Chris Patten 'flattered' by nostalgic Hongkongers who miss colonial days

Ex-governor says nostalgia reflects attachment to core values of press freedom and rule of law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 4:28am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 8:49am

Hong Kong's last governor Chris Patten says he is flattered by nostalgic Hongkongers who say they miss colonial rule.

Patten, who headed the city from 1992 to the 1997 handover, said the sentiments - as shared by locals who waved the colonial flag when he visited the Maritime Museum on Thursday - reflected a "strong sense of attachment" to the core values the colonial government had tried to nurture.

"Some of this tint of nostalgia was … flattering, but I prefer people to flatter than to shake their fists," said Patten, who was in town to endorse the Oxford University Press' English & I, which features the stories of 12 celebrities learning English.

"[The nostalgia] reflects a strong attachment to some of the values we tried to inculcate."

But recalling his days as the city's chief, Patten said his team could have done better.

"It has always been my view that when we were a colonial power, we didn't do enough to entrench those values," he said.

"Rule of law is the guardian of people's freedom, financial problems [and] contract," he said, adding that a free press was crucial to curb "corruption and incompetence".

Stressing that these values were crucial in keeping the city competitive, Patten expressed confidence in Hongkongers' determination to uphold them.

"These values are part of the city's DNA … Hong Kong has an extraordinary sense of citizenship," he said. "People can be patriotic Chinese and citizens of a very special community."

The Oxford University chancellor also stressed the importance of maintaining the city's English ability, drawing a comparison with Singapore. He noted the outstanding English "at every level" in Singapore, saying Hong Kong could be "missing a trick commercially" if it did not keep up with its English standard.

But Patten sang the praises of his former aide Anson Chan Fang On-sang's impressive language ability. "She has impeccable English," he said of Chan, whose own story of learning English is featured in the book, which is expected to go on sale in July.

But Patten refrained from discussing the city's electoral reform debate, and would not say if his dinner with Chan on Thursday had touched on the former chief secretary's latest reform plan.

"I only read [about her proposal] from the [newspaper]," was all he would say on the issue.