ENTER a new breed of Chinese hero: the downtrodden employee of a foreign joint venture. The latest manifestation of this phenomenon was spotted by a friend staying in Shanghai last week who said that every time they turned on the TV there was an interview with a man who said he was an employee of the Shanghai Portman Shangri-La. This chap claimed to have been hit on the mouth with a glass or bottle by a senior foreign manager of the hotel after the manager received a complaint from a guest who said a watch had been lost. The Shanghai TV station, one of the raciest in China, conducted a phone-in on the topic and the chap received considerable support. None of this, however, can be taken too seriously because most of the callers seemed to be workers from the same hotel - which, if nothing else, just goes to prove that the mainlanders have learned how to rig phone-in shows in record time. We can't judge where justice lies, but the media attention has strong echoes of an incident last year in a different Shanghai hotel - described as ''Japanese-funded'' by official media - in which two women employees were strip-searched after a reported theft. After hearing these stories we made a mental note to be extra careful about reporting losses when we're in China. It would be embarrassing to ring the management to say you'd found your sunglasses - or whatever - were in a trouser pocket after all, only to find the maid had already been beaten up in an attempt to find the ''thief''. Board level? SHAREHOLDERS in China Foods Holdings, one of those China shell companies born under controversial circumstances last year, have been getting the documents about their company's rights issue and purchases from its parent company. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a problem with the report from the independent directors. In total there are eight directors, of whom five work for the parent firm which is selling the assets, so they're not classed as independent. Then another director, called Ng Eng-leong, is a director of Shanghai International Capital, which is one of the underwriters. Moreover, directors Francis Yuen Tin-fan and Choi Sai-leung are on the board of the firm controlling Seapower, which is managing the rights issue. So one way or another, all of the board members have an interest in the deal, which - oh dear - leaves no independent director to look after the small shareholders at board level. As for the merits of the deal, except to say that given the company name - China Foods Holdings - and the board's stated aim of moving into food-related businesses, it does seem rather baffling to be buying a shopping centre in Tsuen Wan. Ferry-tales A CRACK team of Hong Kong Ferry executives - and no, that's not a mis-print - recently zoomed out to the Yung Shue Wan pier on Lamma Island as part of their ''Meet the Passenger'' campaign. HKF's David Ho said his firm was working on ''seat replacement'' and a ''digital temperature indicator''. We'd never heard of a digital temperature indicator, but we know quite a few Lamma commuters who, if they ever come across such a ''Meet the Passenger'' event, will demonstrate a digital signal meaning ''two degrees centigrade''. Only an utter cynic would say this sort of consultation is designed to keep the punters happy until HKF secures its slice of the lucrative Central reclamation on the tenuous grounds that some of the buildings will be built over the current site of its terminal, at which point they'll sell all the ships for scrap and retire. Oblivious LONDON'S The Times carried a short article on the will of Lady Margaret Trench on April 6 which was spotted by Professor Peter Harris of the University of Hong Kong. Lady Trench was described as the ''widow of Sir David Trench, former chairman of Dorset Area Health Authority and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific''. Well, it also happens that Sir David was governor of this territory from 1964 to 1971, holding the place together during the riots of 1967. As such, the article would appear to be a reflection of the British belief that the Dorset Area Health Authority is more important than Hong Kong. ''Even Mr Patten may suffer this oblivion, say, come 1998,'' reckons Professor Harris. A friend recalls a tale about Sir David's time as High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. Sir David was watching his first execution, a hanging, and the hangman was making a poor job of putting the noose around the accused's neck. The High Commissioner reportedly blurted out: ''Watch out. You'll choke him.'' Pool pirate OUR Saturday Review ran a piece about the pool on top of the Hopewell Centre, saying that nobody was allowed to swim there and nobody knew why it was built. Aha. Well we know differently. At least one well-known fund manager was bathing there a week ago, last Sunday, and may have been singing Gilbert and Sullivan songs as he soaked his bones. Coincidentally, he told a friend ''I've bought quite a few Hopewell shares.''