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The Premier’s New Clothes 總理的新衣

Last week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (家寶) made a five-day visit to Europe while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The 66-year-old honcho jet-set through major cities in Western Europe, signing multi-billion dollar trade deals and posing with heads of state in front of flashing cameras. With economic growth languishing at 6.8% in the last quarter of 2008, party leaders are pressured to do whatever it takes to drum up demand for Chinese exports and to keep the economy growing at 8% annually. Ever the symbol of luck and prosperity, the magic number “8” represents the best antidote against labor unrest and social instability. Indeed, bao ba (保八; literally, maintain at eight) has been the Chinese governments main obsession since 1998 when the term was first coined.

Wen ostensibly skipped Paris on his tour of duty. While in London, the Premier enthused that his omission of France was fully intended. Speaking with undisguised spite and defiance, Wen told reporters that Nicholas Sarkosy should know full well why he was being snubbed, referring to the French president’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in Gdansk last December. Their brief rendezvous infuriated China, which has long considered the Tibetan spiritual leader one of the biggest threats to the country’s territorial integrity. And the Chinese neither forgive nor forget. Emboldened by China’s economic success and the warm reception from world leaders, Wen takes every opportunity to throw his weight around, punishing Sarkosy for his follies and chastising Washington for criticizing the undervalued yuan. But in the end, Wen comes off as vindictive and smug. A nouveau riche in a victory lap.

Rubbing elbows with European leaders at lavish state dinners surely make Wen and his posse feel accepted. After a half-century of military humiliation and post-war poverty, China has finally picked herself up and dusted herself off. She must be respected now. But to the rest of the world, despite its double-digit growth and increasing political influence, China remains a Frankenstein of a country. It is a socialist state on paper, but thirty years of “reform and openness” have produced a burgeoning middle class that drives around town in the latest Audi, binge-shops at Gucci and gamble their life-savings away in stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen. But no matter how affluent many of these city folks have become, they still can’t buy a foreign magazine from a newsstand or do a Google search without worrying about the web police. Just last week, Tan Zuo-ren (譚作人), an activist who helped victims of the Sichuan earthquake victims investigate the province’s collapsed schools, was charged with “illegal possession of state secrets.”

Tan’s arrest is just one of many sobering reminders that Frankenstein is still long a way from blending in with the rest of society. Erratic, stubborn, intolerant and socially inept, this is how the rest of the world still views China. The country faces a public relations battle that will take much more than an Olympic Games or a trip to the moon to win. But world leaders, ever pragmatic and shrewd, happily play along, putting on their party hats and pouring the champagne to welcome the new guest. But when Frankenstein is not looking, they roll their eyes and steal a snicker.

If diplomacy is all about keeping up appearances and putting on the game face, then nobody does it better than the English. It is therefore all the more ironic that the shoe-hurling incident should happen in England of all places. While Wen was delivering a speech at Cambridge University, a German student followed in Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaid’s footsteps and threw a shoe at the Premier, crying, “how can this university prostitute itself with this dictator?” Finally someone has the courage to say something about the pink elephant in the room. The episode, watched by hundreds of millions around the world but unreported by the Chinese press, is a modern day version of Hans Christian Anderson’s Emperor’s New Clothes.

These days it is easy or even fashionable to criticize China and its human rights records. But is the world’s most populous country the evil empire that the liberal media have us believe, or is it the most misunderstood nation on the planet? I try to put myself in the shoes of those in charge and imagine what it must be like to be responsible for feeding a population of 1.3 billion and all the while having to rein in an economy that operates like a runaway train. It’s not exactly a walk in the park. And why is it that I am working my hardest and doing the best I can, and still the West keeps wanting me to fail? Is it fear, jealousy, racism or all of the above? An international relations scholar once observed: the tension between established powers and an emerging one is a structural inevitability. But we dont have to be always that cynical. Looking at how quickly the world embraces Barack Obama after eight years of unprecedented anti-Americanism, we have reason to believe that the world isn’t out to get us. When the ruling establishment in Beijing is ready to loosen its clenched fist, the world will hold its arms out for China. And when that day comes, world leaders will once again put on their party hats and pop the champagne to receive a new China. This time they will actually mean it.

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About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK)
Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Review…

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

What’s Killing Hong Kong Bookstores? 誰令香港的書店滅亡?

Earlier this month, Page One unceremoniously announced the closure of its megastores at Harbour City and Festival Walk, ending the Singapore bookseller’s nearly two-decade stint in Hong Kong. The news came less than two years after Australian outfit Dymocks shut down its IFC Mall flagship and exited the city.
Reaction on social media to the loss of yet another bookstore chain was both immediate and damning. While some attributed Page One’s demise to competition from e-books and online retailers, many put the blame on the lack of a robust reading culture in Hong Kong. Still others pointed their finger at greedy landlords and the sky-high rent they extort from retailers.
But what really killed Page One? An autopsy is in order to examine the cause of death of the book industry’s latest casualty.

The technorati have long prophesized the end of paper. Portable and affordable, Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers are the physical book’s worst nightmare. But are they really?
After yea…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events

Interview with Financial Times
Title: TBD by Ben Bland Publication date: early September
Reader at the PEN Hong Kongbilingual reading on human rights as part of the Worldwide Reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Venue: Art and Culture Outreach 艺鵠 Date: 6 September Time: 7:30pm
Talk at Raffles Institution (visiting from Singapore)
Topic: Hong Kong political development since the Umbrella Movement Venue: TBD Date: 22 September
Legal workshop for foreign domestic workers at University of Hong Kong's Domestic Workers Empowerment Project (DWEP) Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture" Moderator: Dr. Michael Manio Venue: University of Hong Kong Date: October Time: 10:00am to 12:00pm
Keynote speaker at Leadership & Social Entrepreneurship Program graduation ceremony co-organized by Wimler Foundation and Aeteno University Venue: TBD Date: 22 October Time: 9:00am to 1:00pm
Contributor to HK24 (2017 Anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle) Release dat…

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1 女傭在港-上卷

Few symbols of colonialism are more universally recognized than the live-in maid. From the British trading post in Bombay to the cotton plantation in Mississippi, images abound of the olive-skinned domestic worker buzzing around the house, cooking, cleaning, ironing and bringing ice cold lemonade to her masters who keep grumbling about the summer heat. It is ironic that, for a city that cowered under colonial rule for a century and a half, Hong Kong should have the highest number of maids per capita in Asia. In our city of contradictions, neither a modest income nor a shoebox apartment is an obstacle for local families to hire a domestic helper and to free themselves from chores and errands.

On any given Sunday or public holiday, migrant domestic workers carpet every inch of open space in Central and Causeway Bay. They turn parks and footbridges into camping sites with cardboard boxes as their walls and opened umbrellas as their roofs. They play cards, cut hair, sell handicraft and p…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
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The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singin…