Hong Kong is in the grip of a depressive disorder.
What is depression? Psychiatrists have reduced it to a clinical definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its 5th Edition, known for short as DSM 5.
Chief among the principal characteristics are a low mood most of the day almost every day, a loss of sense of enjoyment in the things that once gave pleasure or satisfaction, and an overall sense of worthlessness.
Ring any bells?
A depressive disorder invariably develops over a period of time so that it gradually invests itself in the subject who finds it increasingly futile to find reasons to combat it.
It is an intensely personal experience becoming increasingly intractable with the passage of time. Drugs merely allay the symptoms when what is needed is psychotherapy that identifies the underlying cause.
The four recent suicides by young Hongkongers have been attributed to the government’s intransigence over the extradition bill.
Whereas government obduracy – some would argue stupidity – may have been the final straw, it is equally likely that such desperate acts by these tragic people were the culmination of a lengthy period of gestating hopelessness.
To many observers, the continuation of protest beyond the shelving of the bill appears extreme. Yet the passion with which people are expressing their discontent is almost certainly the product of a long-standing and increasingly chronic loss of hope.
The Lam administration’s inability or flagrant refusal to comprehend the fundamental distinction between Hong Kong’s common law guarantee of a just system and the arbitrary rule of the Chinese Communist Party only fuels that sense of desperation.
Repressive police over-reaction only exacerbates the symptoms.
This cultural clash has to be viewed against a local backcloth of the yawning gulf between obscene wealth in the hands of a tiny minority and exponentially comparative poverty by the majority.
The most glaring irony of all is that Hong Kong’s super-rich feel more comfortable with the movers and shakers of the CCP.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong in 1985 it was still a place where someone with the will to work and a positive vision could reasonably hope to build a successful future for themselves and their family.
That is no longer the case.
The antagonism Hongkongers show to mainlanders is due, in no small part, to their neighbors’ relatively uncivilized flaunting of wealth, their arrogance in such aspects as a refusal to speak anything but Putonghua or to wait their turn in line, and their bizarre public toileting habits, among others.
All these sources of animosity are exacerbated by a government that fails to communicate any genuine understanding of the needs and concerns of the people over whom it reigns.
While the public health system is suffocating from shortage of funds, primary health care is totally ignored and the elderly are consigned to care homes that treat them like mendicants, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her Executive Council are dreaming up multibillion-dollar schemes that owe more to a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party mentality than sentient guardians of the common good.
Having regard to the Croesus-like wealth available to them, the yawning gap between the public’s needs and the government’s plans to address them, is incomprehensible.
Now add into this volatile mix the perception that the central government is hell-bent on turning Hong Kong into just another Chinese provincial city, subject to the whims of whichever party hack is currently in favor, and the passion for genuine self-regulation is urgently explicable.
Hong Kong as a system authentically separate from while a part of the mainland makes eminently practicable sense and carries mutual benefits.
The genuine maintenance of “one country, two systems” makes practicable sense and is mutually beneficial.
But watching a succession of semi- and wholly-dysfunctional Hong Kong administrations try to fudge the distinction between the systems renders hope on life-support.
As individuals, we react to the closest nuclear environment. A breakdown in a domestic relationship creates a personal crisis and if that is not repaired promptly, it festers and the crisis becomes self-perpetuating.
Now carry personal crisis into the context of the community and the low mood, loss of satisfaction in things once enjoyed and the consequential sense of worthlessness are compounded manifold times.
Survival is the strongest of all human instincts but we need a reason to survive. Deprived of a reason to live, that instinct turns self-destructive.
The immediate solution is to offer the people of Hong Kong a sense of purpose with which those young enough to do so can scent a future in which they have a part to play. An existence under the impersonal yoke of the CCP is an end devoutly to be avoided.
If the current administration had both the wit and courage to convey the truth of this to the central government and to hold fast to it, there would still be a prospect of salvation.
I fear that none of our current holders of high office have exhibited either, let alone both of those essential qualities.
An immediate initiation of a progression to the long-overdue promise of universal suffrage would empower people to feel that they share in fashioning their own future.
But the immediate seething unrest demands urgent diagnosis and treatment. That can and should be answered by setting up a public inquiry headed by a respected judicial figure given terms of reference that are sufficiently wide to ensure comprehensive analysis.
This is the wise counsel of retired Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang and former Secretary of Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, currently Chair Professor of Public Administration at the Education University of Hong Kong. Two gentlemen who know of what they speak.
There can be no valid justification for rejecting it.
A public inquiry charged with analyzing the anatomy of unrest and apportioning responsibility without fear or favor would go a considerable way towards restoring a measure of confidence in the machinery of government. In effect, identifying the root cause.
The reality is that the public have no faith in the independence of the Independent Police Complaints Council. In no way is this criticism of the excellent Anthony Neoh SC, it is a question of public perception. Further, a public inquiry would examine the behavior of everyone involved, not just the police, an essential for impartiality.
The depressive needs to be able to grasp hold of something that will lift the inner spirits. A receptive ear and a willingness to find a constructive cure are the first steps.
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