Boring for the nation is not the same as rallying the nation

November 17, 2017 18:00
Li Fei does not have a reputation as an electric orator and a speech on constitutional issues is hardly the stuff that sets the average school student’s heart racing. Photo: HKEJ.

Only a bunch of deluded bureaucrats and equally misguided democrats could possibly have expressed concern over the fact that a (admittedly worrying) speech by Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei was broadcast live to some 50 schools last Thursday.

Comrade Li does not have a reputation as an electric orator and a speech on constitutional issues is hardly the stuff that sets the average school student’s heart racing. The additional fact that Li spoke in Mandarin made it even less likely that close attention was paid, as students had a struggle to understand the language, especially in the stilted and formal style employed by Li.

However, certain members of the democratic camp have got all het up about this on grounds of our old friend "principle". They say that in principle, political indoctrination speeches should not be foisted on school kids and question whether the authorities even had the right to initiate a broadcast of this kind.

The principle of the matter may be important but the reality is that a speech like this is almost certain not to have gained a scintilla of attention from a bunch of school kids forced to watch it when they had far more pressing things on their minds, possibly including finishing off a vital video game or maybe they used the time to think about how much homework was piling up.

However, an indoctrination session may well have provided precisely the push needed to get students to pay more attention to those giving out leaflets arguing the case for Hong Kong independence. The leaflet disseminators have re-emerged recently and were probably met more with puzzlement than interest but when a school forces its students to sit through a lengthy dirge on the Basic Law, it sure helps to ignite the fires of rebellion.

Most students, however, probably greeted this interruption to normal lessons with a shrug of indifference. I base this not only on vague memories of my own ability as a school student to simply switch off when being harangued by some boring teacher but also on my experience as a reporter.

In this context, my most vivid memory is of traveling to Guangzhou shortly after the violent suppression of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. I wanted to find out how these events had impacted a part of the country far removed from Beijing.

One of the people I interviewed was a female factory worker who told me that all work on the shop floor had been brought to a halt so that employees could watch a number of television address giving the government’s version of what happened. How long did that last, I asked. "I’m not sure," she replied. "It seemed like hours." And what were you told? She looked at me in amazement and said, "I have no idea; of course I didn’t listen."

I would take a bet that if you asked any of the school students to provide a summary of Li Fei’s address, the overwhelming majority would similarly not be able to do so.

This raises the question of why they were subjected to this mind-numbing experience in the first place. Lamentably, the answer is easy to supply because these days the Hong Kong government is displaying a kind of sycophancy that would be amusing if it were not so troubling. Officials who want to get noticed and get promoted know full well that this is most likely to happen if they can think of ways of pleasing their masters in Beijing.

And nothing pleases the masters more than efforts by local sycophants to promote so-called patriotic initiatives. They just love it when one of the kowtowers quotes a Chinese leader, preferably Xi Jinping, or bemoans the lack of patriotic spirit among the young (you can tell this is important because CY Leung is especially assiduous in this regard) but, by and large, they will settle for more or less anything that indicates enthusiasm denoting subservience to the central authorities. The brown nosers are acutely aware of Xi’s insistence that the central authorities exercise "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong and want to demonstrate their support.

What better way to do this than by insisting that Li Fei’s address should be beamed directly into schools? The flag wavers can and will do much worse than this; the democrats should have kept their powder for such an eventuality.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author