No sex please, I’m only here for discourse

HKUST economist Francis Lui Ting-ming who said prostitutes on the mainland were accepting e-payment stirred moral outrage despite his valid claim

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 1:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 1:35am

It seems never a good idea to mention sex in political discourse in Hong Kong. People end up fixating on the sex bits and missing the larger topic.

The latest to fall into this “sex trap” is University of Science and Technology professor Francis Lui Ting-ming, one of the city’s most prominent economists and a regular adviser to the government and various public bodies.

At a forum earlier this month with former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, Lui claimed, to the embarrassment of those on the discussion panel, e-payment on the mainland was so popular that his friends could pay for prostitutes on an internet platform using their mobile phones.

Lui was trying to make a point about the advances the mainland has made in electronic payment and whether such development could have a stabilising effect on the financial system.

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It’s a worthy topic – the trillion-dollar question as to whether the Chinese economy could face a major crisis. But naturally, people fret more about the reference to prostitutes. It does make you wonder what kind of friends the good professor keeps on the mainland.

Critics from feminists to economists and self-styled moralists are still rounding on Lui to this day. He has caused more outrage than Leung’s controversial remarks at the same panel about love of country and state-sanctioned killings. That must have been some discussion.

One particularly incensed opinion writer on Stand News, the anti-government news website, went so far as to call Lui, well-known for his pro-mainland views, a liar unless he could provide “evidence” that prostitutes on the mainland accept mobile e-payment!

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It’s not clear what kind of evidence is required; Lui’s claim is not impossible. It has been reported, for example, that some beggars in Beijing and Jinan, in Shandong province, have been using printouts of QR codes to get people to donate money via Alipay and WeChat Wallet.

Last year, before she was disqualified as a lawmaker over improper oath-taking, the localist radical Yau Wai-ching caused a furore at a public forum for using a Cantonese slang for sexual intercourse. She was saying young people not only could not afford to buy their own property, they couldn’t even find private space in which to have sex.

Hong Kong is a pretty conservative place. The moral of such incidents is that you should avoid mentioning sex if you want to engage in serious public discourse.