Mr. Shangkong

Last but not least, let’s talk about freedom once again and why it makes a difference for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 December, 2015, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 December, 2015, 5:43pm

This is my seventh year in Hong Kong. If you ask me what really makes Hong Kong different, compared with Shanghai where I was born or the rest of China, the first word which pops up in my mind to this question will be “freedom”.

Freedom is not just a concept but something that all of us can easily understand and experience. Whenever you walk across the border and step onto Shenzhen, Hong Kong’s closest neighbour, you know you need a bit technical help to keep you connected and informed on your smartphone.

Freedom is not just about information. Freedom is about choice. Uber doesn’t kill traditional taxi business. It’s all about people’s choice.

It’s just like that some prefer coffee while others like to drink tea. Google won’t replace Baidu but you know where you can do better search in English, still the dominant language for information in the vast reaches of cyberspace, especially for our young students when they write their essays.

“I will also observe that if you are here in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government decides to change that, you will miss it. It’s important to stay right upfront. It’s an important aspect for real culture (in Hong Kong),” said Google chairman Eric Schmidt, alluding to the importance of freedom of speech and the Internet for both Hong Kong and Mainland China. That was from my 2013 interview with him when Schmidt visited Hong Kong.

Of course, as some of my readers will argue and I do agree that you can’t just keep writing about the importance of freedom in the hope that freedom can fix everything. No, it can’t.

What freedom can do is to help people to think, and think deeper for different ideas. The more ideas, the more solutions we will have to solve different problems. That’s why in Hong Kong we always welcome different kinds of debates and share many different views, no matter they are from a particular lens or not.

At the end of the day, it’s the people who should have their freedom to choose whatever they want to read or what kind of ideas they choose to believe.

On top of my other responsibilities at the century-old newspaper, I have published my columns “Mr. Shangkong” -- the combination of my two hometowns Shanghai and Hong Kong -- in the South China Morning Post every Monday since the summer of 2012.

Sometimes my columns did get me into trouble, but I have also made a lot of friends. As I publish my last Mr. Shangkong column in the Post today, I say thank-you to all my readers.

Freedom can’t immediately guarantee you what is right or wrong. But without freedom, you will never get closer to the truth. Shanghai or Shenzhen may someday overtake Hong Kong as the leading financial centre in terms of market size and dealing activities, but Hong Kong should know it is freedom not just the stock market that can continue to make a difference for Hong Kong.

If there is anything I can share with Alibaba, the new owner of the Post, as a part of my humble advice, I will say the real valuation of the Post is not in any price tag but freedom, a key part of Hong Kong’s core values shared by the majority of the society.

For Hong Kong, and anywhere in the world, I believe freedom is just priceless.


George Chen is the managing editor of SCMP International Edition. For more Mr. Shangkong columns: or follow @george_chen on Twitter