To Communicate or To Alienate?

We dare not expect Tang, who seems to be living in fantasyland, to realize that his comments are totally counter-productive if they were ever meant in any way to bridge the gap of communication between those in power and the post-80 generation and their sympathizers. His mentality is unfortunately reflective of that of a great number of arrogant, self-important and selfish post-50s who have been comfortably enjoying the fruits of Hong Kong’s economic success over the last few decades, who occupy the top echelons of society and who are stonily hard-hearted towards the plight and adversity faced by many in the post-80 generation in the midst of an exceedingly unequal society. Tang is obviously blind to the fact that the inequalities and social injustices have steadily been deepened by idiotic public policies ushered by an obtuse and incompetent administration and goaded in the background by an overbearing property cartel.

He made four crucial points in his speech at the aforesaid function.

His first point is about the need to balance an individual’s and a corporation’s rights and duties and that an individual, in exercising his right, is also bound by civic duty to respect others’ rights. It seems this comment would be best directed at big corporates who have their property rights well protected but who have a habit of ignoring their social responsibility by unethically exploiting legal loopholes to fleece consumers (like selling flats with inflated floor area). Nothing that the post-80s have done so far has indicated that they do not respect others’ rights. Even at times of protests (like the anti-Express-Rail-Link demonstrations), they have consistently shown restraint and respect for social order.

His second point is to advise young people to refrain from dictating thoughts (思想壟斷) and to respect the views and opinions of others and not to engage in caustic accusations, verbal or written. It is really funny that he should use the phrase “dictating thoughts” – isn’t that something that only an authoritarian government is capable of doing? I would think not even the die-hard 5-cent gang members would go so far as to hurl such a baseless accusation at the post-80s. As for youngsters firing off a few emotional but reasoned remarks now and then under provocation by some inane policy-makers or pro-government legislators who have absolutely no sense of right and wrong, much less a sense of duty towards citizens, why is that so objectionable?

He then went on to remark that if youngsters choose to stubbornly charge ahead with their ideals, they may be heading for self-destruction like in a car crash (this expression was once used by mainland official Chen Zuoer during the Sino-British dispute in 1995). This comment is indeed un-called for and lacks any sensitivity. Whether or not a society can move towards the ideal of an egalitarian community depends to a large extent on whether it has fresh-thinking young people with a passionate sense of ethics and justice and innovative ideas about social reform. Hong Kong should count itself lucky that there is such a group of young activists, whose ultimate and selfless objective is to fight for a more equal and just society and to reclaim citizens’ right to have a say in town planning, urban and rural development and use-of-public-space issues.

[Chief Secretary Tang, I have had the honor of meeting some of those passionate young people on my recent trip to Hong Kong (having already met a few others on my July trip), and please believe me, they understand fully where Hong Kong’s key problems lie and they know what they are doing. And may I suggest that you take the time to speak with and try to understand what the young people are thinking before you give condescending and farcical lectures to them next time.]

The third point he made is that young people should learn to compromise. I’m quite sure that the post-80s (at least those whom I came to know) do not need to be taught common sense. On the other hand though, too much compromise would compromise a principle or principles of activism, which would not be acceptable either. My own take is that government and those in power are the ones who are most averse to the idea of compromise. Examples are aplenty: government’s recalcitrant insistence on hosting the next Asian Games; the bulldozing through legislature of the building of the super-expensive Express Rail Link; the ramming through of the lowering of property compulsory sale threshold from 90 to 80 percent; Queen’s Pier and Star Ferry relocation; Wedding Street redevelopment etc. etc.

When Tang made the fourth point that one should not look at complex issues in simplistic ways, he also complained that the post-80s often paint everything with a broad brush labeled “government-business collusion” and “channeling benefits”. First of all, in my view, the post-80 activists, as I have said above, are well cognizant of the true causes of Hong Kong’s deep-seated conflicts, with all the land policy-related and economic concentration complexities. They are definitely not “simple and naïve”, like some government officials are. In fact, they are much more in touch with realities than most from the administration. About the labeling part, as far as I know, reports of incidents that smack of government-business collusion usually first appear in the mainstream media, and such reports are then commented on by post-80 activists in various blogs and videos. It is not fair to lay blame on the post-80s as if they are the ones who initiate groundless accusations. It is true that some reporters from InmediaHK also do their own investigative reporting, but their reports are invariably based on facts and research.

Lastly, Tang quoted the U.S. gunshot killings as a warning about the possibility of violence that might erupt as a result of agitated activism. I would dare anyone to come up with an explanation of any logical relevance of the Arizona shooting case (in which the murder suspect is believed to be psychologically unstable) to possible activism violence in Hong Kong.