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:
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.
“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.
The most interesting form of public transport in Hong Kong, at least to this humble resident, are its minibuses, which were formerly and more evocatively called maxicabs, and are legally called Public Light Buses. Hundreds of thousands of commuters ride them every day, but they are also notorious for their idiosyncratic drivers, some of whom, especially those in charge of the red minibuses at night, drive as though they have a death wish. The supposed undesirability of a death wish in public bus drivers by those boring bureaucrats in their ivory offices and those spineless politicians in the Legislative Council has led to the legislation of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Ordinance 2012. Among other effects, this legally [but not physically, for now] limits their speed at all times to 80 kilometres per hour (just under 50 miles per hour). The ordinance also requires the display of this nannying and ugly notice:
I just found out that the Hong Kong government’s Department of Transport publishes a yearly newsletter for those involved in driving and operating the Special Administrative Region’s minibuses. In a sign of the limits of bilingualism here, as well as the undeniable truth that every driver of public transport here that I’ve ever seen is Chinese, the newsletter is only in Chinese. Or, even better, it is written to some extent in Cantonese, and also uses comics to transmit its message of wholesome, healthy minibus driving. Here’s the latest newsletter, and two pages from it (4 and 5, specifically) excerpted for your perverted delectation:
Jackie Chan is absolutely right that Hong Kong has become a “city of protest”, although he hasn’t shown the same enjoyment and enthusiasm for it as his fellow entrepôt-dwellers, preferring to go in for a more Mainstream Mainland-style crushing of dissent, including a quirky bureaucratic element of having “rules to determine what people can protest about and on what issues they can’t protest about”. [The traditional indigenous response to Mr. Chan can be observed here. I can attest this also works with other idiots, including me.]
But hold on, that most mainstream of Mainland websites, Sina Weibo — “the Chinese equivalent of Twitter” as glossophiliacs have it — has been allowing photos from today’s anti-Mainland demonstrations (see screenshot above, which at the time of writing could still be found on Weibo). Is Mr. Chan even more retrograde than previously envisaged? Maybe the Mainland authorities have finally seen the light and stopped censoring online discussion so assiduously… Let’s start this new Gregorian year on that quixotic note.