Monday, November 13, 2006

Birthday Reflections on 33 Years

As you may expect from the title, today is my 33rd birthday. Given the frequency with which I have trawled through past editions of the Hong Kong Legco minutes, I was interested to see what was debated on November 14th, 1973, just a day after my birth, and probably on the same day if you take the 14-hour time difference with Park Ridge, Illinois into account.

Here's what I found. Mr. James Wu, the founder and chairman of Maxim's restaurants and caterers, had some usually sharp and acerbic comments about corruption in Hong Kong in 1973. Thank goodness things have gotten better since then:
Whilst corruption exists in all societies it has certainly gotten to be intolerably rampant in Hong Kong in recent years. Not only illegal businesses pay "protection money" but honest businessmen in their rightful claim for government service or permits are too often looked upon as being "square" and "inarticulate" [forgive me for not finding a suitable translation for the Cantonese "shuk shing"], it they fail to "grease the machine", thus to suffer from undue neglect and unfair competition. The cumbersome process of British law, and the face-conscious department chiefs who, circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, would jump to the defence instead of an investigation of his subordinates at the suggestion of corruption, are aggravating the situation.
The majority of Hong Kong people also lived in tiny, tiny places. If we think that Hong Kong families suffer today, just listen to this comment from Mr. Hilton Cheong-Leen:
I hope that the honourable Secretary for Housing will be able to make a statement as to how soon a minimum of 50 square feet living space per person can be provided in public housing during the current 10-year programme.
Mr. Cheong-Leen also addressed the causes of corruption, which he felt inextricably linked to the failure of legitimacy on the part of the colonial regime. It had just been the year before that the word from England had come down that Hong Kong was no longer to be referred to as a Colony, but just as a Dependent Territory:
Eliminating the casues of curroptuon is not only the setting up of an Independent Anti-Corruption Commission...It also involves the active co-operation and the right attitudes on the part of all citizens who share the vision of a more just society where there is no place for such causes of corruption.

This demands firm moral leadership on the art of the leaders who govern Hong Kong.

I would suggest that the Administration's image as a government with firm moral leadership has to come through even more clearly than it has in the past.

The Government has to show through practical measures and through sincere and well-balanced declarations of intent that it really cares for the people.

To strengthen the morale in the top leadership in the Civil Service, more local officers should be given the opportunity to reach top posts and to demonstrate that they can serve the people with dedication and without anybureaucratic conceit.
Up to this point, all of the senior servants in Hong Kong were still British. It would be another ten years before there was a significant increase in senior Chinese in the civil service, but Mr. Cheong-Leen's courage to speak up on the subject certainly planted the seed for self-governance of a Chinese Hong Kong by the Chinese themselves. As Mr. Cheong-Leen, who had been newly-appointed that year, was the first elected Chinese representative to Legco, he perhaps represented the vanguard of more broad-based changes in governance of the 'Territory'.

Sir Lee Quo-Wei, a knight of the Empire and the longtime chairman of the Hang Seng Bank, spoke surprisingly on 'birth control', apparently a problem of the Age. Surprising, now that Hong Kong has the lowest birthrate in the World, all efforts of our Catholic Chief Exec notwithstanding:
...I strongly urge that Government will now find it expedient to formulate a long-advocated Government population policy to implement a family planning porgramme. It is essential that such a programme should...embrace all phases of activities concerned with population growth. I would like to propose that a Working Committee be formed to study the whole question of population and the most appropriate means of encouraging the reduction of future birth rates.
It seems Hong Kong found a solution to the problem in the interim. I suspect it is simply, hard work.

I suppose I realize that I am now getting old, when so much has changed in Hong Kong since my birth. It is, after all, over the standard measure of a generation. Yet, rather than fearful of my mortality, this little investigation of the happenings of November 14th, 1973, only served to remind me that the passage of time is good - for us, and for our city, it has brought undeniably positive change.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Happy birthday, and thank you for the blogging - and the tours :-)