Democracy field notes

Democracy field notes

Behave Like Sheep! Happy New Year Hong Kong!

Hong Kong Chief Executive, C. Y. Leung (centre), enjoying a photo opportunity where he wished all Hong Kong citizens ‘good health, great happiness and a harmonious family life’. Chief Executive/February 18, 2015

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive C.Y. Leung rang in the Lunar New Year earlier this week with a noteworthy speech urging the citizens of Hong Kong to change their ways. Renowned for his calculated frankness, and his cracking faux pas, Leung said during the height of last year’s umbrella uprising that the whole problem with democracy (mín zhǔ) is that it takes from the rich and gives a dominant voice to the poor. On Wednesday evening, C.Y. Leung bolstered his reputation, this time by recommending a fresh way of thinking about power and authority.

Following months of brave actions by citizens determined to bring universal suffrage and social justice to their city state, Leung acknowledged, though did not say in so few words, that whatever is being said in Beijing and elsewhere, life in Hong Kong is by no means back to normal. ‘Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong’, he said. ‘Our society was rife with differences and conflicts.’ So how should the strife best be overcome? In a surprise move, Leung called upon the heavens for help. ‘In the coming year,’ said the chief, ‘I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep’s character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong’s future.’ He went on to describe sheep [yáng] as ‘widely seen to be mild and gentle animals living peacefully in groups’.

Intending to calm his flock, C.Y. Leung showed why arbitrary rulers cocooned in power are prone to the same foolishness they project on to their subjects. He said in effect that hereon Hong Kong should be turned into a sheepfold whose flock bleat in perfect time: ‘The Lord C.Y. Leung is my shepherd.’ The man in charge didn’t explain why (both in Cantonese and English) one sheep is called a sheep and many sheep are also called sheep. He also seemed quite unaware of the insult buried in the implied comparison of Hong Kong citizens with docile creatures with woolly heads. Given all the happenings in Hong Kong during the past year, more than a few citizens must have concluded he was likening them to lost sheep, or perhaps even to sacrifical lambs [gāo yáng].

The Lord Shepherd certainly didn’t ask (as Graham Greene did in Monsignor Quixote) why in heaven’s name sheep should ever trust their shepherd. ‘But you must’, C.Y. Leung might have replied. ‘My job is to guard you from the wolves of disorder.’ And, presumably, from the rough click of the shears and the clip around the ears, and from the merchants itching to get their bleating victims to market, to sell them on to the butchers.

Yáng nián jí xiáng! Happy Year of the Sheep!

Fan Longfei: Sheep on the Run. China Digital Times 2015

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