Tiananmen Disappears from Esquire

The zeal of Hong Kong businessmen of dubious repute to ingratiate themselves with Beijing and trash Hong Kong's claims to media freedom seems to know few bounds. How else to explain the sudden disappearance of 16 pages from the June edition of the local (Chinese language) edition of Esquire, a glossy lifestyle magazine? It appears that the US Esquire, owned by Hearst Corp, has sold its franchise to interests which have no interest in free media but use it to gain advantage in the mainland real estate business.

The 16 missing pages were a series of interviews with Hong Kong personalities, some of whom had been around at the time of the Tiananmen massacre and involved on the margin. They included Esquire's editor back in 1989.

One of the interviews took place on a number 66 bus which runs from Central district to Stanley on the south side of Hong Kong island. This bus runs past the building which is now the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which was formerly the Hong Kong headquarters of Xinhua, the New China News Agency, and the focus of massive demonstrations following June 4. At that time the bus was numbered 64 but in yet another example of business interests attempting to re-write history for financial advantage, after June 4 it was re-designated as number 66.

By all accounts the interviews were mild stuff, even by the undemanding standards of a lifestyle magazine. But as soon the local "big boss" heard that Esquire was devoting space to these interviews he demanded it be stopped. By then it was actually too late to cover up all the traces of its June 4 "issue" except by canceling the whole issue and losing all the glossy advertising. So the June issue's contents page has references to articles which do not exist and a study of the pages numbers shows none between 142 and 157.

This prompted the reporter who did the interviews to write about the issue in her own blog. She expects the sack but, having been promised editorial freedom said she's not quitting. She wrote: "One phone call from the big boss …three hours later, our June 4 feature disappeared completely, like it's never existed." She said a top woman management executive claimed the content was "incitement". But the journalist stood her ground: "They took pages 143 -156 out of the Esquire magazine, but they cannot take the date June 4 off the calendar. Thanks to history, we see the true face of businessmen."

This is the same business family whose failed speculation and refusal to pay their debts cost Hong Kong taxpayers billions of dollars. Esquire is owned by South China Media whose chairman is Robert Ng and in which his daughter is a senior executive. Robert Ng, son of Singapore tycoon Ng Teng Fong, is the person who in 1987 drove the Hong Kong Futures Exchange into bankruptcy by refusing to pay margin calls on huge speculative positions taken through an offshore company he controlled. The exchange then had to be bailed out by the government.

Ng was subsequently about to be arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption when then governor David Wilson called a halt to the judicial process. Former diplomat Wilson was far more concerned with political deals than with good governance and the application of the law in Hong Kong.

So Ng was not only let off the hook but survived to become, through Sino Land and other ventures, one of the leading lights in the real estate cartel which keeps control of Hong Kong's biggest industry, by acting as Beijing's political agent, funding pro-Beijing politicians and offering lucrative jobs to former senior bureaucrats.