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  • James Tam

Hong Kong Deserves Riots and Separation of Powers

Hong Kong’s riots remind me of my late father’s somewhat unorthodox adage: “If a son beats his father, the father deserves it.”

Under normal circumstances, a father-beating son is either the product of atrocious upbringing, or the father is being unthinkably heinous. None of my father’s seven children ever assaulted him, not even verbally. He was trying to make us think about the cause and consequence of things.

These days, the young of Hong Kong is beating up their old man — the society which has brought them up. Does the “father” deserve it? I’d say yes. That’s why in this Reflect on Hong Kong series, my discussions are more focused on the last generation’s role in Monster Parents, The More Chaotic the Better, and Angry Youths and MADs.

I am not trying to justify the fatuous brutality and suicidal destructions of the young thugs. But unless we understand why they are the way they are, and face up to it, the problem will never go away.

Judging by some of the riot “tactics” alone, the mobsters are not necessarily genetic dummies. Their appalling lack of knowledge about the world, failure to understand their own uncontrollable ire, and pathetic inability to articulate the fuzzy “cause” which has driven them insane, are due to ignorance by design, or unforgivable negligence by the previous generation.

Maybe a few relatively clever youngsters do sense social imbalances in need of reform. But their youthful instincts and rebellious spirit have been effortlessly deflected in the wrong direction, even the opposite direction — a direction implanted into their brains like malware, since early school years. Instead of seeing extreme capitalism as the root cause of their plights, they become suicide-bombers for the oligarchs, corrupt fugitives hiding in Hong Kong, and dark forces from the outside. It’s saddening and frustrating, though the irony is so sharp it’s also kind of comical.

The older generation in Hong Kong cannot deny responsibility for having spawned a large number of befuddled sociopaths who can’t see beyond their own delusions.

Many visionary proposals put forward by the government after 1997 — such as Cyberport and Chinese Medicine Hub, the housing policies of two Chief Executives Tung and Leung, and national education — were at least headed in the right direction, attempting to pave the way for a more promising, coherent, and affordable milieu for the next generation. Perplexingly, they were rejected by the parents of today’s rampaging thugs. Hundreds of thousands marched against these proposals. Hongkongers had acquired a taste of mass protests, a newfound post-colonial excitement, through positive reinforcement. Every time they marched in numbers, albeit a tiny fraction of the silent majority, the government predictably apologised and withdrew, regardless of merits. It still does.

One would expect such a pliable and subservient government to be well loved. But the opposite is true. A new generation of semi-illiterate youngsters, facing a dwindling job market with few high level opportunities, unwilling to labour for an honest living, walking pass houses they can never afford, are trying to wreck it. Every consequence has a cause. The beastly sons have grown to hold the “father” in contempt for all their obscure frustrations.

Wealth disparity in Hong Kong has reached alarming levels, largely due to a system which most of the unhappy victims vehemently support.

The most dreadful thing about wealth disparity is not that some people have a lot more money than others. Hong Kong people had long been acclimatised to snuggle inside grotesque wealth gaps. Furthermore, even the poorest don’t starve. Comparing with the fast-growing bottom class in the USA, Hong Kong’s grassroots are still enviably better off. The biggest cancer in Hong Kong is the pervasive powers of the tycoons, reaching well beyond previous boundaries set by colonial masters. While cliche-loving citizens chant “everyone is equal under the law”, the tycoon class defines the law, and sits above it, invisible to those underneath.

In the olden days, everyone was poor. There were plenty of room to move up. Lining up for shared toilets in cramped public estates, my generation daydreamed about their children moving to Repulse Bay one day. Upward mobility has practically stalled in recent decades. The upper rungs of the social ladder are fully occupied by rising dross, lifted by hereditary privileges. Hong Kong in this way is very similar to its idol, the United States, experiencing the inevitable consequences of extreme capitalism.

Sadly, surreally, shockingly, brain-stamped victims march on like zombies, chanting Freedom and Democracy! Long Live Free Economy! Stupidity is sardonically fascinating.

What Hong Kong badly needs is division of powers — division of two powers with Chinese characteristics.

After more than a century of mental solidification under colonial rule, followed by corporate media indoctrination and General Knowledge classes at school, Hong Kong folks worship so-called “division of powers” between judiciary, executive and legislature without knowing what it is, but with a cultish fervour. This contradictory and often hypocritical political concept has never worked above the level of petty crimes and classical felonies anywhere, because it’s simply not feasible. At the law-and-order level, mainland China actually also practices something similar. It just doesn’t froth about its own house rules all day like some lunatics do.

At a higher level, China practises a different kind of power division, something which has a long history in the Middle Kingdom, but requires constant experimenting, updating, and strengthening against subversive forces. Though little mentioned, it’s a fundamental factor in China’s relative success.

I call this practice the Separation of State and Capital — the division of political and private capital powers.

Unfortunately, anything with a hint of socialism is reflexively rejected, often vehemently, by the increasingly impoverished capitalistic cultists in Hong Kong, to whom the two-system label has assumed an untouchable, therefore static, status in a dynamic world. Consequently, Hongkongers feel the need to rebalance with socialist remedies, but adamantly screw themselves deeper and tighter into the capitalistic dead-end instead. No wonder it’s getting a headache.

The Separation of State and Capital is critically important in maintaining an acceptable degree of social fairness. In China, most top tycoons who used capitalistic leverage to place themselves and their private interests above those of society are in jail. Some got away in time, and have been leading a life of shopping, based in the Peak or the seaside in Hong Kong villas. Recently, their long lost “revolutionary spirits” have been revived by Carrie Lam’s extradition proposal. I believe living in Hong Kong has dulled their political judgement. Their over-enthusiasm in the current riots may have spelled the end of their exile sooner than they think.

But the most ironic aspect of this joint-venture revolution by multiple forces is that youthful ideals with an underlying cause rooted in wealth disparity was easily hijacked and manipulated by some of the most cynical and despicable monies.

The Dark Forces of the empire are omnipresent, like pathogens …

Of course no social turmoil on the planet is complete without the presence of imperial dark forces. This time, Taiwan has also been quite excited about the opportunity to show that one-country-two-systems fails. To be fair, such complex geopolitical plays are far beyond Hong Kong’s ability to handle. The Central Government has been busy. The recent change in posture towards Taiwan, the change of CEO at the HSBC, the trade/currency wars with the Empire are all intricate moves related to multiple frontlines. Hong Kong may just be one of them.

Hong Kong should just focus on things within our purview and responsibility. Dark Forces are omnipresent, like pathogens. When we are healthy, viruses are merely a tasteless and unseen source of protein. But when we’re down, those tiny contemptible bugs can make us sick, or even kill us. Instead of complaining about bugs which can never be shamed or shooed way, it’s more productive to examine our own systemic vulnerabilities or sicknesses. It’s also useful to remember that antibiotic is not the most effective means to combat pathogens in the long run.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong continues to be the best negative example for the rest of the country…

Hong Kong has clearly demonstrated the dire endpoint of excessive capitalism, as well as the stupefying effects of empty slogans on innocent minds. More importantly is the consequence of “monster parenting”, as that is a more general Chinese weakness. We are good at teaching kids to break the poverty barrier when poor. But monster tendencies surface with affluence. The roots of Hong Kong’s troubles are a sobering reminder to the 1.4 billion people on the other side of the one country, enjoying relative sanity in an alternative system. Let Hong Kong be the national inoculant against monstrous mutations of youngsters.

James Tam 12.08.2019

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