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Archive for May, 2009

A :  “We want democracy!!”
B:  “Why?”

A :  “It’s good for us”
B :  “How?”

A :  “What do you mean how???  Everyone says so.”
B :  “Who’s everyone?”

A :  “I don’t care.  I want democracy now!!”

The above conversation never took place.  I made it up.

But if a friend of mine was telling me the truth, then perhaps a similar conversation may have actually taken place in the 1960s.  In that case, “A” would have been a local Hong Kong Chinese, and “B” would probably have been a British expat in Hong Kong.  The location was British ruled Hong Kong.

According to my friend, his uncle was a democracy campaigner.  He demanded nothing less than full democracy from the British government.  A full functioning democracy with a multi-party system formed by the grassroots, and a 4-yearly general election.  He marched on the streets in an impressive show of force, comprising of …. well, one old man and his dumb placard.

I leave it to you to come to your own conclusions on what had happened to him in the end.  But just in case you don’t know, Britain had laws that protect the stability of its government in HK.  Basically, these laws treat any attempts by the people to overthrow the government as high treason.  But not only that, any attempts to incite others to overthrow the government is ALSO treated as high treason.

This means that not only general elections were not possible under British rule, but telling others how wonderful democracy was would (or at least could) have been treated as high treason according to those laws.  Unless of course there is only one candidate on your general election ballet paper.  Needless to say, that single candidate is of course the government itself.

That may explain why in the 150 years of British rule, HK never had one single protest demonstration for democracy other than those above-mentioned odd cases of one-man show here and there, assuming that they did actually take place.

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What democracy? :

But how do you explain the sudden fervor for democracy that was to engulf Hong Kong leading up to the 1997 handover, and still going strongly today?  I can understand that true believers of democracy would not hesitate to take whatever opportunity they have to express their views.  And the leaving of the British would have provided that opportunity.  But anyone who has lived in HK well before the handover knows that these people (if they existed at all) would account for an extremely small percentage of the population.

Back in the old days in HK, democracy was never on the minds of the average person.  In fact, I have never known or heard of anyone who had even mentioned this word in any form (except of course from the above story which may not even be real).  In those days, it wasn’t like the British had to point a gun at your head to stop you from demanding democracy.  All they had to do was not promote the idea, and the people never bothered to ask.

So where did this sudden fervor for democracy come from?  It happened in large scale, and almost overnight.  Surely, if the masses love democracy that much, why was there never even a hint that this was so dear to their hearts in the entire 150 years of British rule.

Clearly, the surprising suddenness of the eruption of democracy fervour in HK leading up to the 1997 handover removes any doubt that this could have been a natural process of evolution in the Chinese psyche.  There can be no doubt that someone or something was behind all this.  The question is who was it, and what was the motive.

Anyone who had followed the news back then should have a pretty good idea who may be behind the sudden sea change.  If you happen to not know, then I am happy to let you come up with your own conclusions, as that is not exactly what I want to explore with you today.

It is however interesting to note that during the entire 150 years of British rule, the so-called “free” broadcast media in HK had never promoted the idea and benefits of democracy to the people of HK.  Then come the deadline for HK handover, all of a sudden it went out in force to promote democracy and a multi-party system to the public in sync with all government efforts.  It even gave free air time to debates in the HK legislative council, thus educating the public about the potential benefits of having a powerful full-functioning legislative council that is independent of the government.

Perhaps this earlier lack of democratic debates and education is not surprising given that the government holds the key to media licences.  It would be unthinkable to find your multi-million dollar media empire suffer a sudden death overnight because you accidentally educated the public of a new way to overthrow the British HK government.  High treason carries very high penalties.

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No, it’s YOU stupid :

But that’s beside the point.  The point is what were YOU doing?  The HK media had its hands tied behind its back.  But NOT you!

If you do a simple Google search on blogs relating to China’s government, you will find all kinds of accusations and condemnations directed at the Chinese government.  The average person, especially those in the West, is hellbent on condemning China’s government on almost all topics under the sun.  The majority of these often eventually find its way to the topic of democracy, or rather the lack of it.  This is often accompanied by how unimaginable life is in the Middle Kingdom because of that lack.

But here comes the question.  If life was that unbearable without democracy, why did you not condemn the British government for stifling democracy in HK.  If democracy was such a fundamental human right, why did you not defend human rights for the people of HK.  Clearly, if democracy was that good, why not give them some.  150 years is a very long time for such an “abuse” of fundamental human rights.

Perhaps the real question is what is the real motive behind all this accusations at the Chinese government on the issue of democracy.  Ask yourself these questions.  If we were to switch the word “China” with the word “Britain”, would you still have done the same thing?

In other words, would you have been so happy to see Chinese without political freedom for the next 150 years?  What about restraining from condemning China on the issue of democracy for the next 150 years?  Would you not even mention the words “democratic mandate” for the next 150 years?  But perhaps more importantly, would you pressure a British controlled Middle Kingdom for democratic reform?  Something that no-one seemed to want to do for HK before 1997.

The story doesn’t end there.  If it was just British HK, you may brush it aside by saying it was a once off mistake on the part of the “democracy” campaigners.  But ALL Western colonies in the entire world never had any democracy.  Yet, not a single soul preached the concept of democratic mandate to these colonials.  Not a single “democracy” campaigner pressured any Western government on the issue of democracy.

One may argue that a colony cannot by definition have democracy.  But that hardly justifies the double standards.  You either believe in democracy or you don’t.  Clearly, the word “democracy” plays no part in these accusations.  The word “China” is everything.  Once you replace the word “China” with the word “Britain”, or any other friendly Western colonial powers for that matter, these accusations would automatically fade away.

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Let the game begin :

Perhaps this is just a game between rival powers.  A new kind of war game.  A game where you, the so-called “democracy” campaigner would happily and voluntarily play the foot soldiers for one side.  The objective of the game is of course not to liberate, but to attack, for liberating would be much too easy.  One could easily have done that to HK plus a dozen other places in the last few decades.

As the June 4th date nears, the “democracy” war game will inevitably heat up.  Accusations and condemnations of China is going to come from all directions.  And “democracy” is going to be the ammunition for this war game.  And you, the “democracy” campaigners are of course the foot soldiers sitting in front of your computers waiting for the game to begin.

At the right moment, you are going to fire the first shot containing “democratic mandates” and “general elections”.  I will then counter with “HK”, “Saudi Arabia”, and what have you, followed by “hypocrisy”.  All of a sudden out of nowhere, someone kicks in the “F” word.  Everyone pauses….  You then respond with “I am just against the government, not the people”.  And I counter with “I love you too”.  As for this article, well …. let’s just say it will be conveniently forgotten so that we can all pretend to have some “unpredictability” in this otherwise boring game.

So the clock is now ticking.  In less than 2 weeks time, history will repeat itself.  The conversation 40 years ago between A and B mentioned at the beginning of this article will see the light of day once again.  But this time, the role is reversed.  “A” is YOU, and “B” is me.

A :  “You must have democracy!!”
B:  “Why?”

A :  “It’s good for you”
B :  “How?”

A :  “What do you mean how???  Everyone says so.”
B :  “Who’s everyone?”

A :  “I don’t care.  You must have democracy now!!”

.

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Recently a prominent Chinese activist has demanded a name list from the Chinese government of the children killed in the Sichuan earthquake.  This demand will presumably be increased to include the names of all 90,000 victims in order to work out exactly how many of the dead were children.

Personally, I don’t think he would be successful.  I have never known of any governments in the world that have released name lists of catastrophies that have resulted in deaths of that magnitude.  I don’t think China would be any different.

Most likely, this effort, no matter how well the original intention is, would just turn out to be yet another prolonged confrontation destined to stir up further unrests and even more hardship for the parents in the future.  Given that is the case, I believe it is worthwhile trying to assess objectively whether this is the best way forward for the victims, their family and everyone else.

To do that, we need to understand the motivation behind the demand, and the facts surrounding the events, in order to correctly assess the situation and address the underlying issues.

The first question we need to ask is why the need to know exactly how many children died from the quake.  Why the need to single out one particular attribute of the dead?  In other words, why is no-one just as desperate to find out the sex or ethnicity, or any other attribute of the dead.  There has to be a reason for such firm determination to know the age.

If you have been following the news, then the answer should be quite obvious.  There is this wide spread belief that the school collapses were a result of shoddy workmanship caused by corrupt government officials.  Therefore an exact count of the number of children killed is believed by many to provide incriminating “evidence” against the authorities.

The root of the suspicion is the fact that while some buildings did not collapse, most of the schools in the area did.  But is that evidence of shoddy workmanship, let alone “evidence” of corruption?  In order to find out, we need to explore some facts.

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Facts :

So let’s consider some facts.

1)  The power of the Sichuan quake was aprox. 251 times that of the recent Italian L’Aquila earthquake.
2)  It rocked for 3 minutes instead of seconds as was in the Italian quake.
3)  The energy released was equivalent to almost 560 atom bombs of the grade used in the WW2
4)  It is the world’s 19th deadliest earthquake of all time.

The recent L’Aquila quake in Italy flattened or severely damaged most of the buildings in the area.  Imagine what would happen if you increase that 251 times while also increasing the duration to 3 minutes.  It is hard to imagine any buildings left standing.  Perhaps a better question is NOT why so many schools collapsed, but why some schools did not collapse.

Despite the fact that Italy is a wealthy first world European country, there are those who seem to think that it is somehow not good enough to be used as a comparison to tiny remote villages in China.  To satisfy those people, let’s have a look at another even more wealthy and powerful country.  The economic superpower of the 1980s, Japan.

The 1995 Kobe earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Moment Magnitude Scale completely devastated the city of Kobe.  Within 20 seconds, the massive quake collapsed 200,000 buildings, 1 km of the Hanshin Expressway, and 120 of the 150 quays in the port of Kobe.

Yet, the Sichuan quake is almost 45 times the strength of the Kobe quake, and lasted for approximately 9 times the duration.  Imagine what would happen to the city of Kobe if you increase the quake 45 times and the duration 9 times.

Wealthy Japan is no stranger to earthquakes.  Indeed, it is well known for having plenty of earthquakes on a regular basis.  Buildings are built to a very high standard.  There is no reason why it cannot be used as a comparison to a remote village in a developing country such as China.

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Conclusions :

It is clear from the comparisons above that the collapse of the scools in remote villages should not be a surprise to anyone.  They do not in any way prove poor quality construction.  The question instead should be how did some Chinese schools survive the world’s 19th deadliest earthquake of all time.

While I of course don’t object to the idea of finding out if your child survived the quake, I do think it is quite pointless confronting the authorities simply to find out if they know the name of your deceased child.  After all, it isn’t like the parents do not know the names of their dead children.  And there is no reason why they so desparately need to know the names of someone else’s dead children.

Perhaps there is a need for everyone to calm down.  Perhaps there is a need for everyone to reflect on whether this is the best way forward for the victims and their family, and indeed for the nation.

Imagine for a moment that, if the people involved were less ready to blame the government ; that if the internet was not filled with nasty allegations all pointing the same direction ; that if the different interest groups (both within and outside China) did not stir the emotions of the people to fuel this allegation.  The situation would surely be much less potentially explosive.

The numbers would then not serve any purpose other than as statistics.  In that case, it would be hard to imagine why the authorities would not be willing to share the statistics with you.  And everyone can then concentrate their efforts on rehabilitation and improving their livelihoods.  There is no reason why this is not achievable.  In my opinion, this is the correct way forward.

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Sources :

Sources for the calculations used above are based on information extracted from the following websites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_magnitude_scale
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/faq.php?categoryID=2&faqID=33
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_L%27Aquila_earthquake
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobe_earthquake#Damage
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Sichuan_earthquake

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