Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong and its people will continue to speak up until they are heard

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-09-29

Larry Au

Larry Au says bleak pronouncements about Hong Kong’s future do not account for a city that thrives on reinventing itself, and a generation of inspiring youth who dare to speak truth to power

The weeks following Beijing’s decision on the political framework for the chief executive election have been characterised by collective shock, disbelief and anger among pro-democracy activists and their sympathisers in Hong Kong. Radio and television current affairs shows have been full of angry shouting as the public phoned in to air their discontent. Newspaper articles talked again of how “the city is dying” and questioned whether it was time to “leave dear Hong Kong”. Even some pro-establishment politicians expressed their surprise at the restrictiveness of the ruling.

It is hard under these conditions not to be pessimistic about Hong Kong’s future, now that genuine electoral reform in 2017 seems next to impossible. But there is still reason for hope.

Saskia Sassen of Columbia University wrote an article last year titled “Does the city have speech?”, where she proposed the notion that cities have a way of speaking – in the abstract sense – to their inhabitants through interactions between the concrete and social elements. An example she gives is that of the traffic jam, where a car is brought to a sudden halt as it exits a highway. This is a way for the city to tell its inhabitants that the mass use of cars, or a particular configuration of infrastructure, is unsustainable. According to her, it is because of this capacity for speech that cities are able to resist forces that threaten their very existence, as well as to outlast more rigid and closed systems such as nation-states, corporations and empires.

Sassen argues that what makes cities resilient are two characteristics: complexity and incompleteness.

Complexity rests on interdependence. When “hard” infrastructure such as a power grid fails in a city, it affects residents indiscriminately, regardless of race, religion or other markers. The same applies to “soft” infrastructure, such as when the rule of law comes under threat, as this affects small businesses and multinational corporations alike.

A political system modelled after principles of propertied enfranchisement prevalent in 19th-century Britain and America, aimed at protecting the interests of a minority economic elite, is not only morally wrong, but simply bad policy. It does nothing to solve the deep-seated inequalities in our society that our current electoral system perpetuates. Sooner or later, more will realise this.

Already, within the past few weeks, contrary to what NPC Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang believes, we have seen a shift of public opinion against the National People’s Congress decision. According to a recent poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 54 per cent of the public now support a veto of restrictive reform proposals, in comparison to just 29 per cent against such action.

Last week’s class boycotts, organised by student committees representing all tertiary institutions and backed by some 400 academics from all major disciplines, were unprecedented.

Evidence also shows that the business community is gradually realising the harm to governance that political inequality poses. Chairman and chief executive of CLSA Jonathan Slone recently remarked that “I haven’t seen any investors say ‘I’m cautious about Hong Kong because of Occupy Central’.” This harks back to what Daiwa Capital Markets observed in its July research note – that threats to Hong Kong’s judicial independence were a bigger concern than Occupy Central.

As the city’s inhabitants realise that the democratic deficit in Hong Kong affects their shared destiny, we will see possibilities for powerful and unlikely alliances emerge.

Incompleteness, on the other hand, is linked to the fact that cities are constantly being remade and reinvented. This is where social movements such as Occupy Central fit in, as the powerless of the city utilise these new coalitions to destabilise dominant narratives and challenge the status quo.

We have seen this over and over again in Hong Kong’s history. Heritage activists during the Star Ferry and Queen’s Pier campaigns forced us to reconsider the place of heritage in development, leading to policy shifts in preservation and initiatives such as PMQ, the former Hollywood Road police married quarters in Central, has been redeveloped as a design hub. Similarly, the movement opposing the high-speed rail showed us the brutality of the expulsions that Tsoi Yuen Chuen’s villagers faced, forcing us to reconsider the place of basic humanity in development.

The present transformation under way within the democratic movement – the new ideology of resistance and the changing of guards – is indicative of a movement reconstituting itself as it attempts to offer an even more compelling vision of the city’s future in order to win over hearts and minds. If they do not succeed in time for 2017 in securing a genuine choice for Hong Kong, they will surely succeed later.

As legislator Dennis Kwok once put it to me: “Those who bet against Hong Kong always end up losing.” The capacity for the city to speak will continue to grow and it will only speak louder to ensure its survival – until it is heard.

But perhaps there is an even simpler reason for optimism: this generation of students who have, again and again, showed their willingness to stand up and speak truth to power. If they are indeed the leaders of tomorrow’s Hong Kong, we can still hope for change.

Larry Au is a graduate student in sociology at the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford


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How China’s very real national security fears shaped its reform plan for Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-09-25

David Zweig

David Zweig looks at how China’s worries about Western interference threatening its national security were the main motivation behind the decision to set strict limits on Hong Kong’s political reform process

Some observers explain that the very restrictive nomination process for universal suffrage in 2017 directed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee was driven by the Communist Party’s fear of losing power in Hong Kong and the demonstration effect on Chinese society.

However, an alternative explanation is Beijing’s worries about national security. In the eyes of many Chinese government and party officials, “civic” nomination and a low threshold (under 15 per cent) for the nominating committee that would allow a pan-democrat to run would open the door to Western “interference” on China’s sovereign territory.

Due to the problems in Xinjiang and Tibet and the fact that the Uygurs have brought their anger into Han China, spending on national security surpassed spending on national defence in 2011. As China also asserts its sovereign claims over disputed territories in neighbouring seas, it now finds a “re-engaged” US military supporting states that feel bullied by it.

Compared to on the mainland, foreign intelligence agencies freely collect information in Hong Kong and, according to WikiLeaks, diplomats regularly meet opponents of the central government.

Albert Ho Chun-yan, a leader of the Democratic Party and candidate for chief executive in 2012, told me that, in such meetings, he informs consular officials about the Democratic Party’s plans but never receives strategic advice from them. Still, Edward Snowden’s revelations have confirmed Chinese fears that the US collects intelligence in Hong Kong.

Chinese officials magnify such meetings as proof of US meddling in Hong Kong. After the massive anti-Article 23 march of July 1, 2003, Gao Siren, then director of the central government’s liaison office here, made a ludicrous claim that all marchers received US$100 from the US consulate. The US consul general said he only wished he had US$50 million.

According to Hong Kong sources, this March, NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang , the Politburo Standing Committee’s point man on Hong Kong, told government officials responsible for affairs here that they must fight “foreign interests” who use Hong Kong to undermine China’s authority. In his view, “international political forces and anti-Communist Party international organisations” are deeply involved in transforming Hong Kong into an anti-Communist Party and anti-China region and making Hong Kong “a battlefield of international political power”. Immediately, mainland officials of various stripes sought examples of US and British efforts to use Hong Kong’s political reform to destabilise China.

Counterarguments could not convince these mainland officials that foreigners were not promoting Occupy Central to undermine China’s sovereignty in Hong Kong. After all, the US and Britain have so much invested in Hong Kong stability.

But pan-democrats ignored Beijing’s worries about national security. While Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Martin Lee Chu-ming visited Washington and London to rekindle interest in Hong Kong’s democratic struggle, those trips did mobilise foreign governments to become more involved in what China sees as its internal security.

For the first time since 2007, the US Congress will resume annual reporting under the 1992 US-Hong Kong Policy Act, and Britain’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has initiated an inquiry into Beijing’s record in promoting freedom here as stipulated in the Joint Declaration of 1984. Those efforts will stoke China’s deep fear of foreign interference.

Denials of US involvement also became more difficult after someone hacked Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s files and showed that Mark Simon, an American who had headed the Hong Kong chapter of Republicans Abroad, dispersed funds for Lai to pan-democrats, who failed to report such donations, and for aiding Occupy Central.

But Lai, as a Hongkonger, has the same right to do so as the tycoons who regularly donate millions to pro-Beijing parties – particularly the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong – who also fail to report this critical support.

Central leaders also worry that Taiwanese pro-independence forces will make Hong Kong’s democratic movement an anti-mainland effort. So when student leaders from Taiwan’s Sunflower movement, which “occupied” Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan earlier this year, tried to enter Hong Kong in late June, mainland officials were thrilled they were refused entry, but worry that a pan-democratic chief executive might not prevent such “infiltration” from Taiwan.

From Beijing’s perspective, Hong Kong has long been a source of anti-Communist Party activities. In 1989, when students in Tiananmen Square challenged the communist authority, Hong Kong raised over HK$1 million to support that occupation. Also, Operation Yellowbird smuggled student leaders, who were labelled “criminals”, to safety in Hong Kong.

Yet the NPC’s decision, which may bring to power in 2017 a chief executive lacking public support and legitimacy, might destabilise Hong Kong and China’s national security more than an open electoral process. If the pan-democrats vote down the government’s reform plan, making it possible for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to be re-elected, Hong Kong could become another thorn in Beijing’s side, which will be difficult to control without worldwide criticism.

The risk of escalation into social unrest in Hong Kong has increased since the NPC Standing Committee decision. Beijing should have allowed a lower nominating threshold, which would have created the possibility for a democrat to run, as the possibility of a pan-democrat winning is extremely small.

Many members of the democratic camp have reportedly told mainland officials that the pan-democrats might promise not to put forward a candidate this time if a more democratic system were put in place.

But, in the eyes of the leadership in Beijing, and many officials in China working on Hong Kong affairs, in the current domestic and international climate, allowing a system that could even possibly allow for the election of a chief executive with close ties to the US or Britain was simply too scary.

David Zweig is chair professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and senior research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada


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Hong Kong’s native-speaking English teacher scheme needs an overhaul

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-05-09

Philip Yeung

Philip Yeung believes native-speaking English teachers will be at their most effective in raising students’ language ability if they are given more support and training, and cultural exchange is encouraged

The native-speaking English teacher (NET) scheme has been a part of our local public school system for the past 15 years. It has grown into a HK$710 million, 900-strong operation, complete with its own mini-bureaucracy.

Despite the trappings of a fully fledged scheme, it has within it pockets of immaturity. Periodically, there are rumblings of complaint from both sides. Sweep these differences under the rug, and the programme may never live up to its promise.

The scheme was born of a desire to give our public schools a more English-rich environment. That is the narrower goal. The wider perspective is that we need fresh thinking in our system. Ideally, native English teachers can function as change agents. But change is a bridge too far if catalysts are few and far between.

Native English teachers used to have to split their time between several schools. Now each school has its own. But having one teacher per school, offering a single 35-minute English lesson per week, is like trying to douse a wild fire with a bucket of water. As the Cantonese saying goes, “you can’t clap with one hand”; a single teacher can’t produce the desired ripple effect. Acting alone, and subject to the vagaries of the system, the teacher’s style is seriously cramped.

The figure of HK$710 million sounds like a lot of money, but spread so thinly, it tapers into a half-measure. At-risk schools need more than just a token foreign teacher. They deserve a critical mass, especially if they have cut their teeth on transforming students from challenged backgrounds.

Our education system is splintered. We have a full spectrum of schools, from the private to the public, and everything in between. Sadly, there is little traffic between them. Each school, whatever its pigeonhole, tends to do its own thing. They regard other schools either with apathy or a mild competitive antipathy.

If there is little inter-school co-operation, there is even less inter-system relationship. That is why the new chief executive of the English Schools Foundation, Belinda Greer, comes to us like a breath of fresh air. For the first time, the ESF’s head is reaching out to local schools by offering to share its proven pedagogy and best practices. The government should take her up on the offer, with native English teachers perhaps being the go-between.

In return, it should rescind its decision to phase out the ESF subsidy, which may price out many mid-level expatriates attracted to this global city. With this partnership, the ESF would no longer be just another self-absorbed international school system. Native English teachers could also participate in the 80 professional development activities for ESF teachers. Together, they might just create public education’s “perfect storm”, and a partnership unique in world education.

To induct new entrants, there should be less focus on the mundane mechanics of “living in Hong Kong”, such as how to open a bank account, and more on understanding what makes local teachers tick. The yawning cultural gap between locals and foreigners cannot be ignored. Both should leave their own comfort zone and befriend the other. Bear in mind that local teachers who don’t appear forthcoming may only be shy or linguistically challenged. For the 15 per cent attrition rate to drop, native English teachers should be encouraged to embrace their local colleagues, if not the local culture.

Typically, local principals accuse NETs of avoiding paperwork, including correcting exercises. Coming from educational systems with an anti-clerical tradition, the teachers’ logic is that people don’t become teachers in order to be clerks.

Meanwhile, poor local teachers spend about one-third of their time doing paperwork and writing reports that nobody reads. But native English teachers must face the fact that, in this exam-driven environment, correcting exercises is a necessary evil. Granted, a school system where paperwork proliferates is a system that has veered from education’s true purpose.

Native English teachers’ greater challenge is to help students cross the cultural divide. Language education is never just about language alone, for language is a carrier of culture. The local curriculum is almost devoid of cultural content through reading, the strong suit of these teachers.

Trawling the internet with students for stories or articles that are entertaining or educational, or for lyrics of English folk songs, and sharing English-language movies with students, are all part of teaching them to grow an English tongue, if not an English heart. To deliver the scheme’s promise, native-speaking English teachers need to get English into the students’ bloodstream. Its practitioners must exploit their art and ancillary resources to the full.

Philip Yeung is co-founder of the Hong Kong Society for the Promotion of English and former speechwriter to the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.


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喚山山不來 惟有往即山

Hong Kong Economic Journal
C01 | 今日焦點 | 忽然文化 | By 占飛 |
2013-09-21

《可蘭經》有這麼一個小故事。有一回,穆罕默德向門徒宣稱,他可以叫山移至他面前來。但他呼喚了三次,山仍然屹立不動。之後,穆罕默德只好說,山既然不來,那我自己走過去好了!這就是《可蘭經》所說的:「山不來即穆罕默德,穆罕默德就去即山。」

許多勵志文章都用這個小故事教訓讀者:做事處世,要適應客觀環境。只有天才方可固執己見,改變世界來遷就自己。凡夫俗子只能「即山」,甚至應該「即山」,尤其是企業和打工仔,不「即山」便潮語說的「冇運行」。

9月11日的《華爾街日報》有一篇報道,引用美國一間人力資源組織Adecco 2012 年調查五百名大學畢業生得出的結果,8% 大學畢業生攜同家長見工,3% 的直升機家長會跟子女一起面試。此外,全球性會計師樓PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP,在2013年向亞洲和南美洲逾二十個國家四萬四千人進行的調查發現,平均有13%大學畢業生希望父母收到公司的聘用信副本。有些國家甚至高達30%。美國只有6%。另外,公司對員工的表現評價,全球平均有8%年輕人會讓父母得到副本。美國只有2%。

無終食之間

美國把1980-2000 年期間出生的一代名為「千禧世代」(The Millennials)。他們一直被形容為「小學雞成年人」(kidult)。他們的家長是怪獸家長或直升機家長。「千禧世代」不獨立不自主,由小到大都得到父母照顧,事事對家長透明,容許、歡迎以至要求家長參與,中、小學時如此,讀大學時亦然。

感謝面書、推特、whatsApps、instagram等,「小學雞化」的大學生可以天天和父母聊天,時時刻刻微信。每日吃什麼、幹什麼、宿舍、教授、同窗是什麼樣子,都可以拍張照片給父母一看。他們跟父母的「數碼臍帶」從來未斷。畢業後見工,上工後的待遇、工作表現,順理成章的繼續和父母「分享」。不知道他日婚後,「千禧世代」還會不會仍然跟父母「欲斷不斷,難捨難離」呢?

過去,父母── 尤其是中國人的父母 ──最喜歡抱怨:孩子大了,有毛有翼,便各自飛。小時熱鬧的巢,只剩下兩個孤零零的老人家。「千禧世代」的家長無須再有這樣的擔心,不必再有這樣的抱怨,在「天涯若比鄰」的數碼時代,他們可以全天候的見到孩子、跟孩子通音信,無間斷的為孩子出頭。

加拿大學者麥魯恒(Herbert MarshallMcLuhan)早有先見,預言世界進入「全球村」時代,人類便會返祖,「部落主義」(tribalism)會再度興起、流行。不過,現代人只有核心家庭,沒有家族、更沒有部落。可是,現代核心家庭的兩代關係,一如部落人那麼「親密」和「緊密」,你中有我,我中有你,須臾不離。怪獸家長跟小學雞「千禧世代」的關係正是「無終食之間分割,造次必於是,顛沛必於是」。由工業革命發韌的個人主義,被部落主義取代。

嘆息將何為

對此趨勢,美國和香港的輿論同樣的不以為然,高呼「千禧世代」應早日戒奶、丟掉尿布、切斷跟父母的「數碼臍帶」。老一代看不過眼,圖挽狂瀾於既倒,不單呼籲、勸諭,還要大肆抨擊,但「千禧世代」及其家長一概聽而不聞。當然,你可以說,13%也好,8%也好,部落主義都只是少數;怪獸家長亦是少數,尚未至「大多數」。部落主義愈來愈像穆罕默德呼喚的山,屹然不動。既然如此,美國不少企業索性放棄對抗,不再低貶、劣評或慨嘆,反而歡迎「千禧世代」帶同家長見工、面試,出色的員工,上司還會家訪。企業明白到要聘到好員工,必須籠絡他們的家長。

其實,回心一想,這個新趨勢也並非全無好處。得見其家長,可更深入的認識見工者的性格。若然見工者的家長是自視過高且囂張霸道的人,那此人絕不可聘用。上司與下屬的家長建立了友好關係,有助他們快快樂樂地工作,亦可減低他們跳槽的機會。嘆息將何為?幾時香港的企業僱主才明白「喚山山不來,惟有往即山」的道理呢?