And who, you might be asking, is Leonard Cheng? Well, from this evening for some time into the foreseeable future, if things go his way – in other words, if the students (including some of his own, of course) continue to ignore the High Court order to remove themselves from the streets of Mong Kok and Central – Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon, president of Lingnan University in deepest Tuen Mun, is set to be the new face of the moderate faction in the stunt-driven shenanigans that pass for serious political debate in these parts.
Some will say that Lenny is the perfect man for the job in pragmatic Hong Kong, as he has connections to both of the candidates for chief executive the last time the fake election circus rolled through town. His relationship towards the surprise (to some – but not readers of this blog) winner of that race, Leung Chun Ying, may be closer than his relationship with the also-ran, Henry Tang Ying Yen (who was after all disadvantaged by having other things on his mind), but, I ask you, who can put his hand up in an interview with Michael Chugani and say categorically, “No, I have never done anything stupid in my life, like agreeing to appear on your programme and get asked questions that are so inconvenient that the only way out is to lie”?
Anyway, enough about our scumbag chief executive and back to Len’s even-handed suitability for the mediator job at this evening’s “debate” between government officials and student leaders in Wong Chuk Hang. While his role as an adviser to CY Leung during his election campaign ensured that his career at Hong Kong’s least prestigious UGC-funded university got off to the shakiest possible start, what is less known is that he had a Henry Tang moment of his own. Not with one of the fillies (equine or otherwise), but with a basement – that must-have accessory of the rich, famous and lawless members of local society.
Lenny knocked down a few walls below ground at the Sai Kung house where he lived while doing his former job as dean of the rapacious School of Business and Management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, a school which earned the nickname “Carlsberg” from some for having not – probably – the best beer in the world, but – probably – the most expensive undergraduate course in the world. In words resonating with our ’Enry’s curious mixture of obfuscation and self-pity, Lenny said last year when the hole came to light that he did not think increasing the living space of his abode by more than one-third “was illegal at that time” – whatever that might mean.
Success and fame have come late in life for Len, who turned 60 earlier this year. For those not familiar with the Machiavellian workings of local academia, Len’s appointment caused considerable surprise not only on account of his having been an associate of CY Leung but because his elevation from dean (quite a lowly rank in academic terms, in all truth – and typically a poisoned chalice to be passed on to the next gull as soon as possible) represented a double, or indeed treble, jump – almost unprecedented in appointments of this kind. People in high places (although CY has been chairman of the Council of Lingnan University in the past, the urbane insurance millionaire and Executive council member Bernard Charnwut Chan was helming the ship at the time of Len’s appointment) obviously thought that Lenny was made of the sort of stuff that justified passing over candidates who had cut their teeth as a vice president or associate vice president, as would normally be expected. Or, indeed, as president of an inferior institution in Hong Kong or overseas – although one appreciates that numbers in this sub-category might be small.
Students welcome Lennie (2013)
Which brings us to yesterday and the congregation at which nearly a thousand Lingnanians had various degrees and diplomas conferred upon them. The placards were out in force once more, as they were last year for his introduction as president, together with the inevitable umbrellas.
Former students serenade Lenny with brollies (2104)
It was not our Len who received the hottest reception of the day, though, but former secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma Si Hang, who showed up to get his gong (an honorary doctorate in social sciences) but received heckles rather than plaudits from those in attendance when he, perhaps unwisely, decided to impart some of the wisdom he has accumulated over the years since he was a callow youth at the University of Hong Kong being taught economics by Edward Chen Kwan Yiu – former Lingnan president.
I bet Fred thought he was quoting Voltaire when, adopting his best Churchillian tone, he told the cream of Tuen Mun’s youth that he would “defend to the death your right to speak”. Alas, no. These words were never uttered by the dissident Frenchman, but were invented by an Edwardian English gentlewoman by the name of Evelyn Beatrice Hall to spice up her book The Friends of Voltaire.
Inventions, lies? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as those Frenchies say.
We all need to remember that blockades of the roads by taxis and minibuses are completely different. They are run by triads, and the triads have tradionally enjoyed a close working relationship with the Chinese government
So Andy Murray used the most vapid form of communication, the tweet, to finally enter the Scottish Independence debate (after voting had already started, note) and urge fellow Scots (but not those living in England like him, of course, who have no vote) to vote Yes to a future without much of a future.
I don't want to sound mean to our first home produced Wimbledon champion since Sir David Akers-Jones was a wee annoying mite, but I'm not sure if I were that one-trick-pony Alec Salmond that I would be too keen to have a Jock on my side who has slipped outside the top ten in the men's rankings for the first time since his last political faux pas and indeed lost all his form since parting with Czech coach Ivan Lendl and taking on Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo.
Does the bairn from Dunblane not understand that all attempts to get into bed with the Froggies against the Sassenachs have ended in tears? Think Hundred Years' War, think that trollope Mary Queen of Scots, think that halfwit Bonny Prince Charlie?
(At the time of writing, only Clackmannanshire and Orkney are in, and they have both voted No.)
All the Hong Kong and Central Chinese Governments' flummery about so-called constitutional reform (AKA ways of ensuring the maintenance of the tyranny of the elite) put me in mind of a nice passage in CS Lewis's The Abolition of Man. Written while Europe was being oppressed by and fighting back against the tyranny of Nazi Germany, this little book has become something of a sleeper hit in the seventy years since it was published.
Lewis's central thesis is that you can neither invent new systems of value nor pick and choose bits to "live by" (or, more pertinently in respect of the Hong Kong case, for your subjects to live by) from what has been passed down to you. If what Lewis calls - with a nod to Chinese civilisation - the Tao exists independently of us and is the sole source of all our value judgements, then any attempt to replace it with a new value system is self-contradictory, since any such system would consist of fragments from the Tao itself.
As if anticipating events half way round the world seven decades on, Lewis gives among his examples of values that totalitarian governments will be tempted to "arbitrarily wrench from their context in the whole" and swell "to madness in their isolation" from the rest of the natural law patriotic duty. The last refuge of a small bunch of unelected scoundrels, indeed!
On edit: I found some interesting reflections about freedom and democracy in a Lewis essay called "The poison of subjectivism": "The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is etrnally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law."