My Take

Ada Tsang’s conquest of Everest a lesson in life, death and ethics

Hong Kong teacher reached the roof of the world but heroics aside, there are important lessons about morality to be learned

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 1:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 1:04am

Ada Tsang Yin-hung’s conquest of Mount Everest has turned out to be an excellent classroom topic in civic education and ethics.

The Hong Kong teacher’s story was supposed to be yet another inspiring tale of personal courage and perseverance.

Personally, I never get too excited about people scaling the tallest mountain or sailing around the globe alone on a yacht. They want to do it, it’s their business. But I don’t find extreme sports particularly interesting, except they all scare the hell out of me. Maybe I am being mean, but it seems vainglory and vanity are also something to consider.

Family and students welcome home Hong Kong woman who conquered Everest

Some people find them heroic. I suppose it all depends on your definition. The first days when Tsang came back, it was all about how a heroic Hong Kong woman conquered Everest, the first such successful female climber from the city.

The purpose of her climb, she said, was to fulfil a promise to her students. She wanted to teach them by example so that they learned how to overcome difficulties if they wanted to succeed.

A student said he once considered Tsang’s promise to climb Everest empty words but now her feat had taught him the value of perseverance. So far, so good.

Then the story gets murky. It transpires that her team witnessed some fellow climbers dying or laid dead in the unforgiving heavy snow, on their way up to the summit. Questions have naturally been raised about why she and her teammates didn’t try to help a dying man. Actually, it seems stories about Everest almost always involve some such life-and-death decisions, whether it was Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay or sports journalist Jon Krakauer, who wrote about his disastrous 1996 Everest climb in the bestseller Into Thin Air.

Everest-conquering Hong Kong woman rejects criticism for not helping dying climbers

The true hero in that story was Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev, not because he was the best climber in the group but because he anticipated trouble and saved several lives in the disaster. Krakauer? He sat in his tent and was scared witless. But who am I to judge?

I find Tsang neither heroic nor cowardly. She deserved neither praise nor blame. There was nothing admirable about leaving someone behind, but under the circumstances, I would have done the same. Uneasy and compromised morals, that’s life!

Students, did Tsang do the right thing by saving herself and ignoring the dying man? Discuss.