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Spirit of Hong Kong

Ring in the new year in Hong Kong with a dash of pragmatism, not cynicism

Alice Wu calls on Hongkongers to channel their resilient Lion Rock spirit in the right direction and keep the faith in hope, so that we do not become pawns of hate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 10:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 10:03am

New Year’s resolutions aren’t silly except for the fact that – and studies have concurred – we have a knack of overestimating ourselves, and so we make too many, most of them unrealistic.

Setting ourselves up for failure to begin a new year is a self-defeating exercise.

So let’s be a little nicer to ourselves, and rethink those resolutions. Don’t scrap them; just be more realistic. We may not be able to climb every mountain, but we can work our hamstrings and make strides in the right direction.

If 2016 were any guide at all, we know we need to brace ourselves for the unexpected. Uncertainty is going to be the new normal in 2017. The world is going to be volatile. The economy doesn’t look too peachy, and for Hong Kong, our economic fate is so linked to external factors over which we have no control that it would be wise to make “hanging on” our common goal. Politically, most world leaders will agree that the best way forward is to tackle the tweets one at a time.

Watch: 2016 in 60 seconds: Hong Kong history as it happened

Locally, a new chief executive will take over in the second half of 2017. We get to begin anew twice this year.

It’s going to be interesting. The chief executive race seems a little too quiet for comfort. We still can’t vote for him or her, which just shows how little we’ve travelled since 2010. But perhaps this can serve as a catalyst for change, and even a little bit of hope.

It is cynicism that has masqueraded sophomoric taunting as heroic activism

I don’t think we’ve lost the “Lion Rock spirit”. Resilience is still part of the Hong Kong character. If anything, perhaps we have channelled that spirit in the wrong places. The Lion Rock spirit is highly adaptable, and this is what we’ve perhaps become rusty at. We have been resiliently stubborn. We have failed to realise that perhaps the way we’ve gone about “keeping at it” has been counterproductive.

Pragmatism was something we used to hear a lot about ourselves. But that, too, has gone into hiding.

We have done quite a bit since 2010 but this has brought no positive change, and a whole lot of political grief. And perhaps it is time to rethink whether there are other ways of achieving our goals. If we continue as we have done, like the January 1 “genuine universal suffrage” march, then we’ll just continue down that same path – the path of the naysayers.

To be a chronic naysayer is easy – all one needs to do is say “no” and be really angry while saying it. While a dose of scepticism can be constructive, cynicism will take us backward. It is cynicism that has masqueraded sophomoric taunting as heroic activism. It is cynicism that rejects anything and everything.

Chief executive race open to all, top Beijing official for Hong Kong affairs hints

Five years ago, public opinion polls of the then “pig vs wolf” chief executive race had Leung Chun-ying leading Henry Tang Ying-yen bya huge margin, so much that Beijing switched its backing to Leung from the originally blessed Tang. Leung won on the back of that rejectionist sentiment of saying no to whoever Beijing picked, and it won him the election. Yes, we do reap what we sow.

We have a chance to not repeat history, but it would require that we confront some truths.

What Hong Kong has consistently done is to hit the central government’s patellar ligament – engaging the knee reflex, in other words – and call it activism. Varying the hammers used for the hitting makes no difference in terms of outcome. If anything, all it has proved is Beijing does not have receptor damage. And we’re the ones to suffer.

The eight types of insincere oaths, as set out by former Beijing official

So if we are to make resolutions at all, let’s try to find other ways of communicating, engaging and negotiating other than repeatedly hitting that reflex spot, and then feigning outrage when the knee jerks.

Look, we all can’t take the escape route and go on some fantastical Somerset Maugham-inspired 111-day “razor’s edge” vacation package that would cost at least US$48,000, excluding air fare.

We’re stuck with living out 2017 and beyond. And in order to survive it, we’re going to have to learn from our past: resuscitate the city’s spirit of pragmatism and resilience and abandon the fatalistic cynicism that we’ve become too accepting of. We can have hope – measured hope – if we resolve not to be the pawns of hate and cynicism.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA