Dear Jinping (if I may presume the familiar),
Have you read through Part One of this posting? Hopefully you have an attention span that it exceeds that of the current President of the United States, who is incapable a reading anything longer than a fortune cookie.
What you got there in the so-called People’s Republic of China (sorry for the snort, but I can’t believe that you’re still trying to push that People’s joke off on us) is approaching1,500,000,000 people. Now some autocrats never have enough people to boss around, and I am not unaware of the fact that at the last (ahem) Party (oops, People’s) Congress you decided to anoint yourself Emperor for Life, and that takes some egotistical “big ones.” So, I wanted to approach the matter of what is going on in Hong Kong from a more practical perspective.
You might have gathered from the above piece, and certainly, if you have read your own history, that China is a “country” that rarely has been able to get its shit together. It has had enough revolutions, warlord periods, failed governments, and massacres and self-destruction for a whole hemisphere full of countries. It has been 5000 years of shit-show. We have Trump, who is trying to catch up real fast, but you guys are the gold medalists, the heavyweight champs, the World Cup holders, of political fuck-ups. Whether are you are starving 30 million of your own people in the “Great Leap into a Mass Grave,” or committing social suicide with the Cultural Revolution, or suppressing information about disasters, like earthquakes and diseases, you are history’s all-time leading screw-ups. So it was natural, that in 1949 you would choose Mao Zedong, although I am sure that Peanut Head would have been no prize.
So why would the people of Hong Kong, practical people, who have had to find their way as a colony of class-obsessed assholes like the British, who sold them out after 150 years, and yet made a reasonably good job of being dealt a bad hand, want to throw it all in the cèsuōto become what would amount to being just another colony to be exploited by your gang from Zhongnanhai?
I was there in the last days of the Crown colony in 1997, studying the incipient “handover” on a sabbatical. Some Hongkongers told me that they were looking forward to throwing off the British yoke, and reuniting with Mother China, waxing sanguine at the prospect of jumping on your newly discovered cowboy capitalism with “Asian values.” They weren’t as clear-eyed as the more culturally astute who were able to project that the hegemony of what they had billed as a world-class city was not going to be any better from Beijing as it had been from London. Now, of course, they know it would be much worse. At least the British didn’t make them sing “God save the Queen, or threaten them with extradition.
It took a few years for the reality to set in. After mainland women were clogging Hong Kong hospitals to have babies with the “right of abode,” of mainland billionaires coming down to stash their renminbi in local real estate and inflate prices into the stratosphere, and of you boys in Beijing to begin your squeeze play, with the proposed Article 23, Mandarin requirements in schools, kidnapping booksellers, and now the extradition bullshit, to see that you guys were incapable of holding up your end of the handover deal. And so, when you rode into town in your SUVs, tenuously driving on the correct” of the road, more and more of them gave you the finger and called you “cockroaches.” Are you able to figure it out when you see a local Hong Kong girl wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with large letters that say “I am Not Chinese”? It’s about identity, big dude. They regard themselves as Hongkongers. She is not denying that she is of Chinese ancestry; she’s denying that she is PRC.
Sometimes what raises a city to greatness is what it must overcome in his history. Hong Kong, which at its fundamental level consists of the people of Cantoville, are a people who identified themselves with a distinctive culture of language, cuisine, even sense of humor. It can be argued that their city is sui generis, a borrowed place of mixed geographical advantage
A city is, as Shakespeare says in Coriolanus, “the people.” The physical city of buildings and its connective infrastructure, of monuments, or the legal city of municipal incorporation and system of laws, or even of its economic wealth and power to impose itself upon the external world, these are not the city. In essence, it is the people, and the ability of that city to allow its citizenry to express through their own agency their capacity and potential.
In this regard, Hong Kong, from its very inception has consisted of a people whose spirit has been paradoxically fashioned in an atmosphere of subjugation to a foreign power, exploitation, social class repression, and second class citizenship. It was a damn cynical thing that the likes of Chris Patten could encourage Hongkongers to plead for some form of democracy when the Brits had run the place like a private club for a century and a half. On the other hand, I don’t think they want to trade that to be clients in a protection racket by your mafia-like one-party system.
It takes imagination––perhaps an imagination that is less likely to be found in the mind of a chemical engineer like yours– –to see the possibilities of urbanism, to see that the city has been our highest human invention and instrument of our loftiest human achievements. I do not know if, given their liberty, and a reasonable say in their own destiny, will succeed in their chance at democracy. These are young people, fashioning their resistance to the subjugation of yet another form of imperialism from umbrellas, surgical masks, hasty expressions on stick-up notes, and the borrowed anthem of resistance from Les Miserables (and their Marianne has become a girl who lost an eye in a subway tunnel). They may be willing to die for their chance, and they have seen the kind of response you are capable of in Tiananmen Square. But they deserve their chance.
Well, I think they deserve their chance. They might have overstepped their bounds now and then with Molotov cocktails, trashing Legco a bit, and shutting down Chek Lap Kok for a couple of days, but they have offered apologies, too. Most of them are kids what’s, hopefully, a long future in front of them, which I don’t think they want to spend tying on a red bandanna every morning and paying ripoffs to Party cadres in arguably the most corrupt society on earth.
So, this is your chance, Mr. Xi, your chance not to go down historically listed among histories murderous bastards like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and the list from China that extends from Chin Shi Huang Di to Mao Zedong. It’s your chance to go down as a man of vision, as a Chinese leader who finally understands what human rights means, as an example in your time that the entire world is not turning to Trump. Let Hong Kong be Hong Kong, Mr. Xi. They just want to elect their own leaders and run their own city. It will continue to be your gateway to the west, and all China will profit from allowing it to do what it does best—be Hong Kong.
Remember what Mao said: political power comes from the barrel of a gun. But there are a lot more ways that it gets removed.
©2019, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 8.14.2019)