Posts tagged ‘Beijing’


An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

29.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
   I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
   Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
   I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
   And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
   Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
   Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
   He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
   Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
   I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
   The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
   Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
   The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
   Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
   Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
   They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
   While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
   It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
   Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
   It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
   Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
   This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
   Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
   It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
   That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
   Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
   One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
   Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
   Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
   I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
   The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
   The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
   Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
   And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
   Taiwan, too, will be watching.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics | 1 Comment »


Four ingredients of leadership

26.01.2014

140121 Defining leadership_Page_02

I was asked by my Alma Mater, Victoria University of Wellington, to give a 90-minute lecture on leadership last week to students visiting New Zealand from Peking University and the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. (My half-serious suggestion that I spoke Cantonese and the three students from Guangdong who understood could translate to Mandarin to the rest of their classmates was turned down.) The above was the second slide, and the four main points I wanted to get across. When I posted this on Facebook and Instagram, it got quite a few likes, so I’m sharing it more publicly here.
   They were a personal look at my style of leadership and what drove my career over the last quarter-century or so.
   The first one was more down to luck and necessity than my being a great visionary who foresaw virtual firms and how we could be brought together through online communications. The second, however, is probably down to a number of factors, though one must also evaluate the risk of taking those steps.
   The third and fourth, however, should be things we can all accomplish, by finding causes close to our hearts.
   One student asked about the fourth, because she noted that there were circumstances where dissent might land one in trouble. (You may think I was taking a dig at China there, but I suspect Edward Snowden might have a thing or two to say about that.) I gave her the example of a person who had a criminal record for a minor matter because he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, and had repaid his debt to society. Did he deserve a leg up because you knew he was a good person? Now, what if that person wanted to go for a particular job? Even if the glass ceiling isn’t shattered, you can still put cracks in it if you believe he’s the best person for it. Help him out: give him feedback on his CV, offer him advice, help rehearse a job interview.
   What if it was someone who wanted to go to a good school but his parents couldn’t afford it? Would you write a letter of endorsement and put your weight behind his application for a scholarship—because you knew he would make the most of that opportunity?
   My apologies for the use of the masculine pronoun but the above are based on real-world examples.
   We all have something to offer the next person, and those opportunities to help others will always arise.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, social responsibility, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


How could the Chinese republic celebrate its centenary?

21.02.2010

Next year marks the centenary of the founding of the Chinese republic. We got rid of our rather hopeless Ching Dynasty, and ushered in Asia’s first democracy.
   Both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China see 1911 as an important year, and Dr Sun Yat-sen as the founder of the nation (here is a page from the Zhongshan government on Dr Sun which—shock—even mentions democracy). As the father of the country, his legacy one of the few things nationalists and communists agree on, even though technically the two sides remain in conflict and are in a state of Civil War. The Republic began on October 10, 1911, a date which tends to be celebrated by many, though it was formally declared on January 1, 1912.
   So, what might 2011 bring in terms of perspective?
   Idealists might point to some possibilities:

  • that closer economic ties across the Taiwan Strait mean the eventual formation of a Chinese commonwealth, with both sides maintaining the political impasse;
  • a review of the ideas of the republic as espoused by Dr Sun, and the greater acceptance of the political structure he believed in, which included cooperation between nationalists and communists;
  • that both sides of the political argument agree there are more commonalities than differences between all Chinese peoples.
  •    I doubt we’ll see political unity while Beijing is still governed by the Communist Party, which sees little point in changing its own structure to accommodate territories it considers its own. We see a similar view, officially, within the Kuomintang, interpreted in its favour. The regular triumph of ideology over practicality and the prospect of a joint future growth of ‘China’ gets in the way; the idea of an economic union or commonwealth might be the easiest way forward.
       Never mind what you call it internally, it is a solution in which both sides can claim victory, preserve face, and avoid bloodshed. The fact that no armistice has been signed by both signs is actually an advantage—because it means this difference of opinion can be solved technically as an internal matter, not one between two sovereign states.
       This is not an idea that the diehards like, so let the name-calling begin in the comments.
       But remember in whatever debate we enter, we should think of this question: since we all dislike what the Ching Dynasty did to China, what is the best way to honour the memory of the founding father of the nation in 2011?

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in China, culture, politics | No Comments »