Sin-ming Shaw: China’s Hong Kong Follies

HONG KONG – The massive public demonstrations by students and young members of the middle-class that have roiled Hong Kong in recent weeks are ostensibly demands for democracy. But they actually reflect frustration among a population that has been poorly governed by a succession of leaders picked by China’s central government more for their loyalty than their competence.

In fact, the current near-uprising is the culmination of a long series of demonstrations since Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom to China in 1997, after Chris Patten, the last British governor failed to persuade China to allow Hong Kong to establish a genuine democratic government.

In China’s view, Patten’s position was hypocritical, even offensive, given that the British had ruled Hong Kong autocratically. China believed that it could easily manage the same kind of “executive-led” government that had served Hong Kong well for 150 years under the British.
In order to placate Hong Kong’s restive population – which included many refugees from China – a “one country, two systems” policy was embedded in the region’s constitution, promising Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy,” except in foreign and defense affairs for 50 years. Indeed, Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the rest of China lacks, including a judiciary system that is guided by British common law and independent from the executive branch.

China has yet to follow through on its second promise: that Hong Kong would elect its chief executive by “universal suffrage” by 2017. Instead, a committee – initially comprising 800 members, but since expanded to 1,200 – selects the chief executive in accordance with the Chinese government’s wishes. 

Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was widely viewed as a wise choice. The Western-educated heir to a shipping fortune, and unusually well connected with the global elite, Tung was thought to be a conservative, thoughtful, cosmopolitan man imbued with liberal values and free of ties to the powerful families that dominated the real-estate industry in the country.

This perception could not have been more wrong. Tung turned out to be shallow, radical in his views, more chauvinist than China’s top leaders, and prone to rash decision-making on important policies with wide-ranging social and economic consequences. He forced out his competent chief secretary, Anson Chan, a veteran Hong Kong civil servant, for her colonial background, thereby signaling his mistrust of the entire civil service that the British had created.

It did not take long for Hong Kongers to realize that their new leader harbored a deep – and deeply flawed – “patriotic” worldview that regarded Western “values” as unsuitable for Hong Kong, the first globalized Chinese city in modern history. But it was not until Tung tried to ram through draconian internal-security legislation that many of Hong Kong’s citizens began to feel that they were being overtaken by the repressive governance from which they were supposed to be exempt. Under Tung’s leadership, mass protests became a frequent sight in Hong Kong. 

The Chinese government also belatedly recognized that Tung was a liability. In 2004, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao unceremoniously dressed down Tung on live television. Three months later, Tung resigned for “health reasons” and was elected Vice Chairman of the largely symbolic Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Tung’s successor, Donald Tsang, was chosen reluctantly. But he was a senior civil servant, and seemed to be the only technocrat who could credibly hold together Hong Kong’s disaffected civil service, which China knew was indispensable to governing the territory, regardless of its British heritage. But Tsang brought his own weaknesses to Hong Kong’s government – most notably, greed.

Tsang, who enjoyed spending time with the wealthy on their yachts and in their private suites, pursued a restrictive land policy that boosted real-estate values – and thus the wealth of the land-owning tycoons. Prices rose so high, however, that real estate became accessible only to the very well-off, such as the families of high officials from the mainland. This kind of corrupt behavior earned Tsang a disgraceful exit from government.

Next came Leung Chun-ying, the current governor. Leung – who was not China’s first choice for the position – inherited a mess. But he did not do himself any favors with his cabinet choices, many of whom had mediocre records that indicated corruptibility. One of them, Paul Chan Mo-po, was tasked with managing Hong Kong’s land-supply policy, despite a history of corruption in his personal property transactions. Worse, Leung pushed forward an unpopular plan to introduce “patriotic education” to Hong Kong, stoking fear among students of a China-dictated brainwashing.

After the failure of three consecutive Chinese-selected leaders to address Hong Kong’s concerns, it is no wonder that Hong Kong’s citizens are increasingly seeking to loosen China’s grip on their government. But, for the Chinese authorities, this movement reflects an unacceptable challenge to China’s sovereignty.

In this sense, Hong Kong is locked in a vicious circle – and it is up to China’s government to break it. The fact is that Hong Kong’s citizens understand that they need China, and they have no interest in subverting the central government – nor do they have the power to do so. Their demands for democracy are simply calls for good governance. They believe that free and fair elections represent their best chance of having a competent leader – someone like Patten, China’s former nemesis, who is remembered fondly in Hong Kong.

China’s government is doing itself a disservice by demanding that Hong Kong’s citizens bow before their sovereign, while blaming “outside hostile forces” for spurring some kind of unconstitutional rebellion. Instead, it should focus on the problems created by the chief executives that it chose for the wrong reasons, and it should resolve the underlying governance problems that the demonstrations reflect.

Sin-ming Shaw, a former fellow at Oxford University, was, most recently, a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

TIME: Fighting for the Hong Kong Dream

by Zoher Abdoolcarim

A TIME editor and lifelong Hong Konger reflects on a turbulent month of protest, backlash — and hope

Pro-Democracy Student Leaders And Hong Kong Government Hold Talks
 Pro-democracy protesters sit near an umbrella reading "You May Say I'm a Dreamer" outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty business district in Hong Kong as they watch a live televised talk between pro-democracy student leaders and the government officials on Oct. 21, 2014 

Nearly 140 years ago, my great-grandfather left a small town in India’s Gujarat state to seek opportunity overseas. He heard of a tiny new British colony off the southern coast of a giant old Chinese kingdom, ventured over, and built a better life. Subsequent generations of his clan followed. I was the first to actually be born and raised in Hong Kong — and I’m glad I was. Over the decades, the city has given me and my family a chance to be educated, get good jobs and gain a global outlook. When Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, we stayed on, confident in the territory’s future. Not many residents, ethnic Chinese or not, can claim local roots as deep as mine. To me, Hong Kong — dynamic, orderly, worldly — is more than a place to live and work. It’s in my DNA.

That’s why, even as I keep a professional distance as a journalist, I am personally affected by what Hong Kong is going through. Pride, shock, sorrow — like the territory itself, I have experienced all these emotions, rising and falling with the news, as pro-democracy demonstrators face off, day and night, against a stern police force and an unyielding local government.

In the first week of the sit-ins, the territory witnessed: a peaceful expression of civil disobedience by Hong Kongers, many of them students; the tear-gassing of unarmed citizens in scenes reminiscent of Islamabad, Cairo and Ferguson; and the ferocity of concerted attacks by thugs on protesters on a day that my colleague Liam Fitzpatrick, also Hong Kong–born, called “one of the darkest in Hong Kong’s political history.” That night I wept for a city I no longer recognized.

The protests, standoffs and clashes have become more violent since — an aggressive new fringe of activist has entered the fray, and the police response is increasingly uncompromising. Scores of injuries have occurred, with both sides suffering. The many whose lives, and livelihoods, have been disrupted by the occupied areas and the ensuing gridlock grow angrier. The upshot is that Hong Kong is divided as never before: pro-democracy vs. pro-China; the street vs. the Establishment; young vs. old. Nowhere was the polarity more dramatically revealed than during a live broadcast of talks between students and officials that took place on Tuesday night. In the first TV debate of its kind on Chinese soil, there seemed to be zero chance of reconciliation.

Beijing’s Aug. 31 decree imposing restrictions on the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s leader, the chief executive (CE), was the spark that lit the protests. But democracy is just the vanguard of a clamor for wider change from the marginalized to the middle class. Since the 1997 handover, little has been done to diversify the economy away from real estate and finance, lower the ever higher cost of living or create new jobs.

Instead, the emphasis has been on pleasing Beijing, an agenda that Hong Kongers have rejected repeatedly — an anti-subversion law and the introduction of “national education” had to be scuttled after massive rallies in 2003 and 2012, respectively.

Public trust in an out-of-touch government — and in Beijing — has been severely eroded. Hong Kong, a global financial hub, may be outwardly rich — GDP per capita (PPP) is $53,000 — but, because wealth is so poorly distributed, nearly a fifth of the 7.2 million population lives below the local poverty line of $1,500 a month for a family of three. With current CE Leung Chun-ying seen as a Beijing lackey, a legislature controlled by Establishment figures and an economy dominated by tycoons, ordinary citizens have little choice but to turn to the streets to be heard.

China’s rulers and their Hong Kong proxies should listen, if only out of self-interest. Democracy is no panacea, but it makes those in power more accountable to the citizenry. To the argument that China would not allow more freedom in Hong Kong because it would create a precedent for the Chinese mainland and threaten the ruling Communist Party, the right response is that it’s about time Beijing understands the aspirations of some of its people. Civic consciousness in Hong Kong has been raised to the point that it cannot be bottled. If the territory — which is guaranteed significant autonomy until 2047 through a Sino-British agreement — is so dangerous, why do so many mainlanders wish to come here to study, work and live?

The alternative is that Hong Kong, the brightest star in China and normally a wonderfully easy place to run, will be further alienated and become harder to govern. Its tough tactics may enable Beijing to win today, but longer term, China would forfeit the support of an entire generation — a generation that stands not for subversion, as state media declare, but for hope, for Hong Kong and the entire nation.

Hope is what drew my great-grandfather to Hong Kong. He was then just in his early 20s, similar in age to so many of the protesters. If the Hong Kong dream is to be allowed to be all you can, he achieved it. I’d like to think that in the Hong Kong people pursuing that dream today, a part of my great-grandfather still lives.

Xia Yeliang: China’s Great Leap Backward

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders are meeting in Beijing for a plenary session centered on one topic: the rule of law. Yet, in recent days, several groups on WeChat (a popular Chinese social network) have described the arrests of nearly 50 Chinese activists who support the protests in Hong Kong. Others have reported on an official order to ban the publication or sale of books by authors who support the Hong Kong protests, human-rights activism, and the rule of law. This casts serious doubt on the credibility of the government’s commitment to its stated goal of political modernization.

Among the banned authors is the economist Mao Yushi, who received the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty in 2012. This is not the first time that Mao’s books have been banned. In 2003, his work was proscribed after he signed a petition appealing to the government to exonerate the student protesters whose democratic movement ended with the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

China often does not even issue an official public notice of censorship; an “anonymous” phone call to a publisher, understood to be from an official agency, will suffice. A couple of articles in one of my own books were deleted without an official explanation, and phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs have regularly been removed from my columns and commentaries in journals and newspapers.
Another respected author, the 84-year-old Yu Ying-shih, is also under siege for his support of the Hong Kong protests. Yu, who has taught in the United States at a string of Ivy League universities, has been a prolific critic of the CCP for more than five decades.

In his books, Yu criticizes China’s traditional culture and classical philosophy, and advances universal values based on Western scholarly tradition. Though the books contain no direct reference to contemporary political issues, China’s government views them as critical of CCP rule and thus damaging to social stability.

Then there is Zhang Qianfan, a cautious and prudent scholar, who serves as Vice President of the China Constitutional Law Association. Zhang’s moderate approach to political analysis – during our time as colleagues at Peking University, Zhang criticized some of my stances as excessively derogatory toward the current regime – makes him a somewhat surprising target for the government.
Zhang opposes the decision by many of his contemporaries (including me) to support the protests in Hong Kong, fearing that the government will resort to violent repression, as it did in 1989. Given this, the banning of Zhang’s books most likely resulted not from his views on the protests, but from the implications of his constitutional research.

Far less surprising was the recent arrest of the well-known activist and human-rights advocate Guo Yushan, who has been involved with many so-called “sensitive” issues over the last decade. In 2012, for example, he played a key role in helping the world-famous blind activist Chen Guangcheng escape from house arrest – a major international embarrassment for China. Nonetheless, the timing of Guo’s arrest, shortly before this month’s plenary session, highlights the CCP’s lack of sincerity when it comes to the rule of law.

The treatment of Chinese dissidents, inside and outside the country, is abhorrent. Either they are jailed for their supposed crimes, or prohibited from visiting their families in China – sometimes for two or three decades.

This is not the fate only of vocal anti-CCP figures. Scholars and researchers – from former Princeton University Professor Perry Link and Columbia University Professor Andrew Nathan to Li Jianglin, a writer and historian focused on contemporary Tibetan history – and even businessmen have been prohibited from returning to China. All it takes to have a visa denied or canceled is to sympathize with human-rights movements in China or express any view that contradicts the CCP’s position.
Chinese citizens should be free to leave and enter their homeland, regardless of their political beliefs. Taking away this right without legal justification is a clear violation of modern international norms.
President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented anti-corruption campaign was supposed to signify a shift toward a more transparent system, based on the rule of law. But the fact is that the officials who have been purged so far have been Xi’s political adversaries, and the entire enterprise has served to consolidate his power.

This duplicity is also evident in the crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly, association, and movement now unfolding in China. Xi appears to be pulling China backwards politically, even as he seeks to drive it forward economically.

Xia Yeliang, a former professor of economics at Peking University, is a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute.


華盛頓 --- 本月20日到23日,中國共產黨的高層領導人們在北京出席184中全會,該會議的中心議題是“法治”。然而,近期我所加入的十幾個微信群(一種很流行的社交網絡媒體)已經報道了有接近50位積極活動者因支持發生在香港的抗議活動而被捕的事實。還有其他有關官方下令禁止出版那些支持香港抗議活動、在中國的人權活動以及支持法治制度的作者們所準備出版的著作,已經出版的也必須立即停售和下架,甚至被銷毀。這些行為使得人們對於政府有關它所聲稱的政治現代化目標的承諾之可信度產生嚴重的質疑。





還有一位張千帆教授,他是我在北大的同校同事(他是北大法學院和政府管理學院的雙料教授),也是中國憲法學會的副會長。張教授把我的某些觀點和立場看作是過於貶斥現政權 --- 令人驚訝使他成為政府查禁的目標。











剛好20年前,香港發生過「亞視六君子」事件,6 位亞視新聞部中層人員,因不滿電視台試圖禁播一段由西班牙攝製隊拍攝到的六四清場片段,集體辭職以示不滿。往後20年間,香港的新聞自由每况愈下,認為自 我審查問題嚴重的市民和新聞工作者的比例有所上升,但罕見新聞工作者對自己機構就個別新聞事件的處理集體地和公開地表達不滿。所以,上星期三無綫電視新聞 部員工發公開信,對管理層就一宗警方懷疑毆打示威者的新聞的處理手法表達不滿,事件是有特別意義的。

新聞工作者不會經常對自己機構作公開批 評,一方面當然有飯碗的考慮。但同時,從新聞社會學的觀點看,新聞機構上層和前線員工之間在新聞自由和自我審查問題上的矛盾沒有更經常地爆發出來,是因為 機構內部有一套「遊戲規則」,讓自我審查和專業主義之間的衝突不會太過強烈和表面化。

要理解這一點,首先要指出的是,新聞機構管理層的政治 和社會觀念比前線新聞工作者保守,在全世界是一個普遍現象。大部分新聞機構的老闆,都是社會政治經濟領域內的精英,是「建制」人物,所以他們對政治和社會 問題的態度亦通常較為保守,而老闆自然會傾向選擇跟他們態度較為接近的人坐上重要的位置。這不一定涉及人們為了「爭上位」而改變自己的立場。任何群體中都 會有較為保守的人、較具前進思想的人,和較為激進的人。新聞工作者這群體亦不例外。較保守的人有較大機會坐上重要的位置,是一個結構性的現象。


麼,政治和社會態度較為保守的媒介高層,如何管理較具前進思想的新聞工作者?60年前,美國社會學者Warren Breed就以「新聞室的社會控制」為題,探討新聞機構內部的權力運作(註1)。Warren Breed指出,新聞機構內部有很多潛規則。新入職的記者通過日常跟上司的互動、對自己機構所生產的新聞內容的觀察、跟同事之間的閒聊等,很快就會了解到 這些潛規則。而大部分的記者在大部分時候,由於不想影響工作評核也好,不想跟同事和上司對立也好,不想令工作變得複雜也好,都會遵守這些潛規則。但另一方 面,由於潛規則始終不是明文規定,新聞工作者也可能作出策略性的對抗,這便形成了一種機構內的互動,在控制和反抗之間出現了微妙的平衡。

筆者幾年前發表過一篇學術文章,借用Warren Breed的分析框架來討論香港新聞界的自我審查現象(註2)。文章的重點是指自我審查往往涉及一個機構內部的互動過程。這裏可簡單地以一位電視記者所提 供的故事做例子。該記者憶述,有一次負責董建華年代七一遊行的報道。他在剪輯新聞片段時,一位高層到了剪接房站在他後面觀察他工作。記者指出該高層從來不 會直接觀察剪片過程。但高層也沒多作指令,只是到了一個鏡頭出現示威者連續呼叫4次「董建華下台」的場面時,高層就明言要把那一幕縮短至示威者只連續呼叫 兩次「董建華下台」。


不過,這事例也說明幾點。第一,自我審查難以證實。該記者也承認他沒有證據證明該高層的意圖,而如果該高層已經內化了某種判斷標準的話,他可能衷心地不認為 自己在進行自我審查。第二,指令沒有要求記者完全刪去示威者呼叫「董建華下台」的畫面,大部分香港媒體的自我審查,涉及的是淡化權力擁有者的負面報道,而 不是對負面新聞完全不作報道,這亦加強了證實自我審查的難度。第三,在分秒必爭的新聞工作中,記者很難停下手上的工作來跟上司爭論。第四,那些疑似自我審 查的指令,往往都會有一些專業或技術原因作包裝。在以上的案例中,如果記者真的質疑高層的指令,高層可能的辯解之一,就是指電視新聞要在非常有限的時間內 傳送最多資訊予觀眾,所以示威者的同一句口號沒有必要重複4次。記者不一定同意這說法,但要「拗贏」上層不容易。

所以,只要高層的意圖不要 太赤裸,指令不要太離譜,手法不要太粗糙,前線新聞工作者就只能在心裏繼續懷疑和批判,以及在工作時策略性地應對。說到底,雖然工作受到掣肘,但記者在前 線仍然有一定程度的自主性,不能說完全沒有發揮的空間。所以,一般情况之下,與其跟上層反面,不如在自己的崗位上盡力。


題是,個別新聞機構自我審查的狀况,已經嚴重到一個大部分普通市民都看得出的地步。筆者於8月底本欄目的一篇文章中,報告過一些調查研究的數據:讓香港市 民在一個由010分的量表上評價不同媒體類型和社會政治組織能否代表民意,香港市民對電視新聞的評分,由2012年的6分,急跌至2014年的不足 4.5分。在這環境下,個別新聞機構的新聞工作者在前線往往要承受極大壓力,而其中電視新聞記者又特別容易被認出。終於,上星期三的那宗新聞成為了一個引 爆點(tipping point),打破了機構內部原本就可能很不穩定的表面平衡狀態。

至於那宗新聞的處理手法本身,其實道理應該很簡 單,記者依據鏡頭所見作出一個事實性的描述,又沒有加入有價值取向的形容詞,怎會有問題?如果說「暗角」和「拳打腳踢」有主觀成分,那麼新聞中經常出現的 「示威者『衝擊』警方防線」不也有主觀成分嗎?若說當事人已作投訴,但案件未進入司法程序,哪裏來影響審判和藐視法庭的問題?再者,電視台會否前後一致地 用同樣方法處理類似情况?當佔領結束之日,佔領人士被捕或自首時,新聞會否將這幾星期發生的事情簡化為一句「懷疑他們曾經佔領街道」?

正面 點看,這次前線員工發聲,至少可以減低一些市民對一些機構裏的記者的誤解,亦希望可以促使管理層反思一些新聞內容的處理手法以至機構內部的新聞政策,管理 層應該明白,這種對立頻繁出現,不可能不嚴重影響機構的運作。但如果新聞機構不修正做法,新聞界連「你有你嘗試箝制,我有我嘗試突圍」的格局都維持不了 時,香港的新聞自由的變化就不是量變,而是質變,即不止是排名下降,指數下降,認為自我審查問題嚴重的市民比例上升等數量上的變化,而是遊戲規則的轉變。

1 Breed, Warren (1955). Social control in the newsroom: A functional analysis. Social Forces, 33(4), 326-335.
2. Lee, Francis L.F. and Chan, Joseph Man (2009). The organizational production of self-censorship in the Hong Kong media. International Journal of Press/Politics, 14(1), 112-133.