Posts tagged ‘communism’


An expat’s thoughts about Hong Kong

01.09.2019


Studio Incendo/Creative Commons 2·0

As an expat, I’ve been asked a few times about what I think of the Hong Kong protests. There’s no straight answer to this. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The British never gave us universal suffrage, so the notion that it was all roses before 1997 is BS. The best the Brits managed was half of LegCo toward the end, but before that it was pitiful. And the express reasons they didn’t give it to us, certainly in the mid-20th century, were racist.
  • Having said that, I’d love to see half of LegCo up for grabs, if not more.
  • The extradition bill is, in the grand scheme, pretty minor. If the PRC really wants to grab you, they will.
  • However, I totally get that codifying it into law gives them greater authority, or is perceived to give them that.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time the US State Department and others meddled in our affairs, and I don’t believe this is an exception.
  • Expecting the British to help out is a hiding to nothing. The Shadow Cabinet was critical of John Major’s Conservatives in the 1990s over Hong Kong, and when in office, months before the handover, was arguably even less effective. There’ll be the occasional op-ed from Chris Patten. Not much else. The UK is too mired in its own issues anyway, looking more and more like the sort of failed state that it professes to “help” right now.
  • It hasn’t helped that HK Chinese feel that our culture is under threat, including our language, and there hasn’t been any indication from the PRC of alleviating this (the old playbook again). Observers inside China may see HKers’ embrace of its internationalist culture as colonial and subservient to foreigners; HKers see it as a direct contrast to the lack of openness within the PRC between 1949 and the early 1980s and as a “freer” expression of Chineseness. Arguments could be made either way on the merits of both positions. That resentment has been stoked for some time, and HKers will only need to point to the Uighurs as an indication of their fears.
  • Withdrawal of the bill, even temporarily, would have been wiser, as it’s not a time for the PRC to get hard-line over this. This shouldn’t be a case of us v. them. This is, however, a perfect opportunity to have dialogue over reinterpreting “one country, two systems”, and persuade the ROC of its merit—the Chinese commonwealth idea that has been in my thoughts for a long time. However, Xi is one of the old-school tough guys, and this mightn’t be on his agenda. China hasn’t exactly gone to young people to ask them what they think—we never have, whether you’re talking about the imperial times, the period between 1911 and 1949, or afterwards.
  • This might be my romantic notions of Hong Kong coloured by childhood memories, but the place thrived when the young could express themselves freely through music and other arts. They felt they had a voice and an identity.
  • Right now there’s a huge uncertainty about who we are. I think we’re proudly Chinese in terms of our ethnicity and heritage, and we might even think our ideas of what this means are superior to others’. Rose-coloured glasses are dangerous to don because they don’t tell us the truth. But we might be nostalgic for pre-1997 because the expression of our identity was so much clearer when the ruling power was nothing like us. Who cares if they thought we were a bunch of piccaninnies if they just let us get on with our shit? Now there’s a battle between “our Chineseness” versus “their Chineseness” in the eyes of some HKers. Thanks to certain forces stoking the tensions, and probably using the resentment HK Chinese feel, there isn’t a comfortable, foreseeable way out any time soon.

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How MG Rover mirrored the developments at Lada

02.11.2010

I still have Adam Curtis’s The Mayfair Set, a TV series charting the decline of British power and the rise of the technocracy, recorded on video cassette somewhere. I consider him someone who can see through the emperor having no clothes, and in The Mayfair Set, he certainly saw through the Empire having no clothes.
   As I type this, John Barry’s ‘Vendetta’ is going through my head as an earworm: the series used this piece as its theme tune.
   On my friend Keith Adams’s Facebook page was a link to Curtis’s blog at the BBC website, titled with a reference to another song, this time from Maurice Jarre’s Doctor Zhivago score. Curtis begins by saying that he uncovered a 1977 film about two British Leyland workers heading to Togliattigrad, where the Жигули (Zhiguli, or Lada to those of us outside the Soviet Bloc) was built.
ВАЗ-2101   At Togliattigrad, the managers used the chaos that was allowed to prevail to set up their alternative economic structures to line their own pockets—and corruption was rife.
   He writes, ‘What then happened is murky, but it is alleged that the managers in effect looted their own factory.’
   So far, so good. It read as a story about the bad old days of communism—till Curtis draws the clear parallels between Togliattigrad and what happened in the last days of the remnants of British Leyland. The Phoenix Four used money meant for the plant for themselves.
   Curtis again: ‘The Phoenix directors systematically restructured the business. They did it in a way that ensured that many economic benefits flowed not to MG Rover and the thousands of workers, but to the directors themselves and the man they appointed chief executive of MG Rover.
   ‘The [government] report [into the collapse of MG Rover] is over 800 pages—and it is a fascinating snapshot of our time. It lists all sorts of schemes with names like “Project Slag”, “Project Platinum” and “Project Aircraft”—all of them designed to try and bring profits not into MG Rover but into the holding company set up by the Phoenix consortium.’
   No more western superiority here: chaos—whether in the political, social, cultural or commercial realms—breeds opportunity for many. The trick is always to ensure that the opportunists are those who can put things right, rather than selfishly benefit themselves.
Beyond Branding cover   Some might see Curtis’s blog entry as a criticism of the monetarist, technocratic system—as was The Mayfair Set.
   But it is equally a story about how the absence of transparency breeds systems that benefit the few—regardless of whether the background is communism or capitalism.
   These are themes that we at the Medinge Group explored as early as 2003 in Beyond Branding, written in the wake of the Enron collapse. We’ve partly stayed on the same theme over the last eight years, because history shows us that transparency is often the enemy of inequity and unfairness. And even the technocracy.

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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?

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