09/29 - How conversations about HK end

(Notes from a Wechat group whose members were mostly young professionals and students of my generation [late 20s and early 30s]. The statements below were translated and paraphrased from a heated discussion within that group earlier today. The order does not reflect the original sequence in which they appeared, but each could be seen as an attempt to persuade others in the group to side with him/her.)

1. The economic downturn of HK is inevitable (natural) given the recent rise of Shanghai. The former colony loses its strategic relevance as a result.
1.1 Recent unrests happened because the protestors attempted to "politicize" an economic problem.

2. No, HK discontent in fact stems from mainland manipulation of its economy.

3 (countering 2). HK is in fact doing better than Japan because of its strong ties with the mainland.
3.1 A student of economics cited recent analysis of HK's economic dependence on the mainland, expressing further interest in empirically testing this topic.

4. HKers used to be obedient toward the colonial regime; now the same people turned to their own government in a defiant way, demanding for more than they deserve.

4.1 They are, in essence, former slaves possessed by a false sense of superiority toward the mainlanders.  Look at the prevalent hate speech (the "locust" talk and all) against mainland tourists in the last few years.

5. For HKers, it's all about contract. Beijing promised HK a popular election in 2017, so the people were merely demanding for that. For Beijing though, it's about authority and obedience. Hence there's a clash of values (sympathetic to the protesters)

6 (in response to 5). False. It's not a question of authority, but a question of who prevails over whom. Look at the US in the world.

7. Following up on 6: Our government (Beijing) is tough. It does not make a big fuss over helping other people or being tricked by others. Think of the '97 financial crisis & the central aid to HK. Let the dogs bark.

8. At this point the group administrator tried to steer conversation away, fearing that the quarrel would escalate into personal attacks. A young lawyer objected that each voice has its value. The person who made points 6 & 7 was temporarily banned from the group, along with another ID.

9. Discussion ends with a call for more presentation of "hard currency" (Ch. yinghuo), or "facts" (in English), and the administrator regrets over his intervention. The two people banned from the discussion were invited to join again.


A couple of thoughts:

-- The remarkable imprint of Marxist political economy (part of mandatory "politics" curriculum in secondary and high school) on people's minds.  Result: people were very good at working out the economic underpinnings of conflicts (see 1-3).  They also readily grasp history in a Hegelian sense - teleology and all.  Some embrace economic/geographic determinism (HK's rise and fall vis-à-vis Shanghai).

-- Paradox: Marxism teaches one to understand politics in economic terms.  But my friends (1.1) seem to think that it should NOT be "politicized".

-- Solution: the "politicizing" (zhengzhihua) refers to "making a big fuss" out of proportion, beyond what it ought to take.  If pressed, my friend will probably respond that the proper Marxist analysis of HK's plight must involve some kind of redistribution of wealth, not to quarrel over some trivial electoral matters.

-- Three main uses of history: the trope of colonialism/imperialism followed by "liberation" (4); social Darwinism (6) that borders on nihilism; the essence of "Chinese politics" being always about centralizing hegemony & obedience (5).

-- (4) has clearly been taught in classrooms.  People became rightfully tired of it, and they either resort to (6) or (5).  None, however, acknowledges the push for a more flexible, more liberal political system as a justifiable/realistic cause for collective action.

-- But everybody involved in this conversation, in fact, liked to have a place, a group in which they could speak out freely.  They were genuinely disturbed by the prospect of any major violence.  As well-trained scientists and professionals (many work for the financial sector in New York, or global consulting companies), they also do not object to more "empirical truths" ("hard currency" (yinghuo), another economic metaphor).  Guess there's reason to be hopeful in the end.


09/28 This political life of ours

What troubles me today:
1. Posts on HK, & even pro-government comments on Chinese social networks disappearing before my eyes;
2. The cacophony of media coverage going viral on facebook, blaming "the big brother" as the convenient target for the violence. Left-leaning critics opined that corruption in local, not central, politics is equally at fault. Of course it is impossible to sever the two as cause-and-effect.
3. The stark contrast between 1 & 2.
3'. No, 1 & 2 in fact reinforced each other.
4. As a result of 3', I cannot endorse a vision in which pro-democratic victory is predicated by further ostracizing the other side.
4'. In other words, Cold War mentality is returning, aligning itself quickly on both sides of the Great Fire Wall.
5. Which makes it really difficult to speak to either the eerie void (1), or the enthusiasm of (2).
5'. This stand-off between two ideologies is an extension of the debate around the New Left in the early 00s. But this time around, communication barrier provided the mold for barricades of the mind. Suppose the GFW went down over night - chances are the reading public will remain polarized and talk past each other.
5''. The shadow of censorship lives on as the surrogate for the same.
6. & I cannot even do a decent job explaining this to a concerned colleague in three minutes.

What to do:
1. To accept this situation as evident of a political configuration that our generation will have to live with and confront, on an everyday basis;
2. To have faith in the fact that analysis and criticism can be applied to both extremes, with equal vigor, regardless of one's standing point on any particular matter;
3. To disengage as a way of "protest" is not an option. Only through engagement with a complex reality can one identify the human reason for moving on.
4. To practice history is, in an important sense, to weigh and deliberate over the influence of ideologies.
4'. If any idea makes you uneasy, try taking it apart to understand its appeal to other ppl.
4''. If you really believe in something, be prepared to refine it, & make it more accommodating to all sorts of realities (not just the ones you like).
5. Perhaps this is the venue in which our political life will unfold (other issues may require a different form of participation). It's transnational, schizophrenic (severed but always cross-referenced), and austere for those who aren't content with mere entertainment.
6. Live it in full, live it in earnest. Because life is precious.








Thinking of a life in which no one ever says, "I look forward to seeing you again."  Isn't that strange?

Maybe not so strange.  It takes some time to realize that while most people live by that hope, some just can never bring themselves to say that sentence.  Yes, it puts one on a vulnerable spot.  But to be in love is to have longing, which is to be vulnerable.

And you don't stop being vulnerable just by not acknowledging it.

I check my unprotected thoughts of longing

like shepherds counting their herds


and gleefully lead them to repose.