Monday, June 17, 2019

Hong Kong: A Beautiful & Tragic Tribute to the British Empire

How can you define the Age of Empire? Of course, empires existed well before written history, but in the modern context I think one could best bracket it from 1492 to 1945. In that time, the world shrunk and the strong absorbed the weak. Spanish, Portuguese, British, French, Russian, Italian, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, and even to a lesser degree Italian, Danish, and even Swedish.

With the passage of years, if you had to pick one empire to be subjugated by – no question it would have been the British. Look at the performance of their former colonies relative to others. The New World is the best laboratory, but the planet is sprinkled with them.

In Asia, Hong Kong springs to mind. A bunch of swampy islands useful for the opium and other trade when opened up, in time it became an economic powerhouse and a rhetorical island of individual, if not political liberty in a sea of autocracy.

The best give was Common Law and a civil society that was spot-welded on the best aspects of the Chinese culture of its inhabitants. That love of rule of law also brought with it the mother country’s deference to law itself – and as such when their lease ran out, the land returned to what was for the inhabitants of Hong Kong, a foreign country – the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kong never really had a fully democratic system as part of the British Empire, but they had the rule of law and more freedom than anyone else in their part of Asia. They never have had a vote on their future either – no Singapore option for them, sadly.

“One Country – Two Systems” was to allow the citizens of Hong Kong 50-years to have some sort of independence. In 1997, that seemed a long time, but in 2019, 2047 is close and the last few decades have seen a soft erosion around the edges.

Most here are familiar with the most recent protests – protests whose endgame is still unknown, so I’ll only give this one snapshot for those just coming out of a coma;
Faced with huge and disruptive protests in Hong Kong, China blinked. The decision to shelve the legislation that sparked the demonstrations shows that limits still exist to how hard China can, or is willing, to push. It also exposed a fundamental contradiction in the “one country, two systems” framework that governs the semi-autonomous city.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has cemented his hold on power since taking the helm in 2012. His government has expanded control over information, religion and other aspects of society. In Hong Kong, the local government has disqualified a pro-independence party, sent the leaders of a 2014 protest to prison and denied a visa renewal to an editor for Britain’s Financial Times.

Activists decried these moves as chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms, but residents largely went about their lives. Then the government, with China’s backing, chipped too deeply, propelling hundreds of thousands, possibly millions in a city of 7.4 million people, into the streets.
The BBC is calling it two million – roughly 25%. That would be as if 81 million Americans hit the streets in protest.

China is playing the long game, as is their habit. You have to feel for the people of Hong Kong. They don’t want to bother their neighbors, they don’t want to do anything but have the basic freedoms they have come to love as … yes it is true … Westerners.

The West has nothing to do with race, creed, color, or national origin. It derives from the best ideas from The Enlightenment – ideas which manifested themselves best in the Anglosphere, if like me you define “best” as based in individual liberty.

The people of Hong Kong are in the streets because they want to live under Common Law – not the Chinese Communist Law. They want freedom of speech, not social ratings and oppression.

They speak with a fun mix of a Chinese inflected English accent. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong since 2017 is Carrie Lam. One of the leaders of the latest protests is Joshua Wong.



Just look at the number of English first names among the most well known Hongkingers.

The unofficial protest song is the hymn, in English, ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord.’

What can the West do to for our friends in Hong Kong? I don’t know. It is all just sad – like watching a beautiful flower slowly drowned in a rising flood of concrete.

Hopefully, good people in important positions will do what they can, and the Hongkongers will suffer what they must … but the rest of us?

Realize what a rare gift we have – how easily it is lost – and how hard it is to get back.

If you find yourself bending towards centralized power, desire to restrict speech you dislike, or accept corruption because you think it might benefit your interests … think again.

The natural state of man is one of the powerful abusing the weak. Of the clever fooling the gullible – the majority oppressing the minority. No macro-culture has done more for freedom than the West. We should praise it – even when our education system does not. Support it, even as some political leaders sneer at its fruits. Help others grow it where they can – and mourn its loss when it happens.

Time will tell, but for now admire the people in Hong Kong and their bravery. You can’t help but respect a mass protest who acts like this.

No comments: