Skip to main content

Citizen Kwan 大市民

If you speak Cantonese, by now you have must have watched it at least once or possibly more times. You must have shared the link with your family and friends and urged them to watch it too. If asked, you can probably quote a few zingers from it verbatim. 

I am referring to the anti-government tirade by Kwan Wing-yi (關穎怡), a self-described “concerned citizen,” at a special Legco meeting to discuss retirement protection earlier this week. The video went viral on social media, receiving 300,000 views on YouTube in just 48 hours. Netizens have added English subtitles, turned her words into a rap song, and even called on her to run for Legco in the September general election.

Kwan, an accidental heroine

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of viewing – or understanding – the Cantonese-only clip, here’s a recap of Kwan’s three-minute rant. 

On the government’s proposed pension scheme, she said:

Your so-called ‘universal’ retirement plan puts an $80,000 asset limit on applicants but only offers them a paltry payment of $3,230 per month. Are you kidding me? There is so much government-business collusion and inflation these days that we can’t even buy a catty of contaminated vegetable for $30?

People like [Labour and Welfare] Secretary Matthew Cheung (張建宗), who makes $300,000 a month, have no idea how much we struggle to make ends meet, or else he wouldn’t have made the callous, cold-blooded remark that $16,000 is a very decent income [for a two-person household].

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) rejected the need-blind proposal [favored by the public] because she claimed it would lead to a government deficit. What she said made me laugh out loud! The government spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on white elephant projects like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the high-speed rail link, only to nickel and dime the poor on social programs. How dare she mention the word deficit! Pardon my language, but these corrupt bureaucrats are worse than thieves!

Hands off our money, old hag!

On law and order:

What happened to C.Y. Leung after he accepted $50 million in secret payments? Nothing. What happened to the seven police officers after they beat up a citizen in a back alley? Nothing. [...] What happened to the pro-Beijing camp after it blatantly rigged the district elections? Nothing!

In our topsy-turvy city, firing shots into the air is considered compliant with police protocol. The ethical standards for the government and the police are as ‘flexible’ as the arm of the officer who hit passersby with his baton and called it an ‘extension of his arm.’ Lawmakers are permitted to spread unfounded rumors in Legco, like the one about one of the abducted booksellers taking a speedboat to China to procure prostitution.

To be honest, I am worried that after making this speech today I too may disappear and ‘go to the mainland using my own methods.’ [Kwan was again referring to the missing booksellers who had presumably entered China without proper documentation]. Why bother with retirement protection when our personal security is unprotected?

Five booksellers are still missing months after their disappearance

On the chief executive and his cabinet:

Since taking his job, C.Y. Leung has lost his conscience – then again, maybe he never had one to begin with. I want to offer Leung, his senior staff and the Hong Kong Police a piece of advice: there is something called karma in this world.

There isn’t much we can do to stop you now, but future generations of Hong Kongers will be watching you. Your karma will catch up with you one day!

As soon as Kwan’s speaking time was up, the meeting’s chairman switched off her microphone to stop her from spewing more anti-government venom. But the damage was already done. Her harangue was uploaded to YouTube within minutes and was held up in the echo chamber of the Internet as the ultimate indictment of C.Y. Leung’s failed administration. Kwan became an overnight social media sensation, all for venting frustrations that so many others have failed to put into words.

Netizens credited her success to her well-chosen tone. She delivered the sort of angry wife scolding based on logic understood by ordinary citizens, with none of the abstruse political speak preferred by the traditional pan-dems. Even a “C9” (師奶) – an unsophisticated housewife in the local vernacular – is able to grasp the convoluted political issues covered in her speech.

But perhaps it is who she is that has made her tongue-lashing so powerful. 

Kwan has no discernible political affiliation or agenda. She has no constituent to please or ideology to preach. She is, it seems, just a fed-up citizen who is tired of being a passive bystander and has to blurt out the truth, like the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes. By calling out the government in a simple, relatable way, Kwan might have changed more minds in a few days than any of the slogan-shouting pan-dems or brick-throwing localists have in years.

A Hong Kong pig under the Communists' care

Gong chu (港豬), which literally means a Hong Kong pig, is a popular Cantonese catchphrase to describe citizens who choose a steady livelihood over civil liberties, or those who are thankful for economic handouts from Beijing despite having their freedoms gradually taken away. Kwan’s refusal to be a docile farm animal is a testament to the long-term impact of the occupy movement, which put citizens through a kind of social awakening not experienced since the Tiananmen Square Protests

Impressive as it was, Kwan’s Legco appearance has not been universally praised. Criticisms are coming from both ends of the political spectrum: the moderates found her rhetoric too aggressive, while the radicals said it wasn’t nearly aggressive enough. 

The latter group, comprising mainly localists, took particular issue with her reliance on karma as a form of political comeuppance. To them, the Buddhist belief in retribution is just a self-deluding old wife’s tale to make the oppressed feel better about their plight when they lack the courage to take real action to change it. Karma won’t stop bad governments from doing bad things, the localists sneer – only a revolution will.

If there is a moral in this story, it is that to counter the ruling elite’s growing impunity, the opposition needs all the help it can get. The pan-dem lawmakers will push back government officials in Legco debates, the radicals will resist riot police in street protests, and ordinary citizens like Kwan will use their sharp tongues to engage and educate the masses in every day dialogues. They will each do their part and give what they can, instead of constantly ripping into each other and bickering over whose method is the only way forward. As the city heads into an election weekend where two opposition candidates are siphoning off votes from each other and effectively handing the victory to the other side, citizens are well-served to remember the fortune cookie wisdom that we are stronger together than apart.

The pro-Beijing candidate is most likely to win this weekend's election
_________________________


As published in the South China Morning Post

Popular Posts

Book Review: "Generation HK" 書評:《香港世代》

Unpacking the young generation in Hong Kong is a tall order, not least because a singular, archetypical “Hong Kong youth” does not exist. The cohort is as diverse and divergent as it comes, from socioeconomic background and upbringing to education and exposure to the wider world, to values, ideals and aspirations. It defies stereotypes and generalisations.

Ben Bland, a British correspondent for The Financial Times, is in a unique position to take on that ambitious project. Whereas Bland’s extensive experience reporting in Asia—including stints in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar—has given him a broad field of view, his relatively short tenure in Hong Kong—just over two years—allows him to look at its people through a long-range lens.
It is that unadulterated objectivity and his unquenched curiosity that make Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow a discerning and refreshing read. Released last summer under Penguin Book’s inaugural “Hong Kong series” to mark the 20…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

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…

Who is Agnes Chow? 誰是周庭?

It was roughly six months ago when Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, lost his job. He and five other pro-democracy lawmakers had strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony, and were ousted from the Legislative Council (LegCo) after Beijing issued a reinterpretation of the oath-taking provisions in the Basic Law. Many saw the unseating of six democratically-elected lawmakers, dubbed “Oathgate” in the local press, as a calculated political move to purge the legislature of the opposition.

The time to fill some of these vacated seats is finally upon us. Four by-elections will be held simultaneously on March 11, in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, New Territories East and for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.
Barely old enough to run, 21-year-old Agnes Chow (周庭) of pro-democracy party Demosisto has thrown her hat into the ring hoping to win back Law’s Hong Kong Island seat. Her decision to run has not come without a price: she has deferred …

As You LIKE It 人人讚好

Social media are the greatest invention of the 21st Century, not least because they provide ready fillers for life’s many dull moments. The virtual world is the perfect antidote to our real life drudgery. Bring on the mile-long taxi line, the interminable Monday morning meeting and even the deadly silent treatment from an upset spouse. All we need to do is whip out our phones, drop our heads and, with a flick of the thumb, wade through stream after mind-numbing stream of news feeds and tweets. In the parallel universe of restaurant check-ins, vacation selfies and baby videos, we are the celebrities and we are the groupies. No one wants to admit it, but many of us have started to reorganize our lives based on how the status update would look on our carefully manicured timeline.

It is therefore all the more important to observe proper online decorum and protect our virtual image. The idea that anything goes in Cyberspace, or that a random post is as consequence-free as tossing a bottl…

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.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…