The Half System That Makes a Difference
In my June 1, 2006 posting titled “One Country, One System and a Half,” I commented upon the chaotic and somewhat degenerate state in which I found Kowloon during a recent visit. But praise must be granted where praise is due, and this weekend’s turnout in Victoria Square, Hong Kong, for the candlelight vigil commemorating the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, certainly warrants that.
While handfuls of protestors in and around Beijing were being spirited away by watchful police officers and tourists unfurling a nonpolitical banner were being turned back, up to 40,000 Hong Kong residents, young and old, braved the threatening weather to gather and remember the indelible stain that has marked China’s recent history. The contrast within the country is striking: in Beijing, up to 2,000 law enforcement officers had been deployed to make sure that Chinese could not give Tiananmen its due remembrance; meanwhile, in Hong Kong, generations who in 1989 looked on with trepidation as they saw how their future country was coping with dissent were joining hands with young people who hadn’t even been born when the tanks rolled in. Despite remarks by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), who not unlike his predecessor tends to kowtow to his political masters in Beijing, to the effect that the citizens should look at Tiananmen “practically” and under the light of “economic prosperity,” the residents of Hong Kong gathered and demanded that Beijing own up to the consequences of its actions.
The people who gathered at Tiananmen in 1989 were not counterrevolutionaries, nor did their demands for an end to elite cronyism represent a hurdle along China’s journey towards economic prosperity. In fact, getting rid of that festering elite, whom Minxin Pei, the director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, compares to Neo-Leninists, would only do a great service to China’s long-term economic health. The people of Hong Kong are aware of all that, and they won’t swallow the lie, to the effect that Tiananmen was a good thing for China’s future, being fed them by Beijing and their Chief Executive.
This is a promising sign. While I deplore the decadence that seems to have crept over certain areas of Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, bright hope lies in the ability of the city’s residents to give voice to their political views and hankering for democracy—not just for themselves, but for their country as a whole. This is the healthy half in the one system and a half that I refer to. To the detriment of the Pearl of the Orient, one half of that system seems to have been swallowed by Beijing and Shanghai. The other half, however, is very much part of China and represents a force for change. It stands as a precious jade bestowed upon the billion Chinese people, and within that force lie the seeds of a less repressive, future China.