Thursday, August 27, 2009

One For All Seasons Flew Over the Inglourious Basterds

By Chip Tsao | published Aug 27, 2009

Hong Kong’s political life is getting more cinematic everyday. The government’s compulsory drug testing in schools policy is playing out like a cheap remake of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but with a decidedly unattractive cast. Although the proposal says that schoolchildren and their parents will be “consulted” before they decide to take the test, the police will be involved and gather information about all those who refuse it, no doubt putting their names on some kind of watch list.

Adding a dash of Tarantinoesque flavor to the verbiage in the row, privacy commissioner Roger Wu has done the government’s nut in by writing an open letter warning about a raft of legal problems and potential lawsuits that could follow the implementation of this rushed-out policy. Wu comes off like a postmodern version of Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons.” The government whined about Wu’s disloyalty through a few poorly spin-doctored mouthpieces last week, questioning why the commissioner decided to put on a show of, to borrow a Cantonese saying, “chickens fighting each other in the same cage,” by making his dissident views embarrassingly public. A wink-and-nudge behind closed doors would’ve done just fine, they seem to suggest.

Wu is a Queen’s English speaking lawyer with an old Etonian elegance, who insists on maintaining an immaculate dress code while continuing to dine in the very top tier of respectable social establishments such as the Red Room in the Hong Kong Club even after the so-called “handover.” He would certainly not be amused about being framed in the commonly used Chinese agricultural metaphor about a couple of noisy chickens.

But what’s wrong with publicizing his views? It’s all the political fashion these days, so much so that even Cheng Yiu-tong, one of Donald Tsang’s handpicked executive councilors, has openly voiced his objection to the government’s pay cut for senior civil servants. Leung Chun-ying, a leading member of Tsang’s cabinet tipped as the crown prince to succeed him for the top job, has even struck a dissident chord by calling for a minimum wage. Many people have benefited from generating their single sound bite, earning themselves a one-night stand as a hero of public opinion, despite the fact that this causes the death of the administration’s popularity by a thousand cuts.

Biting the hand that feeds them, the ungrateful Cheng and Leung can enjoy more freedom of speech because of their long-standing reputation as Beijing’s favorite children, while Wu, like Thomas More, is a lone man against the system. The government doesn’t need to hide its grudge against Wu; on the contrary, like Henry VIII, they can demand the head of their lord chancellor.

Making cinematic references is both a useful and trendy exercise in understanding modern political reality, especially in Hong Kong, a place where an intelligent minority is ruled by a particularly inglourious group of people. Or, as Donald Tsang and Henry Tang might see it, vice versa.

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