Youth should value Lam’s olive branch
Two days before the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day holiday the BBC interviewed me and asked about prospects for Hong Kong. I gave an optimistic answer, citing the durability of “one country, two systems” and, above all, the fine qualities of our young people who, with maturity, we could expect to be effective leaders in future years. However, within 24 hours I was already having doubts about my favorable verdict. Two events were responsible for this change of heart.
The first came from BBC World Service television — and on HKSAR Establishment Day itself. The television showed the disappointing images of Hong Kong that were being flashed around the world as demonstrators and police scuffled, and the activists were bundled away. I have met some of these protesters and knew others by reputation. They include intelligent, wellmotivated young people who are willing to make sacrifices for their beliefs. This makes it all the more disturbing that they seem stuck in a rut of repeating the kind of tactics they have used over and over again. They protest with no clear goal in sight so their behavior seems like demonstrating for its own sake. They inevitably suffer injuries themselves and tie up valuable social resources, particularly police manpower. This would all be bad enough but what leaves a sour taste in the mouth is that this mayhem was being created as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuetngor was taking office as chief executive — and she is someone who has frequently stated that one of her priorities is a better dialogue with Hong Kong’s young people. Would it not have been a better use of their time to sit and plan how to use this new opportunity, to thrash out issues and proposals they wish to put to her and her senior team?
The right to peaceful protest is one of Hong Kong’s treasured freedoms. However, this right has to be respected and exercised with propriety and wisdom. In today’s circumstances, it is hardly surprising that this year’s July 1 march showed a sharp decline in the number of participants. Rather than engaging the community, this demonstration has become more like a little club for the selfregarding and self-absorbed minority. Hong Kong people are in general pragmatic and peace-loving. For very good reasons, they will shun and, in the case of parents, urge their children to shun, events that look likely to degenerate into violence.
Thus I felt disheartened that the world was being given a picture of Hong Kong as a city riven with dissent rather than a place where people are ready to join hands to find mutually agreeable solutions to governance issues. Very soon afterward, something else occurred that was different in kind and scale but only added to my concerns about the direction this city of ours was taking willynilly.
I ran into someone I have known for a while, a young woman of outstanding intelligence and thoughtfulness, a polite and considerate person whom anyone would be proud to have as a friend. However, she did not seem her usual composed self, and it turned out she had been the victim of a very nasty incident when, as a passenger on a bus, she had been subjected to hostile abuse by three Hong Kong residents. How had she provoked this? What crime had she committed? She had been heard speaking Putonghua. I told her this was not an isolated experience: an American Chinese person living here had mentioned to me that she customarily used English in local shops after finding that her Putonghua produced a very negative reaction.
And what was truly ironic was that both these women had their origins in Taiwan rather than the Chinese mainland. We like to believe that our city is a safe and welcoming place but, in recent times, too many of our fellow citizens let us down and behave in a distinctly self-righteous and gratuitously abusive manner.
We cannot afford to be complacent or to minimize these distressing examples of things being other than they should. They are both characterized by mindlessness and intolerance that leads to a purposeless and damaging lashing out. Our youth should lead the way in demonstrating civility toward all and a willingness to think analytically and objectively rather than behaving like oafish brutes. Reason and self-control are among civilized human beings’ greatest gifts, and it’s through their further cultivation that society will progress. Our society will be rendered asunder if one sector tries to impose its will through brute force. Dialogue, as our new CE has continuously offered, is the only way to overcome our differences and move forward.
If I am fortunate enough to live to see the 40th anniversary of the reunification, I hope I will be able to give the BBC and anyone else who wants to listen an account of a special administrative region that has fulfilled all its promise and potential and not of a once-great city which has stagnated because some of its most vocal people carelessly threw away its many advantages because of pigheaded factionalism.
Mother uses a shopping trolley to give her son’s legs a break as they weave between gridlocked cars on a Tai Po street.