May 24, 2012|
A fresh row has broken out over the appointment of the new Secretary of the Cultural Bureau under the incoming CY Leung administration. It is widely feared that the new power-wielding official in charge of ample government resources could fashion himself a Goebbels, the king of patriotic propaganda. Leung’s office has leaked the name of Madam Florence Hui Hiu-fai as the candidate “strongly favored by Beijing,” although it was rumored that he preferred the more liberal and democracy-sympathetic Ada Wong Ying-kay.
I have met Madam Hui a couple of times at cocktail parties. Bespectacled, quiet, well-dressed with a broad, discreet and professional smile, I must admit that Madam Hui struck me with the kind of elegance possessed by Madam Fu Ying, the famed former Chinese ambassador to London once known as the “Dragon-Lady-with-a-Human-Face” (but only as long as you raised topics such as when the 50th Confucius Institute would open on a British university campus rather than anything pertaining to the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, democracy in Hong Kong and a few dozen more sensitive issues considered to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people). Since Madam Hui looked charming enough to me as the kind of LSE educated intellectual with her own office in the IFC, a subscription to Vogue (perhaps the French edition), and a three-month-old child who would be making an early application for a place at Eaton or Winchester, I think she is the ideal choice. I am, as a third-rate snob, hopelessly prejudiced.
I was thus surprised at the anger from local academics over the choice. Hui was accused of a serious lack of general cultural knowledge. She was alleged to have never expressed a single viewpoint in the past as a Deputy Secretary of Home Affairs at meetings concerning the arts. This arbitrarily assumes that it would be unlikely that she could accurately name the artist of a Cubist painting displayed in front her even with the narrow multiple choice of, say, Picasso, Van Gogh and Chang Ta-ch’ien. It is rumored that Hui would be the Beijing-controlled puppet in charge of brainwashing writers and artists into loving Chairman Mao, the Cultural Revolution and the Communist Party. The only alternative for artists would be to go into exile like Bertolt Brecht.
But would those fears be, honestly, slightly exaggerated? One can hardly expect local candidates for the Secretary of the Cultural Bureau to go through a three-hour-long oral interview challenged by a joint board of examiners from Oxford, La Sorbonne and Peking University, answering with eloquence to a mixture of questions about existentialism, the Weimar Republic and the porcelain of the Ming dynasty. The name Florence, rather than Apple, Coco or Milk, indicates a good cultural taste related to the Renaissance period. That suffices, I think, for the time being.
Chip Tsao is a best-selling author, columnist and a former producer for the BBC. His columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.