Private Eye notes weak UK response to Hong Kong’s protests could be related to new MTR operations there

The latest issue (1377) of the British satirical mostly-dead-tree-press newspaper/magazine Private Eye contains the following story on page 5. I present it for the record with added links to the indispensable, an online Who’s Who of Hong Kong, as well as other sources.

Eastern Promises

The Hong Kong democracy protests might not make it to Britain, but those suppressing them, for example with indiscriminate use of tear gas, have gained a foothold.

When the London Crossrail network opens in 2019 (if all goes to plan), it won’t be operated publicly or even by a British company but by MTR Corporation, the company that runs Hong Kong’s metro system. It is 75 percent owned by the special administrative region’s government and is chaired by Raymond Chi’en Kuo Fung [錢果豐; "Ch'ien" is the surname, and appropriately enough means "money"!], a director of British bank HSBC’s operation in the territory [and with many other positions besides, including director at UGL, the company who it was recently discovered secretly paid CY Leung to support its purchase of DTZ! He also received a CBE from the colonial British government in 1994. Is that who CY means by "foreign forces" interfering in Hong Kong?].

The £1.4bn deal signed with Transport for London in March, with which London mayor Boris Johnson pronounced himself “delighted”, brings the capital and the Hong Kong authorities closer and is unlikely to do much for the UK government’s spineless response to the authoritarian clampdown in its former colony. David Cameron has conspicuously failed to back the protesters’ demands for free elections and, with a main element of his capital’s transport system soon to depend on a regional government that doesn’t want to upset Beijing, he isn’t likely to either.

Guest post: my friend’s plea for democracy in Hong Kong

Mr. Zhang of the Liaison Office reportedly told the democrats to thank their lucky stars for still being “alive” under Beijing’s leniency. Quartz updated on the friendly reminder with a link to a Chinese article covering the August meeting in its actual context; turned out the democrats were only told they were lucky to be still “sitting here today” (

Lost in translation or an educated guess? Did Zhang mean it was a heavenly gift that these dissidents even had the honour of sitting in the same room with His Highness and pretending to have a discussion, or was the comment tinted with a threat of unspeakable consequences? I’d like to think they wouldn’t go that far, but every time we thought so they managed to surprise us.

Either way, we can’t say they didn’t warn us when we see, one day, people of different opinions to Beijing’s silenced by whatever means. Just unlucky, right?

Anyhow, we have long entered an era of state level triad rule. Blackmail, anonymous attacks, mysterious “suddenly red” groups, organisations and leaders out of nowhere. It’s going from annoying to unnerving.

One common rebuttal to such lamenting I encounter is that HK had never been a democratic society under the colonial rule, so why should it be entitled to more autonomy now? There are many reasons why this is an idiotic argument (sorry my friends, I truly think so, and you’re welcome to confront or unfriend me if you think it matters to you personally). For practical reasons, the life we enjoy and things we endorse in HK will simply not be allowed with people like Zhang directing you what to and what not to think. It’s perfectly true that HK is always known for being a (relatively) free society without democracy (“有自由無民主”), and it flourished while many democracies struggle to tackle poverty. However, that was under an entirely different leadership, in style and in interest. The foundations of Hong Kong’s past success were many things, but the absence of a democratic electoral system wasn’t one of them. People were able to enjoy “freedom” because the colonial government chose to implement lax policies, a leniency that resulted from decisions made by individual governors on the advice of think tanks and advisors, which had nothing to do with universal suffrage or the lack thereof. What Zhang achieved was to confirm that the standard of leniency has since dropped considerably. Under an autocratic administration, freedom as we know it can be easily taken away, and it’s precisely why we need a better checks-and-balances system to safeguard the few rights we still have. Democracy is not some idealists’ dream, it’s a practical , imperfect tool widely adopted in the contemporary world albeit being commonly miscarried. It won’t be the ultimate solution, but it will give ordinary people a little voice and it will help people like the pan-democrats feel a little safer to tell Zhang to STFU when he decided it was appropriate to say what he did. It’s really in no one’s interest to indulge in the illusion that the current “freedom without democracy” model would be sustainable under Beijing’s watch, and for people like Robert Chow who are counting on Beijing to reward them, just remember the old lesson from those before you: to keep accompanied the Emperor is to keep accompanied a tiger. Hold on to your British passport, Mr. Chow.

Private Eye is blind to Hong Kong’s civilisation

Private Eye is the UK’s best and most popular satirical newspaper, and hence just best newspaper. An equivalent in Hong Kong would be marvellous. (Tell me if you know one!). As it is studiously almost entirely only available in print form, I have it delivered to my tiny letterbox every fortnight. You can borrow my copy after I finish with it, if you like.

It is not perfect, however. Its Nooks and Corners column concerning architecture is, to this layman, extremely conservative and arrogant, rarely liking any new construction that does not genuflect to old buildings and styles. Usually I just skip it.

But I couldn’t skip over this paragraph in Issue 1364 (the 18 April to 1 May 2014 edition), about some proposals to build tall buildings in central London, some with over 20 (!!) storeys, after an inexplicable note that these buildings will be residential rather than commercial:

But are they [the relatively tall buildings] being build in the right places? High buildings, of dubious merit, suddenly seem to be springing up everywhere, subject to little planning control and regardless of any strategic plan for London, threatening to make the banks of the Thames look more like Dubai or Hong Kong than a supposedly civilised European city.

As someone who has never faced anything even approaching verbal abuse in Hong Kong, unlike in London where walking alone at night in many areas is a stupid idea, I’m curious about this racist’s definition of what constitutes “civilisation”.

Hearses in Hong Kong: just ugly, or incompatible?

The hearses in Hong Kong are strikingly ugly. As I live Hung Hom, which is famous for its cluster of flower shops and funeral homes (uncoincidentally), I see these hearses very often, but I am still shocked each time. It looks like the corpse is being taken not a cemetery, but to a rubbish dump. Optimistically, perhaps they are taken instead to a cybernetics-enhancement station designed to make the economy even more pumped-up with regenerated elderly who have been installed with a new brain designed to lead to acceptance and love of manual labour and simple retail service jobs.

For comparison, a typical hearse in England looks like this, sleek and respectful and not going to create a new zombified workforce:

Even the magnificent and magnificently rich Run Run Shaw wasn’t immune from the ugliness of the Hong Kong hearse, as well as the ugliness of the Hong Kong media (long may the latter remain thus!):

Run Run Shaw still interesting while dead

Apparently some locals complain about the presence of the hearses, just because they are ugly, as far as I can tell, with complaints about their air pollution possibly a joke. Funeral homes are “incompatible businesses” according to some Orwellian Forum I’ve never heard of and that I hope doesn’t actually have any power to do anything except pretend it is important. At least they have enough of a sense of humour (or no sense at all?) to proudly call themselves by their acronym “Durf” in the homepage title.

Frost in Hong Kong, elsewhere

I’m trying something different (how exciting): publishing my fantastically interesting graphs and R code about Hong Kong on, with the help of Rstudio and knitr.

So this post is actually at Go look at it now. Here’s a preview if you’re still not tempted. Now you can go.



Margaret Thatcher and Hong Kong

Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the UK, and the first female head of government in Europe, has died. Here are some pictures of her in a Hong Kong context:

Margaret Thatcher on a classic Hong Kong tram.
Margaret Thatcher greeted with adulation while on a classic Hong Kong tram.
Less adulation for Maggie at the 1st July 2012 protest
Less adulation for Maggie at the 1st July 2012 protest

There is a lot of anger nowadays over the role of the British government, and Thatcher in particular, for giving China control of Hong Kong and essentially washing their hands of the place. But the historical record is clear that actually Thatcher was against returning all of Hong Kong initially, and only acceded when Deng Xiaoping made it clear he would invade if necessary.

I leave the last word on the Hong Kong perspective to the Big Lychee, who is basically right about her influence and symbolism, and especially why so many are wrong about her.

Update: Oh, new last word: A broadcast interview with Margaret Thatcher about Hong Kong and China. Does anyone know more details about it, such as who is interviewing her and when?

Another update: A transcript of a speech in the House of Lords by Margaret Thatcher given in December 1992, soon after she become a member of that chamber. One depressing quote:

“It is already agreed that half the members of the Legislative Council will be directly elected in the year 2003. That means that there could be universal suffrage by 2007, 10 years after the end of Britain’s responsibility. It is not perfect perhaps, but it is a provision for steady and orderly progress towards full democratic elections.”

Her strong support for democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, including Chris Patten’s attempts to expand the franchise in 1995 against the vehement opposition of the Chinese government and its local lackeys, should give the current pro-“business” anti-democracy forces in Hong Kong much pause.