Henry Kissinger famously quipped that academic backbiting is fierce because the stakes are so low.
The public was given such a spectacle last week with the announcement that the University of Hong Kong has appointed Professor Peter Mathieson of Britain as its new vice-chancellor.
One prominent surgery professor called him "ignorant and incapable". A journalism professor described his "parachute" into Hong Kong from the University of Bristol, in a city of 430,000, as "a joke as big as the sky".
Well, the city of Cambridge has a population of 123,900 while the Oxford metropolitan area has more people: 244,000. If Mathieson had spoken with an Oxford accent, I am sure our city's oldest university would have been more welcoming. As it is, Bristol, a perfectly good university, just doesn't quite have the same cachet in brand-conscious Hong Kong. It's more Zara than Prada.
In any case, Mathieson, who prides himself on being a novice when it comes to local politics, has just had a lesson in it.
Dear professor, we politicise everything, including the appointment of university chiefs. Perhaps you can take comfort that it wasn't just you. This summer, your counterpart at Lingnan University also ran into trouble because he was once a part-time adviser to our chief executive, who has been declared persona non grata by large segments of our population. It was also because some students believed, rather implausibly, that his appointment should have been by one person, one vote. A word of advice: don't stand next to our chief executive, who is also your chancellor, to avoid being hit by stray objects.
Our hack of a professor claims your ignorance of the Chinese language and clean political slate mean you will be unable to protect our freedom. That would disqualify most foreign scientists, however distinguished. I say just do your job.
We have come to mistake rudeness for outspokenness, and outspokenness for courage. Openness and transparency now mean voicing personal, one-sided and ill-substantiated attacks in public. We all sound like protester extraordinaire-turned-lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung.
Alas, we live in an age not so much of democratisation as "Long-hairitisation".