insecure about ourself. How do you explain the way Chinese treat white people in general. Basically it is a case of fear, awe, admiration, envy and feeling small.
Heard a story once about some HK architects working in China. There was an opening ceremony of a just completed hotel and many guests were invited. The mainland owners went berserk once they knew there were no white people among the guests. They shouted at the HK architects to the point the HK guys went to the hotel lobby to pull in any white people they saw. Not sure if the white people were rewarderd for sitting there but just goes to prove the point.
pimehk
The problem is that today some people compare a Hong Kong eventually under Beijing's control, with a Patten's time Hong Kong. They tend to prefer "British" Hong Kong to "Communist" Hong Kong, while they are afraid that there will never be a truly autonomous Region.
whymak
Indeed, you are right on the money. Autonomy can never be achieved by headless chickens -- a group of suicidal hate China nuts, self-style anarchists and nihilists, whose goal is to seize power by first destabilizing social order and gridlocking government.
philpaul
You are absolutely right.
whymak
Mr. Lo,
Thanks for providing great entertainment. And I don't mean the contents of your essay but the piece of red meat you've thrown at these hate China bananas.
Deranged people need anger management. However, sobering them up by pointing out their slanderous lies about China -- e.g., opium grown in Yunan, China instead of India, Burma and the Golden Triangle -- may stop them from perfoming their shameless gig. On second thought, self-hate Chinese don't have a sense of shame.
Being schooled in the Analects as Chinese schoolboy, I am just as much at fault as these morons that I enjoy mocking. When I "scrutinize myself three times day," my late father might point out how little things amuse a small mind. Mea culpa! That small mind belongs to yours truly. But at least he is not shameless.
caractacus
I do not see the waving of the colonial flag as an expression of loyalty to the UK or admiration of the pre-handover government, it is a protest against the incompetence, unaccountability, cronyism and corruption that have progressively infested our system of government since 1997.
The post handover government is only superficially more transparent. The real decisions are still taken behind closed doors, but with a major difference: in the pre-handover era policy decisions were made mainly for the public good, not as now to line the pockets of cronies, mutual back scratchers and toadies.
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!
dienw
When reasoned argument fails, resort to name calling...well done P Blair.
J R
Anybody in HK prior to July 1 1997 remembering fat Patten ever doing anything useful except stuffing his face with egg tarts? Certainly HK wasn't getting value for money considering his huge salary and fringe benefits. HK can do better without toading up to the British colonials.

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