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Social Commentator Chip Tsao
Chip Tsao is perhaps the most famous writer in Hong Kong. A former BBC reporter, he has edited several newspapers and won literary awards for his poetry. These days he’s a sharp and witty columnist for Apple Daily and hosts a social commentary show on Commercial Radio.

By Yvonne Young | Dec 22, 2005

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  • Social Commentator Chip Tsao

My parents worked for the pro-China newspaper Ta Kung Pao. They sent me to a pro-Beijing secondary school in Hong Kong until I was smart enough to say, “Enough is enough. Send me somewhere else before I get brainwashed and become a Red Guard like you.”

When I went to university in England, there were lots of Hong Kong students enrolled in science subjects. I made a rare choice to study English literature, and they said “What? English? What's the point?” I didn’t give a damn about what I was going to do in the future. It's not right for Chinese parents to encourage their children to enter the university with a purely functional purpose in mind. School should cultivate curiosity, so study something interesting without any mercenary considerations.

The BBC was a very fruitful eight years for me; a milestone in my life that I treasure and miss.

In 1993, I was in my early 30s, Chris Patten was in Hong Kong and I thought life was going to be exciting with him. So I jumped from London to support him.

But mainly I came back to Hong Kong to work – and, like most expats, earn good money.

I am a man of two cultures. I spent 16 years in Britain. I’m torn between east and west. But you get to see the good and bad sides of different worlds.

After the July 1 march two years ago, Hong Kong people boasted about being able to protest in peace and order, but that's not an ideal social outcry. Not that we need blood, but there must be some climax.

Now at least we are allowed, in black and white, a timetable for democratic development. The Central Government may not mean it, but it's the Hong Kong people’s obligation. Whether we have the spirit to enforce democracy is a test of our courage.

In the past eight years, there has been growing nationalism and jingoism. A lot of people say colonial rule was no big deal, that China is our biggest supporter. But they don’t know the recipe of Hong Kong’s past success. I find it necessary to balance it, so sometimes I play the role of an anglophile. You first have to position yourself as a minority and then challenge the establishment.

Donald Tsang works very hard to be a better political leader, but he has social, cultural and anthropological limits. He is Chinese.

All Chinese suffer from a kind of genetic mentality of looking for a master. There is a class of Chinese sandwiched between the imperial court and the masses. This class undermines democracy in Hong Kong. They like to report and whisper in the ears of a Chinese master, and even Donald Tsang could become a victim. The emperor loves it, because he is very suspicious. This was a Chinese political tradition for more than 2,000 years.

Now we have dumped the Chinese Tung Chee-hwa and opted for a half-English gentleman. It's a big step forward. But the next step is to invite the British back, and why not have a real English governor again? Just rent Hong Kong to the Brits. Get the money, get your so-called sovereignty on paper, just like we rent a piece of Lantau to Disneyland. It has a high degree of autonomy: cops, security guards and hygiene officials cannot get in without permission, so it’s a loss of face. If you can take that tiny loss of face, why not a larger piece?

Donald Tsang is like a pirate copy of a Hollywood film. He’s a pseudo English gentleman and he has a gong. He was brought up by the Brits. He's like Friday in “Robinson Crusoe,” who learned English and all the crafts and skills of seafaring. But Friday is Friday; he is no commander. In the eyes of the islanders, who know nothing about the sea, Friday is an ideal leader after Robinson Crusoe goes. But he is still Friday.

I wish Chris Patten had been appointed governor earlier. All he had was five years. He tried very hard to transform Hong Kong, but five years is far too short compared with 150 years of British colonial rule, when very few democratic values were encouraged - until the last moment.

I have to admire the Brits a bit in shaping the mentality of the colony in such a way that, (1) people miss their colonial masters, and (2) most lack the confidence to become their own master. Whenever there is trouble or trauma, Hong Kong people look to the motherland.

Chinese people are too concerned about their rice bowls. Especially in Hong Kong, a moneymaking place. From day one, when Britain took over Hong Kong she never thought of changing it into an international city. It is a business city. We are all salesmen. Now, according to the Basic Law, Hong Kong people rule Hong Kong. But how does a community of salesmen run Hong Kong? You can’t always look to your boss. You’ve got to make your own decisions.

I speak about what is in the minds of most middle-class Hong Kong people. They are nostalgic about the past. Either they don’t know how to express it or they dare not voice it, and I do it for them.

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