After years in retirement, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa came back into the limelight a year ago, founding his own think tank, the Our Hong Kong Foundation.
At a recent event celebrating the think tank’s first anniversary, Tung delivered a speech in which he expressed his views on various issues.
Like many others, when I read what he said in the newspaper the next day, my first reaction was, “Come on, Mr. Tung, please shut up!”
I didn’t mean to be rude, but Tung was talking nonsense in his speech.
On one hand, he said he appreciated young people’s passion for participating in politics and understood their pursuit of social justice. He even encouraged them to continue to express their views by peaceful means.
But on the other hand, he said he couldn’t understand why young people in this city had to take to the streets to make their voices heard.
In fact that incomprehension is mutual, for I can’t figure out why it is so difficult for Tung to truly understand what our young people really want.
Unlike the older generation, more and more Gen-Xers and millennials have come to believe that social progress should not be measured purely by economic success, and many of them have started to look beyond material comforts and search for higher values such as equality, social justice, freedom, human dignity, the right to preserve one’s way of life and the conservation of cultural heritage.
They are convinced that these values, rather than our stock exchange, are what truly defines Hong Kong and makes our city unique.
It is not that our young people these days are lacking motivation, nor that they are no longer interested in climbing the social ladder and starting a promising career, but that they no longer regard wealth as an overriding goal in life, because wealth is not eternal and can evaporate instantly when an economic downturn strikes, as happened to many local middle-class families during the 1997 Asian financial turmoil and the 2008 global financial tsunami.
However, values like social justice and freedom are immortal and universal, something money can’t buy.
My question is, how many people in the Our Hong Kong Foundation are able to understand what our young people really think and are keeping their finger on the pulse of our society?
If they continue to stick to the old-school belief that there is nothing more important in life than living comfortably and making big bucks, there is no way they can get to the heart of the issue as to why our young people are still taking to the streets although our society is so wealthy.
In fact, Tung seems to be completely out of touch with current public sentiment and social reality, as his foundation proposed in its latest research report that public rental housing tenants be allowed to buy the units they are renting at a heavily discounted price.
The memory of the property market crash caused by his notorious “85,000 flats” housing policy still haunts many Hongkongers.
Helping first-time homebuyers to buy their new homes might not be a bad idea, but it certainly must not be carried out at all costs, or at the expense of other members of society.
It really boggles the mind that Tung seems to have failed to learn that painful lesson and is still quite keen on bringing back the notorious policy that drove tens of thousands of local families into bankruptcy.
In the meantime, Tung also mentioned in his speech that his heart ached whenever he heard young people say they are Hongkongers, not Chinese.
He urged the government to intensify patriotic education in our school curriculum to foster patriotism among the younger generation, because China is on the rise now and nobody in Hong Kong should resist his or her identity as a Chinese.
He even accused some political critics in Hong Kong of “magnifying certain isolated social issues” in the mainland and kicking up a fuss about them to smear our country.
If Tung really believed Hong Kong’s governance problem can be resolved once and for all by simply enhancing patriotic education in our schools, it would only indicate how naïve he was and further highlight his ignorance about the popular sentiment toward the mainland among our young people.
Seemingly, there is no shortage of opportunity for cross-border exchange these days, and hundreds of exchange tours organized by schools and pro-Beijing organizations are setting off to Beijing, Shanghai and other major mainland cities almost every day.
However, as far as I know, many young people are just not keen on joining, because to them these tours appear more like propaganda than real exchange, for they only show people the good side of China, while anything else that is less presentable is swept under the carpet.
It is true that people should appreciate the economic miracle in the mainland, but true patriots would not only notice the good side of their country.
Rather, they would be more concerned about the bad side and try their best to fix it.
How on earth could Beijing truly win the hearts and minds of young people in Hong Kong when on one hand it is taking our students to visit the impressive skyscrapers in Shanghai while on the other it is continuing to crack down on dissent and persecuting human rights activists?
It is Patriotism 101: love for one’s country is not equal to allegiance to the ruling party, and pointing out the government’s mistakes and drawing public attention to them should by no means be regarded as an act of subversion.
Anybody in our city who can think independently has no difficulty grasping these concepts.
It seems it is Tung Chee-hwa himself, rather than our young people, who should undergo further patriotic education.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 25.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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