A muddle-headed toddler leading a blindfolded donkey.
It’s the article that many in the Chinese mainland are reading to help them understand — or, depending on one’s viewpoint, misunderstand — what Hong Kong is all about. As pro-democracy protests court worldwide attention, this screed, which purports to be written by an anonymous member of the Hong Kong legislature and can be found on the Internet as early as July 6, is helping shape the mainland Chinese discourse about what the protests mean. The avowedly anti-democratic article, which at one point refers to Hong Kongers as "peasant farmers," has been repeatedly re-titled, re-published, and re-circulated on the Chinese web since its publication. FP translates, and abridges.*
To understand why Hong Kong is in decline, we must first understand why it rose in the first place: its longstanding role as a transit station for trade and communication between the mainland and the West. Yet in the 1990s, and especially after Hong Kong returned to mainland Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong’s favorable status began to fade.
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Many Hong Kong residents blame this on Hong Kong government incompetence, but this explanation does not hold water. The true reason is that direct ties between mainland China and the Western world as well as Taiwan have strengthened. Hong Kong’s position as a center for trade arose only because of the difficulties that foreign countries faced in trading directly with China. As these difficulties have now dissipated, why is there any need to take a Hong Kong detour?
But Hong Kong isn’t necessarily doomed; it can still rebrand itself by selectively developing emerging and low-end industries. As Hong Kong has a population of several million, it should choose to develop industries in which many people can grow rich, not just a small business elite. It should also choose to expand industries that cannot easily relocate to other regions. Take Hong Kong’s formerly dazzling film scene, for example. Today its big movie stars are still technically from Hong Kong, but they spend more than half the year filming in mainland China. The reason today’s Hong Kong-made movies are a far cry from the city’s many cinema hits in the 1990s is that the mainland has drained its talent.
Hong Kong’s real problem is that most people have no awareness of changing patterns of development, and thus are not psychologically prepared for economic restructuring. The attitudes of many in Hong Kong could even be described as "reckless."
In the last two years, conflict between Hong Kong residents and mainland tourists has repeatedly made the news, with one Hong Kong resident notoriously calling mainlanders "locusts," and a Hong Kong tour guide verbally abusing mainland tourists. That’s odd, considering that in recent years tourism has been one of Hong Kong’s few flourishing industries; you could even say that tourism is the hope of Hong Kong’s industrial restructuring. But from looking at the news, people might think that Hong Kong is actually a terrible tourist destination. Allowing one’s own home to develop such a wayward reputation — what kind of attitude is this?
That’s just another example of Hong Kong residents not understanding how Hong Kong developed in the first place. On the surface, Hong Kongers seem to be outstanding representatives of the ascendancy of market capitalism. But in their bones, they remain peasant farmers unable to see beyond their tiny tract of land. They give lip service to international trade, but they don’t understand that Hong Kong’s rise relies on the Chinese market. Thus, the people of Hong Kong have experienced that city’s development with muddle-headed confusion. Today, they stagnate in muddle-headed confusion. I can thus predict that in the future, they will decline in muddle-headed confusion.
Of course, many in Hong Kong refuse to acknowledge this. They prefer to blame Hong Kong’s current stagnation upon the Special Administrative Region’s government, claiming that things are worse than they were under the British. That is absurd. In fact, there is no difference between today’s SAR government and Hong Kong’s British government. They are both "colonial governments." In order to maintain stability when Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, Beijing promised that Hong Kong’s political system would remain unchanged for 50 years. This means that Hong Kong’s current government is the same as the one it had under the British, and is still a colonial government.
So who is making the decisions then? No one. Hong Kong is incapable of making adjustments in the face of economic change, because it is like a car that has lost its steering wheel. Naturally, it is bumping into everything, and the further it goes, the worse it gets.
And as a car without a steering wheel, which direction the wheels turn depends on which potholes the car hits. In Hong Kong, those potholes are public sentiment. Public opinion is like the face of a toddler, constantly changing. Without a steady direction for policymaking, blindly following public opinion means that policy will constantly flip-flop.
Some in Hong Kong say that the city’s economy is tepid because its government doesn’t obey public opinion. But Hong Kong’s prosperity has nothing to do with popular will. Did the British colonial government care about Hong Kong public opinion? Besides, the SAR government does not ignore public opinion — like a blindfolded donkey, it allows itself to be led around the millstone of public opinion.
Consequently, lawmaking has been dominated by the establishment faction, which is rigid and unable to reform, while the pro-democracy faction has hijacked policymaking in the name of meaningless trivia. These two factions have completely overwhelmed Hong Kong residents with political farce.
Now, if the Chinese government were to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs, would it be able to reverse this trend and guide Hong Kong’s economy toward successful transition? The outlook is not optimistic. The real problem is Hong Kongers’ sense of superiority towards mainlanders: "We are a wealthy, advanced, open-minded superior class; you are a poor, ignorant, closed-minded inferior class. How can we compromise for you? Naturally, it should be you who change your song for us." As long as people in Hong Kong maintain this attitude, any attempt by the Chinese government to intervene in Hong Kong affairs will only result in even stronger backlashes. Healthy, sustainable reform must be built upon the foundation of rational political strategizing. But with one side completely lacking the ability to make rational decisions, how can discussion of reform even begin? For this attitude to change, Hong Kong’s economic situation must first fall far below that of China’s coastal cities. Without this, nothing will overcome Hong Kongers’ sense of superiority.
Potential for reform exists, but the people of Hong Kong are incapable of taking this road, and yet refuse to accept Chinese government guidance. This is one true deadlock.
Translated by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.
*Clarification, Oct. 7, 2014: For the sake of brevity, this translation is of portions of the original. The introduction to this translation originally omitted that it is an abridged translation. (Return to reading.)