'During my long career in the civil service ... I was driven by conviction that we were guardians of Hong Kong's interests. Without admitting it, we prided ourselves on our superior competence and judgment. This elitist confidence, however, might easily turn into complacency, leading us to believe that everything is under control because we know best. When criticised, we hardly asked ourselves why we became so insensitive to the needs of our people.' Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, On RTHK, March 31 'If we aren't allowed to talk about the elite, are we supposed to enjoy a competition amongst commoners?' Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun, April 2 Mr Tien thinks there is nothing wrong with being a member of the elite and I agree with him. In fact, I myself would like to be a member of the elite and it would be hypocritical of me to disparage elitism while aspiring to it. But there has to be something that qualifies people to join the elite. In older times, I suppose, this would have been noble birth, which immediately disqualifies me. I'm a complete commoner with not the slightest trace of blue blood in my veins. In fact, even my name is best translated in English as 'from the commons'. This, however, no longer makes a great difference. George W. Bush is a very common man but he is president of the United States and I think everyone would agree that the president of the United States is a member of an elite. Tony Blair is nothing but a smooth line of talk and yet he is prime minister of Britain. He is in the elite, too, I think. We can also go outside politics. Albert Einstein was only a commoner but his Theory of General Relativity was no common achievement. Who would reject him from the elite? There are many others like him, great artists, literary giants, scientists, philanthropists revered round the world, all of them people whom we look up to as an elite. So what credentials might Mr Tien have for considering himself a member of the elite? I presume here, of course, that he does in fact think himself so. If not, I may have to ask him to forgive this presumption. On the other hand, I might just tell him that it is his own fault for having given people that impression. Obviously, a claim to noble birth will not work here. Royalty vanished from China 36 years before Mr Tien's birth and, in order to claim noble birth in China these days, you have to prove yourself the child of a bigwig in the People's Liberation Army. I don't think he qualifies. His educational achievement, a master's degree in chemical engineering from a ho-hum college in the United States, will also not be sufficient. Plenty of people have master's degrees and from better universities than San Jose State. After graduating he joined the family farm, Manhattan Holdings, which mainly prospered by collecting rents on garment quotas that it was lucky to hold, courtesy of Hong Kong being a big beneficiary of the Multifibre Arrangement. I wish I'd had that sort of luck. I don't rate it an achievement. His CV shows a reasonable list of organisations of which he is or was a chairman or member, most notably the Liberal Party and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, but, when you get down to it, his only real qualification for being a member of the elite is that he graduated in 1964 from Diocesan Boys' School. I cannot deny that one. It is the equivalent of royalty in Hong Kong, traditionally an absolute requirement for getting anywhere in the civil service. Donald may not have that badge to his name but he's the exception. Then again, Donald is also the exception in admitting that elitism is perhaps not really commendable in government after all. He recognises its failings at last and let's not hear too much muttering about how he could have done it earlier. I don't say that Mr Tien should not be allowed to talk about the elite. By all means, go ahead, Sir. We have free speech in Hong Kong. But if you want to be a member of the elite rather than just talk about it, you have to do something more than be photographed by Tatler. You have to do something of distinction, something to make a real name for yourself. Having been born to a rich daddy or having gone to a snooty school just isn't enough. You also have to remember that there is no Council of the Elite out there to maintain a membership roll of the elite. You can really only say that you have made it to the elite if other people generally think that you have and this means ordinary people, commoners as you call them. To get to the elite you have to be in competition with these commoners, people whose only distinction from you is perhaps that they have fewer conceits about their station in life. And if this is beneath you, then on your bike with your talk of elite, Jimmy.