Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Budgeting for the Future

Hong Kong is eerily quiet this evening. Rush hour traffic was heavy, but not too bad and as I got home from the gym, there was hardly anyone on the streets.

Where did everyone go?

Perhaps the city is preparing to brace itself when it hears Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's budget speech tomorrow afternoon.

In the past months and weeks we have heard of more banks laying off staff, restaurants and supermarkets raising the prices of food, and while rents and property prices are softening, it's only slightly.

Some media are speculating Tsang will hand out as much as HK$40.3 billion ($5.2 billion) in terms of tax rebates, utility subsidies and property rate waivers. He will also announce the sale of at least HK$10 billion in inflation-linked bonds.

Last week Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen admitted at the World Economic Forum at Davos that he has "never been as scared" about the global economic outlook. UBS AG is forecasting Hong Kong will experience a "shallow" recession in the first half of the year.

"Much of the ammunition is likely to be spent on countering economic hardship stemming from slowing growth and the widening income gap," said Kelvin Lau, an economist with Standard Chartered Plc in Hong Kong. "We expect the upcoming budget to be long on one-off concessions and short on new vision."

That was most certainly the case last year when John Tsang originally wanted to put HK$6,000 into every person's MPF or Mandatory Provident Fund for retirement and the huge public uproar forced him to hand out cash to every permanent Hong Kong resident living here and abroad. The mishandling of the incident cost hundreds of millions of dollars in terms of setting up the infrastructure and logistics of distributing the money.

Given Tsang's track record people are probably not expecting him to come up with any brilliant ideas for the long term. So they probably anxiously waiting to see what short-term stop-gaps he will come up with.

In the meantime a group is proposing that those who buy luxury goods should be taxed 3 percent.

This was the conclusion after a survey of 200 Hong Kong-based members of CPA Australia, a global accounting organization.

Loretta Shuen Leung Lai-sheung, chairwoman of the Greater China tax division of CPA Australia, said the proposed tax on luxury goods would not deter mainland shoppers in the city. That's because designer brands are taxed 30 to 50 percent for being imported and 17 percent for value-added tax on the mainland.

"This is a far cry from the levy across the border," Shuen said yesterday. "Another reason they [mainlanders] shop here is because of the authenticity and high quality of goods."

In 2010 the sales of luxury goods reached HK$50 billion; a tax of 3 percent would yield HK$1.5 billion in revenue for the government, she added.

Shuen said it was time the government look for long-term measures to widen the tax base because only one in five people in Hong Kong paid taxes in 2010, mostly coming from the middle class.

However some are concerned about the definition of luxury goods and who should be taxed.

"There are many issues needing to be addressed," said Yvonne Law Shing Mo-han, Deloitte's national chief knowledge officer. "For example, should we tax tourists or local shoppers or both? Should we tax local brands or foreign brands?" Law asked. "A plasma TV is a necessity to many families, but it may cost tens of thousands of dollars. A branded handbag is a necessity to many ladies, but it may be a luxury to others. How should be define luxury goods?"

While Shuen has the right idea, Law has a bizarre concept of what luxury goods are.

Financial gurus who try to help people manage their money boil it down to this -- a want and a need.

We can all probably agree that a high-end television that costs tens of thousands of dollars is not a necessity but a want.

A designer handbag that costs a few thousand dollars is probably a want than a need.

Sounds pretty straight forward to me. And what's wrong with taxing both tourists and locals? If they can afford it, surely they would have no qualms paying 3 percent more.

As the saying goes, if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Riding the China Auction Wave

Record prices at auctions in Hong Kong used to turn heads; now the astronomical numbers are pretty much commonplace with mostly mainland Chinese buyers snapping up all kinds of things from wines and artwork to stamps, coins and rare banknotes.

Olivier Stocker, chairman and chief executive of Spink, one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of collectibles, says more than half the buyers in Hong Kong are from the mainland in terms of both transaction values and volumes.

"The thing that distinguishes the Chinese collector is that he or she is more aggressive than other buyers," he says. "When they want something, they don't mind bidding a bit more to get it and once they have decided to buy something, they usually get it. European buyers are usually more conservative about price."

Spink used to have a stamp auction once a year and now plans to increase it to four times a year because of demand.

Last year's Spink auction in Hong Kong raised HK$80 million ($10.31 million) worth of stamps, banknotes, bonds and shares.

There seems to be a growing interest among the mainland Chinese to acquire rare collectibles associated with the history of their homeland -- or is there?

A few media report that many of them use auctions as a way to launder money or give cash bribes to people.

For example, an official may be given a gift of say rare stamps or a painting which is then put up for auction. In some cases, a bidding war is arranged in advance to push up the price. Once it's sold, the official gets the cash.

This results in creating an inflated market or perhaps even an artificial market for items that may not really have as high or any real value.

Auction houses must know this is happening -- and this eagerness of Spink and others to hold more auctions reveals their keen interest in getting in on the market while it's super hot.

But how long will it last? When will the bubble burst?

With China experts taking its fourth quarter GDP results at 8.9 percent with a heavy dose of skepticism as all indications from electricity use to import/export numbers are down, the mainland may be in for a hard landing, but so far seems to be in denial.

We'll have to see how many more record prices we see at auction this year.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Fact of the Day: Unscrupulous Junkets to Macau

Macau keeps humming as the gambling capital of the world.

Casino revenue in the former Portuguese enclave hit a record 267.87 billion patacas, up 42.2 percent from 2010 and more than five times the casino revenue on the Las Vegas strip.

More than five times all the casinos in Las Vegas combined.

A good chunk of this success is thanks to junkets. Their job is to lure high-rolling gamblers thanks to cheap or free credit and in return they get huge commissions on the gambling turnover from their clients.

According to Hong Kong media, there were 219 officially licensed companies and individuals last year, up 13 percent from 2010.

Licensed junkets are required to pass "suitability" checks as well as internal background screening by the individual casino companies.

Junkets that are officially registered in Macau may also be subjected to probity checks by overseas gambling regulators in the United States, Australia and other countries.

However, not all of this money was generated from legitimate junkets. There's an estimate that the number of unlicensed junkets working in Macau under licensed agents and companies range from several thousand to more than 10,000.

These are shady operations that go beyond the law to collect casino debts from players. That's because unlike Hong Kong, Macau or Singapore, casino debt is not enforceable via courts on the mainland.

Perhaps it has to do with gambling being outlawed in China?

In any event, if there really are thousands of unlicensed junkets out there, mainland Chinese high rollers better beware who they are dealing with -- they may not have a good time in Macau -- and that's not just the losses at the tables.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fantastical Couture

World of Wearable Art
My uncle gave me two tickets to an intriguing show called World of Wearable Art that is part of the 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival.

I'd seen the advertisements for it and they had some wacky images, including a walking pin cushion and a dragon coming out of a book.

World of Wearable Art or WOW is originally from New Zealand and is now in its 24th year. This was the first time they were taking the show outside the country.

Monsters in books
The founder of the event, Dame Suzie Moncrieff explained the costumes are chosen from an annual competition where designers from around the world submit creations that are "art off the wall and onto the human body".

They are chosen from by a panel of judges including herself and the winning pieces are then featured in a 70-minute show that is sectioned into themes.

She stressed it wasn't a fashion show where models walked down a catwalk, but that it was choreographed.

The show was held at Star Hall in KITEC in Kowloon Bay. I used to work in Kowloon Bay over 10 years ago and hadn't been back since and boy had it changed. I could hardly recognize the place and it took us a while to find the free shuttle that takes you to KITEC.

KITEC itself is huge and we had to go up to the third floor and go to the left to huge venue.

A pretzel dress
No one really knew what to expect and it began with a Maori tribute, with a singer and performers coming out in what looked like variations of Maori costume. Not being familiar with it, we didn't quite understand what was going on. The models would come out from the left, and model their outfit, then walk to the front centre of the stage and then to the right.

However, things started to get going in the Children's Section where a giant book came down from the ceiling and opened up into a pop-up book of a giant castle where performers came out of. Here local kids modelled some cute outfits, like books that had eyes and looked like monsters, one wearing hamburgers and fries on her skirt, another with a dress that opened in the middle to reveal a circus or a dress that seemed to be made of giant pretzels.

Another memorable part was when the lights went dark and glow-in-the-dark pieces came out. It culminated into many performers dressed in black with an outline of stick men dancing together that was fun to watch.

Chairs that walk
Things then got more fantastical with outfits that looked like birds or butterflies, chairs that moved and an old man who looked like he was carrying someone else on his back. Some of the outfits reminded me of Alexander McQueen, particularly one that looked like a face helmet with armour on top of a red body suit. There was also a woman who looked like she was walking an imaginary dog, but on her behind under her short flared skirt was the head of a stuffed dog. Perhaps an outfit Lady Gaga would wear?

At the end nine local fashion design graduates of the Hong Kong Design Institute showcased their work, and they were just as amazing as the rest of the show. Many were very elaborate pieces, again some seemed inspired by McQueen in his exploration of the female body. Some were reinterpretations of the Edwardian era, including one that featured a bird as part of the headdress.

As the show progressed the volume of clapping increased as the audience set aside their skepticism and went along for this fantasy ride through "wearable art". It seemed like many of the costumes could be found in Cirque du Soleil, but without the acrobatics.

Glad I went -- it was a reminder of how anything is possible -- as long as you set your imagination free.

World of Wearable Art
January 28-30, Feb 3-5, 2012
Star Hall, KITEC
1 Trademart Drive
Kowloon Bay
www.worldofwearableart.com

Friday, 27 January 2012

A Wimpy Contender

It's quite amusing to see Henry Tang Ying-yen claim that he can beat his rivals in the kickboxing ring but shies away from a verbal joust.

Two days ago he set up a photo opportunity for the media to watch him train in a kickboxing studio in Central. But the former chief secretary declined to an invitation by 12 local environmental groups to a public debate even though candidates Leung Chun-ying and Albert Ho Chun-yan were game.

According to forum organizers, including Greenpeace and WWF Hong Kong, Tang said he would attend on condition there was no direct debate with his rivals.

What kind of cowardly response is that?

The forum was expected to cover such issues as air pollution, waste management and conservation. The organizers had already begun approaching the candidates in November, and Ho and Leung agreed earlier this month.

Yesterday Tang's response was: "When everyone's platforms are released, we can have a higher-level and more in-depth debate that's more objective," he said. "There'll be a lot of chances to debate together on such occasions."

However, local media note Tang is the only one who has not unveiled a preliminary platform for public consultation.

When he was practicing kickboxing the other day, Tang claimed he could beat Leung in a bout between them. Leung replied yesterday that he dedicated his time to formulating a platform and so he didn't have time for sports.

Leung added he didn't understand why Tang was turning down invitations to a public debate. "What has been disappointing to many is that Mr Henry Tang has never been willing to [attend debates] at the same time and in the same venue, so a rather special situation has arisen in Hong Kong: that during electioneering, candidates cannot discuss policies at the same time, let alone debate."

He again criticized Tang during his time as Chief Secretary for not stopping more than 100,000 mainland mothers-to-be from giving birth in Hong Kong. And as head of a commission on poverty, "The more [Tang] helped, the poorer [Hong Kong] became."

Tang rebutted by saying he had introduced policies like transport subsidies for low-income earners and funds to help with children development.

Unwilling to take part in a public debate speaks volumes about Tang... we already know about his infidelity, his lack of understanding what average Hong Kongers go through and now we can only speculate he wouldn't stand a chance in a debate with Leung and Ho.

And Beijing is still willing to back him?

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Picture of the Day: New Year Apples

Last night I went to the supermarket and saw these apples, each with a different New Year saying on them.

They were a bit more expensive than the usual Fuji apples, but what the heck -- it's only once a year.

Clockwise from top left:

年年有余 (nian nian you yu)
Hope you get more than what you wish for (bountiful harvest)

恭禧發財 (gong xi fa cai)
Be happy and prosperous

吉祥如意 (ji xiang ru yi)
Wish you good fortune

財源廣進 (cai yuan guang jin)
Hope wealth comes in all directions.

Hmmm... the ones I picked are all money-related!

But my favourite is 心想事成 (xin xiang shi cheng) or May all your wishes come true.





A Slight Reprieve

After all the uproar about making national education compulsory in Hong Kong schools as early as this year, a committee has now decided to put it off until 2015.

Last year the Education Bureau proposed introducing the curriculum into primary schools as early as this coming September and then secondary schools in the 2013-14 academic year.

However, the Moral and National Education Ad Hoc Committee has proposed postponing the program until the 2015-16 academic year.

This now gives schools three years to prepare the new curriculum and interestingly will not include such sensitive topics as the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

However if schools were ready earlier they were more than welcome to introduce the course earlier.

The delay was probably caused by the strong opposition by schools and teachers who complained that the hasty introduction of national education was unrealistic.

Now the proposal goes to the government where it will consider the revised curriculum and implementation timetable.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen promised his Beijing bosses to improve Hong Kong students' knowledge of China in several policy addresses following remarks by President Hu Jintao on the importance of giving Hong Kong children a better understanding of the country's development and identity.

Depending on the students' ages, they would learn things such as the words to the national anthem, attend national flag-raising ceremonies, understand the Basic Law, support national sports teams and appreciate and understand Chinese culture.

Sounds very mainland, doesn't it.

Which is why critics like Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and the pan-democratic camp say the curriculum amounts to brainwashing, while schools complained teachers are already overloaded with work.

This is what happens when a sycophant tries desperately to please his superiors and doesn't realize or doesn't care what the consequences will bring to the rest of the people.

Meanwhile the government chooses to ignore immediate problems at hand -- the growing tensions of having more mainlanders in the city and assuming Hong Kong to be just like China.

Shoving this kind of pro-China curriculum down students' throats -- or shall we say brains -- is only going to create more resentment.

Children already have enough to study, and now they have to take classes to learn how to be patriotic too?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Oscar Hopes Dashed


The Oscar nominations are out and China must be mighty upset that director Zhang Yimou's grandiose epic The Flowers of War wasn't even included in the foreign-language film category.

The Chinese authorities probably thought with all the promotions they did around it, it would be a shoe-in. And it cost $94 million to make, the most expensive Chinese film ever. But alas, Warriors of the rainbow: Seediq Bale about Taiwan's aborigines and how they were forced to submit under Japanese rule in the 1930s.

Zhang's movie is centered around the Japanese invasion of Nanking, a pivotal incident in history that the Chinese refuse to let go of, much like the Jews and the Holocaust. And it dutifully raked in at the box office, making it the highest-grossing Chinese film last year.

It also starred Hollywood actor Christian Bale, but apparently reviews of his role were panned, particularly the dialogue which left him little to work with.

The film may have gotten worse press after Bale invited CNN to come with him to the outskirts of Beijing to try to meet blind lawyer activist Chen Guangcheng who is basically under house arrest even though he already finished his prison sentence. The video is here.

After an eight-hour drive, there plain-clothed men who guard Chen's compound and Bale tries to plead with them to see Chen.

"Why can I not visit this free man?" he asks repeatedly. The guards in the long green army coats shout, "Go away!"

CNN and the actor retreat to their vehicle, only to find that they are chased for 40 minutes by men in a gray van.

"What I really wanted to do was to meet this man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is," Bale said.

The incident got lots of foreign press which resulted in the Chinese government publicly rebuking the actor.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the footage should embarrass the Batman star, not the Chinese government.

Liu Weimin said: "[Bale] was not invited to fabricate news or shoot films in a certain village... I think if you want to make up news in China, you will not be welcome here."

OK -- so we know not to make up the news in China -- that's someone else's job...

In any event it clearly demonstrates while the government is keen to shine the spotlight on how others victimized China, the authorities still cannot face up to the injustices they impose on their own citizens.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Off to a Roaring Start

The second day of the Year of the Dragon was quite busy and it included the superstitious heading to temples to see what kind of year it would be for them.

At Che Kung Temple, Lau Wong-fat, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk picked one for Hong Kong. He shook a round container of sticks each with different numbers on it. He shook it until one bamboo stick fell out.

It was number 29, which is considered average, neither lucky nor unlucky.

Accompanying the stick is a poem that literally read: "It might be difficult to differentiate a god from an evil ghost, but there will be little danger of the sky and earth not knowing out how to make it out eventually."

A fung shui master said the poem implied that Hong Kong would encounter a lot of falsehood and gossip in 2012.

When asked if the fortune was related to the upcoming Chief Executive election, Lau said, "It seems so."

"The public should recognize what is right and wrong, black and white," Lau said, but he would not say which of the three candidates -- Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung Chun-ying or Albert Ho Chun-yan -- was the "god" and which was the "evil ghost".

So folks, in the Year of the Dragon, don't speculate or spread rumours and we should be OK.

Later in the evening the city was treated to a blazing display of fireworks that are always set off on the second day of the lunar new year traditionally to scare away the evil spirits.

We weren't sure if it would be a good show because it was overcast with showers on and off all day. But miraculously by 8pm the skies had cleared up.

There were the usual giant explosions in various colours, even happy faces and swirls. The best part of course is the finale when practically all the fireworks are set off at once.

While there were four barges in Victoria Harbour, for some reason one of them failed to set off in the beginning and then it seemed to catch up -- until the 23-minute show was over and it continued detonating its charges. As a result people got an extra minute or so of fireworks fun.

We'll find out tomorrow what the total bill was for the fireworks, but it was sponsored this year by the Wan Chai and Central & Western District Industries and Commerce Association.

As people here say, fireworks are like "burning money", however it's a good show all round for everyone to watch in person or on TV.

It sure beats China where people set off their own firecrackers creating a horrible mess of red paper everywhere and not to mention the annual stories about children and adults who lose eyes and limbs from playing with firecrackers and fireworks...

Monday, 23 January 2012

Debate Degenerating to the Dogs

Professor Kong Qingdong
I prefer not to start the Year of the Dragon with some ugly business, but it can't go without some comment.

Following the incident on the MTR where a Hong Kong man argued with a mainland Chinese woman over eating in the carriage, a professor from Peking University and 73rd generation descendant of Confucius Kong Qingdong lashed out at Hong Kong people on a TV show, calling them dogs, thieves and bastards. View the video here.

Dressed in a black mandarin jacket and a red scarf slung around his neck, Kong insisted that Chinese people speak Putonghua and others who do not are dogs.

"Mandarin speakers don't have the responsibility and necessity to speak the other dialects... You don't have the responsibility to speak Northeastern dialect, Sichuan dialect, Beijing dialect, Tianjin dialect, right? You may only excel in the dialect you grew up with and your homeland's mother tongue.... But everyone has the responsibility to speak Mandarin," he says.

He continues his rant saying when Chinese people get together they must speak Mandarin. And if people refuse to speak Mandarin, Kong calls them "bastards".

"Let's say Hong Kongers. You say they are Chinese. As I know, many Hong Kongers don't think they are Chinese. They shout, 'We are Hong Kong. You are China'. That is a bastard."

He describes these people as "dogs", claiming "they aren't human".

While he is making these incredulous statements, the young female host sits uncomfortably in her seat, feeling like she has to go along with what he says.

Then he drags Lu Xun into the argument, saying these kinds of people [Hong Kongers] were criticized by the literary giant.

"They get angry when people don't know how to look at traffic lights or defecate on the streets. In front of imperialism, these people are dogs. In front of Chinese these people are dogs."

And he goes on about how even though Hong Kong has returned to China, "there are still many running dogs" and that the quality of Hong Kongers is among the worst in China.

Kong accuses Hong Kong people, particularly tourist guides of being thieves, lacking morals and cheating people out of money. He goes on and on.

Perhaps we should start our rebuttal by stating that Kong recently handed the Confucius Peace Prize to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin via two young blond Russian women.

How Putin is "peaceful" is questionable after he crushed anti-government forces in Chechnya and jails his political rivals; having two Russian exchange students picking up the prize on the prime minister's behalf hardly seems official.

Next Kong obviously only sees things from Beijing's point of view rather than the country as a whole. Of course he expects everyone to speak Mandarin because he probably doesn't understand any other dialect. While it's true most younger people speak only Putonghua, isn't it culturally disappointing they don't know their own dialects? Why this insistence on homogenizing one's language? Cantonese is a Chinese dialect. What's wrong with that?

While Hong Kong was colonized by the British, they set up some good systems including a civil society with rules to follow.

People should not be defecating in the streets or in the MTR because it's unhygienic. We usually do our business in a place called washrooms.

And yes we follow traffic lights for our own safety and for traffic flow so people can get from A to B efficiently to minimize accidents.

As for tourist guides, Kong should look to his own backyard at all the unscrupulous practices on the mainland, including getting kickbacks for taking tourists to silly "Chinese medicine shops" or "factories" selling silk, cloisonne and jade. He should be horrified by the conditions these so-called artisans have to work in. We get taken to tea shops or dried seafood places and get the "bait-and-switch" tactic on us so after having paid lots of money we leave with low-grade products.

Finally as a descendant of Confucius, shouldn't Kong be more of a gentleman and take the high road by not wading into this debate?

His revered ancestor must be rolling in his grave.

In any event Hong Kongers immediately sprung to action and protested against Kong's comments. They led some pet dogs to the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government and carried signs saying "We are not dogs".

Kong has helped create an even greater divide between Hong Kong and China; his chauvinist beliefs have put a damper on what should be festive new year's activities.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Singing into the New Year

We're counting down the hours and minutes before the Year of the Rabbit ends and the Year of the Dragon begins.

And in China, CCTV had its annual Chinese New Year Eve gala which indeed included billionaire investor Warren Buffett in the show.

Here he is singing with his ukuele:



Not really a Chinese song, but he does say xie xie or thank you at the end.

新年快樂!恭喜發財!















Saturday, 21 January 2012

Caging a Monster

I missed this speech writer Murong Xuecun gave in Oslo this past November. It's a compelling case laying out the paradoxes inside China and what needs to be done to save it.

Here it's translated by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz:

把怪物关进笼子里

Caging a Monster

Murong Xuecun

我是一个中国作家,在这里向你介绍一下我的国家。正如你们所知,在过去的三 十年里,这个国家建造了无数高楼,修了无数机场,铺平了无数道路,它的GDP位居 全球第二,它制造的商品造销往全世界每一个角落。在伦敦、在纽约、 在东京,到处 可见身穿昂贵西装的中国游客,他们大声谈笑,出手不凡,他们占领了大多数赌场, 疯狂抢购LV皮包。人们惊诧于这样的场面,说中国强大了,中国人有钱了。可我要说 ,在这表面的强大和富足之下,中国还有许多不为人知的细节,而正是这些细节,让 中国变成了一个极为奇怪的国家。

I am a Chinese writer. Allow me to say a few words about my country. Everyone knows that in the past thirty years China has built countless skyscrapers, commissioned countless airports, and paved countless freeways. My country's GDP is the world's second largest and her products are sold in every corner of the planet. My compatriots can be seen on tour in London, New York and Tokyo wearing expensive clothes, chattering raucously. My compatriots also fill up casinos and line up to buy LV bags. People exclaim in amazement: China is rising, the Chinese are rich! But behind this facade of power and prosperity there are details of which many people are unaware, and it is precisely these details that make my country a very strange place.

生活在中国,就像坐在一个巨大的戏院里,随时可以看到荒唐的故事、离奇的情 节,超过每一个作家的想象。

Living in China is like watching a play in a giant theatre. The plots are absurd and the scenarios are unbelievable―so absurd, so unbelievable that they are beyond any writer's imagination.

这个国家有含有三聚氰胺的奶粉、用避孕药喂大的鱼鳖虾蟹、用工业酒精勾兑的 假酒、用大粪熏制的臭豆腐,还有著名的地沟油,这是一种从下水道中提炼出的食用 油,它出现在每个家庭的餐桌上。

My country manufactures powdered milk containing melamine, feeds fish and shrimp contraceptive medications to enhance their growth, uses industrial alcohol in fake wine, preserves beancurd with human excrement, and produces "gutter oil," the product of a notorious practice in which waste oil from gutters outside restaurants is recycled for human consumption.

这个国家的法律系统是这样运作的:先制定无数法律,然后制定无数精密的程序 ,然后制定无数实施细则,然后制定无数司法解释,最后......由领导决定案子输赢。

在这个国家,有许多事不能起诉,即使起诉了,法院也不会受理,即使受理了, 也会毫无疑问地败诉。

1

In my country, the legal system works like this: countless laws are enacted, and then countless procedures are created, followed by countless enforcement regulations and detailed judicial interpretations, but ultimately it is up to the political leaders to decide who wins and who loses a case.

In my country, many cases cannot be pursued in the courts. Even if legal action is taken, courts can refuse to hear a case. Even if the case is heard in court, the judgement is made well before the hearing starts.

在这个国家,有一些人会无缘无故地消失,有一些人未经审判就失去了自由。还 有一些人冤屈难申,按照法律规定的程序寻求公平,这些人被称作"上访人员",这个 词在中文里的含义是讨厌鬼、精神病人和恐怖分子。为了对付他们,我们的政府动用 了大量人力物力,有时把他们赶回老家,有时把他们关进监牢,最聪明的是把他们关 进疯人院。

In my country, many innocent people disappear, and some people lose their freedom without ever being sentenced by a court. Some people attempt to have their grievances addressed at a higher level by following procedures prescribed in law. These people are branded "petitioners." In my country, the word petitioner conveys the sense of a nuisance, a mentally ill person, a terrorist. To deal with these petitioners, the government mobilizes a huge amount of resources to herd them home, jail them, and in a particularly creative measure, incarcerate them in insane asylums.

最近有一位上访者引起了广泛关注,他是一位盲人律师,名叫陈光诚,他曾经为 了别人的利益呼喊奔走,而此刻,他正被严密地看管在自己的家中,任何人都不能接 近,许多人,包括我在内曾冒着危险前去探望他,可无一例外,全都被政府雇用的打 手打了出来。

Recently a famous petitioner, a blind lawyer called Chen Guangcheng has attracted a lot of attention. Chen is an advocate for people's rights and dignity. At this very moment, he is a prisoner in his own home. Many people, including myself, have attempted to visit Chen but all have been chased away by government employed thugs.

这个国家有各种各样的离奇死法,在看守所内,如果有人无故死去,官方会给出 各种富有想象力的解释,说他们因捉迷藏而死,因做梦而死,因发狂而死,还有人仅 仅因为喝了一口水就会死,但是毫无例外,这些死去的人都带着满身的伤痕。

In my country, there are many peculiar ways to die in detention and officials are more creative than a novelist like me in coming up with explanations: died playing hide-and-seek; died while dreaming; died of psychosis; died sipping water. But in all cases the bodies of those who die in custody are covered in bruises and wounds.

在这个国家,每个城市都有拆迁队,他们的标准装备是铲车和棍棒,铲车用来拆 除别人的房子,棍棒用来殴打和驱赶那些不听话的人。为了保卫自己的家园,有人痛 哭,有人下跪,有人把汽油泼在身上点火自焚,但无论他们做什么,都不会影响到拆 迁队的工程进度。许多人因此而死,却从来没有人为他们的死亡负责。

2

In my country, every city has demolition crews equipped with bulldozers and truncheons. The bulldozers are for levelling people's homes and the truncheons are for bludgeoning stubborn homeowners. To protect their homes, some homeowners beg on their knees, others cry, and some threaten to kill themselves or even actually self immolate. But nothing can stand in the way of the demolition crews and no official is ever brought to account when demolitions result in deaths.

在这个国家,选举是一场奇怪的游戏,最终结果由上级决定,上级需要哪个人当 选,哪个人就一定会当选,很少出现误差。在很多时候,人们需要从两个人中选出两 个人来,还有些时候,这种选举甚至会违背数学原理,要求选民们从两个人中选出三 个人来。每过五年,会有一次全国范围的选举,选上的人被称为人民代表,而事实上 ,他们几乎不能代表人民,只能算政府雇员,也只会帮政府说话。

In my country, elections are a charade―the government decides the results in advance. Their candidates are always elected. Very often people are asked to elect two out of two candidates. Other times, elections even defy basic math―three winners can be elected from two candidates. Every five years there is a national election and the winners are called people's representatives but the majority of them only represent the government.

他们的典型人物是一位七十多岁的老女士,她当了五十几年代表,从没反对过任 何提案,也从来不曾弃权,她的工作非常简单,只是举手,并因此过上了舒适的生活 。最近情况有所变化,有些人未经政府同意就想参选,但他们几乎全都失败,还有一 些人因此过上了悲惨的生活。

One woman in her seventies, for example, has been a people's representative for over fifty years and yet she has never tabled a motion, and never once voted against a motion. Her job is simple. All she has to do is raise her hand and she can live a comfortable life for performing this task. In recent years some people have attempted to compete in these elections without receiving government approval. These people almost always lose and often suffer miserably for their actions.

在这个国家,政府开办的救济机构会公开地买卖人口,有智力智碍的病人会被当 成奴隶,在工厂和矿井中过着暗无天日的生活。在这个国家,怀孕的妇女会被强迫堕 胎,一些婴儿会被强迫送进孤儿院,如果他们的父母不能及时凑够钱把他们买回去, 这些孩子很可能会被卖到外地,甚至外国。

In my country, government-run relief organisations engage in human trafficking; intellectually-disabled people slave away in factories and mines; pregnant women are coerced to have abortions and infants are taken by force to be handed over to orphanages. These infants then are sold to other regions and even foreign countries if their parents cannot come up with the cash to buy them back.

在这个国家,报纸和电视的责任不是报道真相,而是为政府做广告。教育的目的 不是传授知识,而是教人愚蠢,教人效忠政府。这种教育和宣传,让许多人都活在未 成年状态,他们有成年人的身体,但在精神上,就像是世事懵懂的孩子,时至今日, 还有许多人在怀念文革,鼓吹个人崇拜,还有一些人认为那场空前绝后的大饥荒纯属

3

子虚乌有,只是某些阴险小人阴险的编造。

In my country, the job of the press and electronic media is to promote the government, not to report the truth. The education system is tasked with instructing the people to be loyal to the government and keeping the people ignorant, not with disseminating knowledge. As a result, many people have never grown up intellectually even though they are adults. Even today, many people in my country still are nostalgic for the catastrophic Cultural Revolution that ended over thirty years ago and still promote the cult of personality. Some people still deny that the unprecedented great famine of the early 1960s ever occurred, and insist that the millions of deaths by starvation is a fabrication.

在这个国家,每一种学问都必须为政治服务,政治需要什么样的历史,学者就会 创作什么样的历史;政治需要有什么样的经济学,学者就会发明什么样的经济学;大 人物可以随意发明真理,这些真理适用于任何一个领域,能够指导这个国家的政治工 作、经济工作、文化工作,甚至能够指导动物交配。

In my country, every academic undertaking must serve the interests of the government. Academics must fabricate history in accordance with the government's political interests. Economists must develop economic theories to support the government's political agenda. In my country, leaders invent truths and their pronouncements are applied to every field of human endeavor, be it political, economic, cultural, or even animal husbandry.

这个国家号称消灭了阶级,事实上,一个壁垒森严的阶级社会已经形成,上等人 吃特供食品,下等人只能吃肮脏而有害的食品。第一等级的人就读豪华而昂贵的贵族 学校,第二等级的人就读普通学校,第三等级的人就读简陋的民工学校,第四等级的 人基本没机会读书。

In my country, the government claims to have eradicated classes, but in reality, class divisions are glaringly obvious. The highest class enjoys exclusively produced foods while the lower classes are left to consume contaminated and dangerous products. Children of the dominant class study at opulent private schools, while children of the second-class study at ordinary schools. The third class attend shabby schools for migrant workers and the fourth class, well, they don't get to go to school at all.

这个国家最喜欢干的事就是买飞机,经常慷慨地对外援助,但在自己的国土上, 乞丐四处流浪,许多人看不起病,许多孩子读不起书,还有许多人正活在可耻的贫穷 之中。

My county takes delight importing the latest jet airplanes and providing aid to foreign countries, despite destitute beggars roaming the land at home, despite many of her people being unable to afford medical care, despite many children being too poor to go to school and despite a huge number of people living in poverty.

这个国家鼓励告密,政府为每个人都建立了一份秘密档案,档案中记录了从生到 死的每一个变化、别人的评价以及许多当事人自己都不知道的事。在工厂、在学校、 在街头,密探们正秘密地观察每个人的言行。这里的空气压抑而紧张,民众不相信政

4

,员工不相信老板,学生不相信老师,妻子不相信丈夫。

In my country, informing on others is encouraged. The government has a secret dossier on every single citizen which records everything about us until the day we die―from innocent remarks about us to unsubstantiated accusations as well as many things we don't even know about ourselves. Secret agents in factories, schools and residential neighbourhoods covertly record everything people say and do. The atmosphere is oppressive―people do not trust the government, employees do not trust employers, students don't trust teachers, and wives do not trust husbands.

这个国家有一种奇怪的制度,总是让说谎者得到奖赏,久而久之,每个人都对谎 言习以为常,每个人都主动说谎,说谎甚至成了一种美德。

In my country, there is a strange system that rewards liars, and with the passage of time, people have become accustomed to lying. People lie as naturally as they breathe, to the point that lying has become a virtue.

在这个国家,写作成了一种危险的事业-有人因为写文章而入狱,有人因为说了 某句真话而入狱。作家不能评述历史,不能批判现实,更不能幻想未来。许多字不能 写,许多话不能说,许多事件不能提及,每一本书的出版都要经过严格的政治审查, 许多书被查禁,然后它们就会成为国外的畅销书。

In my country, writing is a dangerous occupation. People are sent to prison for writing essays, or saying a few words of truth. Writers are not allowed to talk about history, or to criticise the present, let alone fantasise about the future. Many words cannot be written, many things cannot be spoken, and many issues cannot be mentioned. Every book has to go through a rigid censorship regime before it can be published. Many books are banned in my country, and then become bestsellers overseas.

这个国家可以把卫星送入太空,却造不好一座桥。这个国家可以把政府大楼造成 金碧辉煌的宫殿,却让孩子们坐在摇摇欲倒的危房之中。这个国家有无数豪华的行政 座驾,却没有一辆坚固的校车。就在两天之前,在中国甘肃,一辆只有坐9个人的校车 塞进了64个孩子,然后很不幸地遇到了车祸,19 个孩子因此而死。这些孩子大多来自 最贫穷的家庭,他们还没有吃过一次麦当劳和肯德基,还没有去过一次动物园,他们 的人生还没有开始,却已经过早地结束了。

My country is capable of launching a satellite into space but not of building a safe bridge across a river. My country is capable of building palatial government offices yet condemns children to substandard schoolhouses. My country provides millions of luxury cars to government officials yet few safe school buses for children. Only two days ago in Gansu province in China's northwest, 64 children were crammed into a nine-seat school bus. Then there was an accident and 19 of them died. Most of these children came from poor families. They had never been to a McDonald's a KFC, or a zoo. Their lives ended tragically before they even started.

5

这个国家最近几年举办了多次盛会,为此建造了大量美仑美奂的场馆,然而每 次开幕之前,都会有许多"危险分子"眼含热泪离开自己的家,官方发言人说:他们自 愿离开,没有人强迫他们。

In my country, extravagant structures have been built one after another to host one extravagant event after another. However, many citizens considered "dangerous elements" are forced to leave their own homes in tears whenever such an event is held. Yet, government officials insist that these people leave their homes voluntarily.

这个国家有全世界是庞大的官僚队伍,他们中的绝大多数都在贪污或受贿,每 一种权力都被污染,成为致富的法宝或伤人的利器。根据公开的报道,每年有大量的 财富用于这些官僚的吃喝、旅游和公车消费(每年九千亿人民币)。或许有人会问: 纳税人为什么不反对?抱歉,在这个国家,没有纳税人这个词,有的只是"人民"。

My country has one of the largest bureaucracies in the world. Most of these bureaucrats are either bribing or taking bribes. Power is being abused in every way imaginable and turned into a money-generating tool. According to publicly available reports, enormous amounts of public funds are wasted on sumptuous banquets, luxury trips and expensive cars provided to these bureaucrats. We are talking about 900 billion yuan or over US$140 billion a year. Some may ask: Why don't the taxpayers say no to this practice? I'm sorry, the concept of taxpayers' rights doesn't exist in my country. All we have is the term "the people."

有人会说,这些事不足为奇,任何一个国家都会有,任何一个国家都曾经有过。 我承认,但还是要说,如果腐败可以分度数,那么 5 度腐败和 100 度腐败的差别不仅 是个数字,前者还可以算是瑕疵,而后者已经成了灾难。我还要说,不能因为别的国 家有腐败,就认为中国人应该忍受这种腐败。

Some may say, well, this is nothing to get excited about, because corruption exists in every country, at any time. I agree. But still, I want to say that if there were degrees to measure the rampancy of corruption, then the difference between five degrees and a hundred degrees is not merely a difference in readings―the former shows minor defects, but my country's rampant corruption means disaster. I also want to add: It's wrong to suggest my compatriots should put up with corruption simply because corruption exists elsewhere.

难道因为中国人的素质太低,所以不配享有更美好的生活吗?请你相信,说这话 的人,他自己的素质就很低;难道因为中国的独特国情,所以不能给民众以太多自由 吗?请你相信,说这话的人,他自己就是国情;难道中国最需要的真的不是自由,也 不是人权,而是稳定吗?在这里,我请你相信,说这话的人,他自己就是不稳定的因 素。

Chinese people don't deserve a better life because "the quality of the Chinese people" is low. Believe me, people who say this are themselves of low quality. The Chinese people should not be given too much freedom due to China's "unique situation." Believe me, people who say this are themselves perpetuating China's "unique situation". Stability is what China needs the most, not freedom, not human rights. Believe me, people who say this are themselves contributing to instability.

6

2009 年底,我混进了一个传销团伙,在其中生活了一段时间之后,我发现传销团 伙几乎就是中国社会的缩影,一位中国学者曾经对此做过精准的论述,他把这种社会 称为"前现代社会",主要有三种人构成:骗子、傻子和哑巴。不过令人高兴的是,中 国已经进步了,情况发生了深刻的变化,那就是:骗子越来越多,傻子和哑巴都快不 够用了。

At the end of 2009 I infiltrated a gang of pyramid scammers. After spending some time living with them, I realized that the world of pyramid selling is Chinese society in miniature. A Chinese scholar once defined this kind of society as being in a "primitive state," a society that is comprised of three kinds of people: liars, the deaf and the mutes. The good news is that Chinese society is moving forward ―now there are more and more liars and we're running out of the deaf and the mute.

英国学者亨利・梅因先生曾把从身份到契约的转变视为现代文明社会的标志。按 这个标准,中国还有很长的路要走。

The English scholar Henry Maine refers to the transition from individuals bound by social status or belonging to traditional social castes, to a modern world where people are independent entities free to make contracts on their own, as the progression of "from status to contract." If this progression is the benchmark for entering a modern civilized society, then China is still a nation in a primitive state.

就在二十多年前,中国还是一个完全的身份主导型社会,在那个社会中,一个 人能做什么,能做出什么成绩,不是取决于他本人的能力和素质,而是取决于他爸爸 是谁。如果某人是个王八蛋,他的儿子也必是个王八蛋,很多年后,他的孙子依然是 个王八蛋。

My country was entirely a status-oriented society just over twenty years ago. What a person could do depended not on that person's intelligence and competency. Rather it depended on who that person's father was. During the Cultural Revolution, if someone was deemed a "son of a bitch", then his son would be deemed a "son of a bitch", and many years later his grandson would also be deemed a "son of a bitch".

在二十多年之后,情况有了什么变化?我要说,有所进步,可是进步不大。

Twenty years on, is there any progress? Yes, there is, but not much.

在这个国家,政府官员的儿子、孙子依然做官,民工二代、民工三代依然是民工 到今天,中国社会已经成了一个以身份为主导的板结型社会,每一种权力、每一门 生意、每一项资源都被彻底垄断,平民子弟几乎没有希望,他绝对没机会能成为奥巴 马或乔布斯。

7

In my country, the sons and grandsons of officials are still officials while second and third generation migrant workers are still migrant workers. All power, all business and all resources are monopolized. There is almost no hope for the sons of ordinary citizens to move up. There is no possibility of them ever becoming an Obama or a Steve Jobs.

在这个国家,人们即使只想过正常的生活也无比艰难。最近的几年,中国市民阶 层的生活正日益艰难,沉重的税负、昂贵的房价,日益上涨的物价和微薄的工资。在 这个国家,开出租车可就在几个月之前,有位司机亲口告诉我:他已经有几个月没吃 过肉了。当我们经过一片豪华住宅区,他这样感慨:这里的大楼越建越多,为什么我 的日子却一天比一天艰难?

In my country, just striving for a normal life is difficult. In fact, in recent years life has become much harder for the urban population due to the heavy tax burden, exorbitant housing prices, high inflation and low wages. Driving a taxi previously provided a good income, but a taxi driver recently told me he had not eaten meat for several months. He sighed as we passed a luxury residential estate. "More and more skyscrapers are going up," the driver said. "But why is my life getting harder and harder?"

中国已经成了奢侈品消费大国,但更令人高兴的是,在这个国家,连死亡本身都 已经成了昂贵的奢侈品。有一首歌谣极为生动地描述了人们的忧虑:"生不起,剖腹一 刀五千几;读不起,选个学校三万起;住不起,一万多元一平米;娶不起,没房没车 谁跟你;病不起,药费让人脱层皮;死不起,火化下葬一万几。"

My country has become the world's largest consumer of luxury goods. And now, even living and dying in my country have become a luxury. A popular song encapsulates people's anxieties:

Can't afford to have children―caesarians cost five thousand and more Can't afford to go to school―a good school costs at least thirty K Can't afford an apartment―more than ten thousand for a meter of floor Can't afford to get married―no house, no car, no wedding, she'll say Can't afford to get sick―medicine costs an arm and a leg.

Can't afford to die―cremation costs are through the sky.

一个以身份为主导的社会,必然是一个缺乏创造力的社会,所以我们看到,无论 在工业、农业、商业还是在文化艺术领域,中国人都绝少创新,有的只是抄袭和模仿 。我相信,如果不改革这糟糕的制度,在未来的几十年间,中国仍将是一个缺乏创新 与发明的国度,它或许会有很多钱,但一定不会有太多文化;或许会有强大的武力, 但一定不会让它的国民感觉平安。

Creativity never flourishes in a status-driven society. That's why in every field of endeavor―industry, agriculture, commerce and culture―my country contributes few innovations and new ideas, but excels at counterfeits and imitations. I believe that without reforming this rotten system, China will continue to be a nation that contributes few innovations and new ideas to mankind. It may have a lot of money but there won't be much culture left. It may become a mighty military power but it will still be incapable of making its people feel secure.

8

谈到中国的种种问题,人们有各种各样的解释,恋权者说那是因为中国人的素质 太低,保守者说那是因为伦理道德的缺失,某些宗教人士说那是因为中国人没有信 仰。

People in China have come up with a multitude of explanations for my country's numerous problems. Those who want to hold onto power say China has problems because the Chinese are just a "low quality people." Therefore, they have to be controlled and managed. Conservatives say China's current problems result from the Chinese people abandoning traditional moral values. Some religious groups say China's problems result from the Chinese not having any faith, and consequently commit evil because they do not fear the wrath of god.

但在我看来,这一切都是因为我们有一个糟糕的制度,在这种制度之下,权力不 受约束,只能渐趋腐败;法律形同虚设,它是权贵的利器,更是平民的枷锁;在这种 制度之下, 警察和军队最大的作用是维护统治,只会让人们感觉更加恐惧,而不是更 加安全;在这种制度之下,没人对历史负责,所以也就没人对现在负责,更不会有人 对未来负责。

In my view, everything stems from the rotten system. A system with no restraints on power can only lead to corruption; a system in which the law exists in name only turns the law into a deadly weapon high officials use to oppress the citizenry. In this system, the primary purpose of the police and the military is to maintain the political rulers in power and inspire terror, not for making people feel secure. In this system, no one takes responsibility for the past, present and future.

在这种制度之下,人们只关心眼前的利益。在这种制度之下,不守规矩成了最大 的规矩,不择手段成了最好的手段,在官场,在商场,大多数竞争其实都是底线的竞 争,总是让卑鄙的人胜出;在这种制度之下,人人都在犯罪,却没人需要忏悔;在这 种制度之下,每个人都会感觉屈辱,不管身边有多少"和谐社会"的广告,大多数人想 的都是同一件事:离开这里,到平安的地方去。

In this system, people only care about short-term profits. In this system, not following the rules is the rule, and unscrupulous means are the only means in government and business so only the dirtiest players emerge victorious. In this system, everyone is a criminal so no one needs to repent. In this system, humiliation is felt by everyone, so no matter how much a "harmonious society" is promoted, the majority of people dream of escaping to a safe place.

这糟糕的制度,斯大林―毛泽东主义和中国王朝政治的不伦之子,丛林法则、儒 家权谋和共产主义的混血产品,经过几十年的发育,已经成长为一个又大又丑的怪物 ,它虚荣、蛮横、自视甚高、从来不会认错,它打倒一个人是因为正义,给这个人平 反,还是因为正义。一切好事都是它领导的,一切坏事都是因为背叛了它的领导。它 主宰一切,只允许一种信仰,那就是信仰它;只允许一种感谢,那就是感谢它;它拥

9

有每一份报纸、每一所学校、每一座寺庙,没有它的允许,连花朵都不能随便开放。

This rotten system is the mongrel of Stalinist-Maoism and Imperial Chinese political culture, a cross-breed of the rule of the jungle with traditional Chinese trickery and communism. Decades later, this creature now has become a monster. This monster is vain, tyrannical and arrogant. It never admits to mistakes. It destroys people in the name of justice and rehabilitates them, also in the name of justice. It takes credit for everything positive, and blames others for all failures. It wants to lord over everything and only tolerates one faith, faith in itself. This monster only allows praise to one thing, praise to itself. It owns every newspaper, every school, and every temple. Without its permission, even flowers may not bloom.

这个怪物既强壮又脆弱,既身患重病,却有着强大的杀伤力;既异常笨拙,又有 着无比敏感的神经,一点风吹草动就能让它神经紧张,一件微不足道的小事就能让它 怒火中烧。这糟糕的制度,就像一个越来越大的毒瘤,毒害着每一滴血液、每一根神 经,并将最终把整个国家拖入可怕的灾难之中。

This monster may be frail, but it is still resilient. It is terminally ill, yet it still possesses lethal power. It is dumb yet is also extremely sensitive―the slightest breeze can set off anxiety attacks, trivial matters can ignite a towering rage. This rotten system is like a festering tumor that is poisoning every drop of blood and every nerve cell of my country, and will ultimately drag the entire nation towards catastrophe.

几千年的战争和杀戮之后,人类终于明白了一个道理:权力如同猛兽,随时可能 暴起伤人。因此,必须把它关到笼子里。但在中国,大多数人总盼望迷信明君贤相式 的统治,总希望有一只不那么残暴的猛兽来统治他们。我觉得这是不可能实现的愿望 ,因为猛兽的野性尚存,随时准备择人而噬。

Wars and man-made catastrophes over thousands of years have taught people one thing: Power is a monster that kills. Therefore, it must be caged. But rather than striving for a better system, many Chinese people are still dreaming of a wise and kind-hearted ruler―a not-so-vicious monster. I believe this dream will remain a dream because a monster will attack as long as it is not caged―it is the nature of the beast.

当权力的野兽在身边咆哮,人们会变得格外谨慎,只要日子还能过得下去,他们 就绝不会多说一句话。他们漠视自己的权利,也漠视别人的权利,邻居的房子被拆, 他们若无其事地看着,等到他们自己的房子被拆,邻居们也在旁边若无其事地看着。

When this powerful monster roars, people become timid. They are content to be mute as long as they can survive. They neglect their own rights, and the rights of others. They stand by idly when their neighbour's home is bulldozed. When their own homes are bulldozed, other people stand by idly.

一个月前,我在一次演讲中谈到中国人的责任。我说,作为现代公民,我们应该 知道,这国家有你的一份,它好,有你的一份,它不好,也有你的一份,我们不能假 装自己可以避开了这些问题。人类社会是一个整体,没人可以置身事外。一人不自由

10

,则人人不自由。一人不安全,则人人不安全。有人说,中国是一个没有底线的国家 ,这话不对,这国家并非没有低线,它以你我为低线。这糟糕的制度能够运行,是因 为我们都曾经为之出过力,我们就是制度。如果它越来越好,是因为我们都曾为之努 力,如果它越来越坏,也是因为我们的努力。

In a speech I delivered a month ago I spoke about the responsibilities of the Chinese people. I said: As citizens of our country, we must know that every one of us is an owner of our country. We are responsible for both its goodness and its flaws. We must not pretend we have nothing to do with China's problems. We all live on the same planet and no one can stand by idly. When one person's freedom is deprived, no one is free; when one person's safety is jeopardized, no one is safe. Some people say China is a nation that behaves as if it doesn't have a bottom line. I disagree. I believe there is a bottom line―we are the bottom line. This rotten system persists because we all have contributed to it, in one way or another― we are the system. If the system improves, that's because we have worked on it. If the system gets worse, that's also because we have contributed.

要想这个国家变好,首先要做的是让自己变好。一个美好的国家不是一群奴隶 能够建成的,她需要许多聪明而有担当的人,这就是"公民"二字的含义。他们不仅爱 自己,还爱国家;不仅关心自己的权利,也关心别人的权利;不仅捍卫自己的自由, 也捍卫别人的自由。不仅捍卫自己的房子,也勇于捍卫邻居的房子。他们在大众沉默 之时敢于发出声音,他们在大众踟蹰之时敢于迈出脚步。把自己变好是一场光荣而艰 难的事业,注定要经历挫折和磨难,但我们看到,有越来越多的中国人开始明白自己 的责任,他们从沉默中走出,诚实地说话,温和地建言,有些人因此而遭受不幸,但 他们还在坚持,坚持在黑暗中发出孤独的声音。

To make this country a better country, we first must make ourselves better. A group of slaves can never build a great nation, but modern citizens can―citizens who are intelligent and responsible. They not only love themselves, but also their country. They not only care about their own rights but also the rights of others; they not only defend their own freedom, but also the freedom of others; they not only defend their houses, but also their neighbour's houses. They will never evade their responsibilities and will speak out when everyone else is silenced; they will never stop advancing when everyone else halts in hesitation. To make ourselves better is an honourable process and we are bound to encounter setbacks and hardship. Despite hardship, more and more Chinese people now are aware of their responsibilities. They break the silence, speak the truth, and calmly make suggestions. Some are suffering for their actions but refuse to be cowered or silenced.

两千多年前,孔夫子说过一句话:邦有道则仕,邦无道则隐。但作为一个现代公 民,我们更应该这么说:邦无道,我们应该批评它,监督它,使之有道。邦有道,我 们应该批评它,监督它,使之更加有道。这是我的理想,也是我的事业,我将终生为 之努力。

Over two thousand years ago, Confucius said one should only serve the state if it is righteous, otherwise one should eschew serving the state. However, to become citizens of a modern society, I say we should criticize the government if it does not do the right thing, and we should also keep an eye on the government even if it is already doing the right thing. This is my belief and this is what will I do for the rest of my life.

11

最后我要说,我不是阶级敌人,不是颠覆分子,我只是想把怪物关进笼子里。 没错,我是在批评自己的国家,但这并不表示我恨这个国家,相反,我爱我的祖国, 我爱她壮丽的山河、辉煌的文明,也爱她的苦难,并将因为这苦难而加倍爱它。没错 ,我是在批评这糟糕的制度,但在这个制度变好的过程中我绝不希望看到流血,我只 希望可以使这制度温柔地变好。我有一个梦想,希望在不久的将来,花朵能在我的祖 国自由绽放,中国的孩子可以尽情欢笑,中国,这古老的国家,苦难钟爱之地,能够 变成富足、和平而自由的国家。

Finally, I hope you believe me that I am not a class enemy, nor an over-thrower of governments. All I want is to cage the monster. Yes, I am criticizing my country, but that doesn't mean I hate my country. Rather, I love my country. I love her splendid mountains and rivers and her great civilization. I appreciate the suffering she has experienced. In fact, I love my country even more because of the suffering she has been through. Yes, I am criticizing her rotten system, but I do not want to see bloodshed while my country is improving herself. I hope the system will improve gracefully. I hope in the near future, in my country, flowers of freedom will blossom and children will smile without fear. I hope in the near future, my country, an ancient civilization, a land of suffering, will become a nation of prosperity, peace and freedom, for all.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Mounting Pressure

Tensions continue to build in Hong Kong as locals' patience of hosting mainland tourists is quickly fraying at the edges.

After the Dolce & Gabbana incident which subsided after the Italian fashion brand finally issued an apology earlier this week, we now have another row that sparked on the MTR.

In a video clip uploaded by a Hong Kong internet user on YouTube, a Hong Kong man tells a mainland woman and her daughter they are not allowed to eat in the MTR train and demands that they apologize, but the mother refuses, saying it's no big deal.

Then other passengers join in on both sides.

A local person presses the emergency button and notifies platform staff. An MTR employee goes on board and tells the tourists they can't eat inside the train. The mainland woman says sorry in English. A Hong Kong man then says sarcastically, "Oh, she knows English".

Then a mainland woman tries to explain the situation to the MTR staff member but is interrupted by local people as the quarrel continues. At the end of the video, a Hong Kong man says, "No need to speak to them. That's what mainlanders are like."

Of 4,000 surveyed on Sina, 35 percent supported the Hong Kong passengers' demands that tourists abide by local public order rules. Another 10 percent said Hong Kongers held a grudge against mainland tourists, and 31 percent said Hong Kongers and mainlanders should show each other more respect.

We're not quite sure how the incident started, if the man told the mainland tourists politely to stop eating or not, but the mother was definitely wrong for eating in the carriage when there are signs on the train as well as in the stations not to eat or drink in paid areas.

The other thing is that mainlanders are used to eating -- wherever they are. In almost all the train lines in Beijing they can eat in the carriages and at times even leave an unsightly mess on the floor.

While it is understandable they may have to travel a long way and thus only have time to eat on the train, Hong Kong people are used to cleanliness particularly after their experience with SARS in 2003 and have become especially sensitive to hygiene.

It's this clash of cultures that is creating more and more friction in Hong Kong. As I've said before, locals are feeling pushed aside in their own city as shop spaces now sell brand name goods that mainlanders come here to spend their cash on. The latest now is that UA Times Square Cinemas which has been in the Causeway Bay shopping mall for 18 years will shut down and make way for a giant Louis Vuitton store that will pay HK$20 million a month in rent.

On top of that heavily pregnant mainland women are rushing in to emergency rooms to give birth at the last minute, straining medical resources for locals. These women come across the border to give birth so that they can have more than one child, or make sure the child has Hong Kong residency to take advantage of the social benefits from health care to primary schooling.

The worst part of it all is that the Hong Kong government has done nothing to ease the tension. Yesterday Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen only promised to look into the public hospital emergency ward issue, but not try to stop pregnant mainland women from coming to Hong Kong.

Things are really starting to get ugly here and could further escalate if the government doesn't do anything meaningful.

We are tired of telling mainland tourists how to get to Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui; we are also losing patience of mainlanders speaking loudly and not standing on the right on the escalator.

Some may say we are complaining about the most trivial things and should get a life.

But we used to have a very efficient city where visitors quickly learned and integrated into the system.

Now it's log jammed with an overflow of people who seem to demand things their way.

And Chinese officials can't understand why local people prefer to call themselves Hong Kongers than Chinese?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Pictures of the Day: Tai Po Waterfront Park

After days of chilly overcast weather, some sun!
Yesterday was a brilliant sunny day with temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius.

Near where I work in Taipo in the New Territories is a place called Tai Po Waterfront Park. On one side of it features a spiral lookout point, an insect house, bowling green and model boat pool and other gardens.

The Tai Po Waterfront Park offers a nice leisurely stroll
On the other are two paths, one for walking, the other for cycling. Walking almost right by the water (except for big jagged rocks and garbage) it was great to see many birds including cranes, kites and other sea birds diving into the water to catch some lunch in the sun.

The path is lined with young banyan trees, though probably not enough room was left between them to grow much bigger than they are now. There are also "pavillions", concrete structures to shield people from the natural elements. Partway through my walk I came across a tall sculpture of some sort surrounded by colourful plants and kumquat trees to mark Chinese New Year. Next to it was a section of yellow-covered stadium seating that didn't seem to have any obvious purpose.

Looking onto Taipo residential and industrial areas
As well along the way there are numerous signs reminding people not to smoke, to fly kites or battery-operated planes. OK we get it.

It's great to see a park here, but must it be so heavily programmed? Why not have an open space and people can do what they want? Or do they really have to be instructed on how to use a park?