Now that I am spending part of my time in Shenzhen, I have become a big fan of the Chinese ride-sharing app Didi Chuxing. It is very convenient and, compared to the cost of taking a taxi in Hong Kong, is quite affordable. For instance, a 6km, 10-minute journey last week cost me the equivalent of HK$18, paid for with a credit card registered to the app. It costs more to use the service during peak hours, or if your choose not to car-pool, but in general, Didi is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to get around the sprawling city of Shenzhen.
In Hong Kong, I am wary of using similar apps because of their suspect legality. Following police raids on Uber offices and its drivers being found guilty of illegal car hire, I am not sure if I would share any culpability as a paying customer. As for taxis, passengers have yet to be offered the convenience of paying for fares with Octopus card or credit cards. I am convinced that each time a taxi passenger mines their pocket or purse for the fare, that half-minute of fumbling fingers and flapping wallets escalates into more congestion on Hong Kong’s busy roads.
This is just one example that illustrates the curious streak of conservatism in our supposedly dynamic, forward-looking city. From land use and housing solutions, to food and beverage licensing and car-hire apps, there is a pervasive “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality that confines decision-makers into taking the road most travelled, if indeed any road is taken at all. Additional rope, in the form of vested interests, is also provided to bind the hands of any politician or civil servant who ventures outside the box.
The Chinese phrase moshou chenggui is a fitting description of this state of affairs. Literally “Mo Di’s defences becoming fixed rules”, the phrase disparages people or organisations that are fixated on tried and tested methods, to the detriment of progress.
Mo Di (circa 470–391BC), was a philosopher who advocated impartial love for one’s fellow man and meritocratic government. His writings also explored mathematics and physical science, and it was for this reason that he was valued as a defence engineerduring the turbulent Warring States Period.
The State of Chu was planning to attack the weaker State of Song. The plan was to storm its castle defences using a “cloud ladder” invented by master carpenter Lu Ban, but Mo Di advised the king of Chu against carrying out the attack. He simulated an attack on a castle using his belt as a wall and pieces of wood to represent “cloud ladders” and the defence systems he had in place in Song. The cloud ladders proved no match for the defences and the king had to call off the invasion.
Mo Di’s defences were a force of good, but language sometimes takes a perverse turn and “Mo Di’s defences” (moshou) eventually “became fixed rules” (chenggui), transmuting into a byword for a stuck-in-the-mud mindset. In the same way, many of Hong Kong’s policies and practices, like Mo Di’s defences, have served the city well, but most things have a use-by date. Recognising this will put Hong Kong back in the business of improving the lives of its residents.