Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lee Kuan Yew, Mickey Rourke, and Mindanao

By Chip Tsao | published Dec 03, 2009

The ever-daring Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Singapore, never lets his fans down. The Cambridge-educated veteran statesman said last week: “I don’t think the Chinese are ever interested in democracy.” If not democracy, then what? “Money” is what was left unsaid.

Lee’s comment caused dismay among certain quarters of Hong Kong, and he was even branded a “racist” by some democrats. But can you blame the wise old man for his stereotypical, prejudiced, and politically incorrect verdict?

A total of 57 people were massacred on Mindanao in the Philippines last week in a terrible mass political execution. Among the dead, 18 were reporters who were accompanying the family of a candidate who was challenging a rival clan for the provincial governorship. Most of them were beheaded. When asked for his reaction to the tragedy, Mr. Wong, the chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Manila, said: “I hope investment in the country will not be affected by this event. So far, the business of the Chinese hasn’t dropped.”

What a cold sound bite. For more than 3,000 years, the Chinese have seen massacres much worse, from the Mongolian invasion to the Rape of Nanking in 1939. An untouched Mr. Wong cares more about a drop in revenue than a drop of blood. Professional businessman.

That reminds me of an interview on September 11, 2001 soon after the twin towers fell in New York. The Hong Kong TVB overseas news correspondent and his crew were quick to make it to Canal Street in Chinatown to talk to the owner of a Chinese grocery. In the midst of the billowing smoke clouds where hundreds of people had just leapt to their deaths from the collapsing towers, the grocer, presumably also a US citizen, said calmly: “Yes, I’ve just witnessed the towers breaking into dust. They’re on Wall Street, a couple of miles away. We’re pretty safe here. God knows how our business in Chinatown is going to be hit by this.”

This in turn reminded me of the movie, “Year of the Dragon,” a violent action-thriller from 1985 starring a rowdy Mickey Rourke as a New York cop up against John Lone, the head of a Chinatown triad gang and drug trafficking ring. The movie sparked angry protests from Chinese-Americans because it contained some allegedly racist lines uttered by the mumbling detective, such as “fuck off with your 3,000 years of civilization, you shit. You don’t care about anything except food and money.”

As a very young man, I had once been outraged by these strong views—until 9/11 when I saw that interview with the grocer. Lee’s comment, read in parallel with Mr. Wong’s reaction, has made me nostalgic for Mickey Rourke and that notorious film, made in a different era (such freedom of expression is no longer enjoyed by Hollywood scriptwriters today). That nostalgia is perhaps what one may call, not unduly, being mature.

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