Posted by: rbbadger | August 1, 2008

Back in China

Well, it is a marvelous thing to be back here again.  Granted, I should explore other parts of China besides the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.  But that being said, there were some things that I wanted to see, but didn’t the last time. 

Hong Kong is a bit less intimidating than other places in China, mostly due to the lack of a language barrier.  But that being said, knowledge of the Cantonese regionalect of Chinese is very, very helpful.  Last night, I went to Fairwood, a sort of Chinese version of Furr’s cafeteria.  I was given a number to pick up my dinner.  Now, most of the Korean language is derived from Chinese, at least in terms of vocabulary.  Grammar is a totally different animal.  Indeed, Korean and Chinese share about as much commonality as English has with Hungarian.  In fact, Chinese grammar, if anything, is closer to English.  I’ve heard things in spoken Mandarin that I recognise, but Cantonese is a completely different beast.  So, anyhow, somehow I guessed that my number was called and my food was ready for me.  The cashier spoke English (thankfully) but all the announcements were made in Cantonese.  Cantonese has six tones in current use (compared with Mandarin’s four).  The grammar is similar, but there are differences.  In addition, the Hong Kong government has sanctioned the use of about 1,000 extra characters for words in Cantonese that lack characters of their own.  Standard Written Chinese differs from Cantonese speech.  Basically, when a Cantonese speaker is reading or writing in the standard written speech, they are reading and writing in Mandarin. 

Hong Kong has certainly become a unique animal in Chinese politics.  I am in the People’s Republic of China to be sure.  However, as promised, Beijing has granted them a wide degree of autonomy, though not as much as many of the pro-democracy camp would like. 

Hong Kong has a separate legal system, its own currency, its own police, and its own laws.  Additionally, taxes here are very, very low.  The highest tax bracket is about 15% and very few people are in it.  Most people do not pay income taxes and the taxes that the Hong Kong SAR Government does collect stay here.  Hong Kong does not pay Chinese Mainland taxes.  Additionally, Hong Kong has no sales tax.  

Hong Kong has never been a democracy, though, really.  It was a Crown Colony.  The governor was appointed by HM The Queen.  Granted, the local people were represented in government through the Legislative Council and the Executive Council.  But the members of the LegCo and ExCo were all appointed.  In the 1990s, especially under the leadership of the Governor, The Right Honourable The Baron Patten of Barnes, direct election of some of the members of the LegCo did happen, much to the intense displeasure of Beijing who upon obtaining sovereignity, dismissed the entire LegCo and appointed a new one.  Hong Kong citizens can now elect half of their Legislative Council members, but not the Chief Executive and not the whole Legislative Council.  The ExCo is appointed by the governor and functions as his cabinet.  Will Hong Kong be able to move to full democracy one day?  Beijing has promised that universal suffrage will become a reality in Hong Kong and Macao.  However, the date keeps being pushed further back.  Beijing is not about to let universal suffrage become a part of mainland politics.  They are looking for a way to grant universal suffrage here, but not let it corrupt the mainland. 

Currently, the National People’s Congress, the highest legislative authority in the country and the ultimate arbiter of constitutional matters involving Hong Kong and Macao, does not have direct elections for any of its members.  People can vote for local governments in the mainland, but these local governments are the ones who elect members to the provincial assemblies.  The provincial assemblies then elect the National People’s Congress members.  The President and Premier of the PRC are elected by the National People’s Congress.  However, to excercise any real power, the president must be the 国家最高领导人, or Paramount Leader.  There have been presidents in the past who lacked the power that Jiang Zemin and his successor, Hu Jintao, have.  Soong Qingling, widow of Dr Sun Yat-sen, even functioned as president, though her role was entirely ceremonial.  Yang Shangkun, the President who signed and promulgated Hong Kong’s Basic Law was not the real power in China at the time.  The real power was Deng Xiaoping.  Deng Xiaoping, though Paramount Leader, was never President of the PRC even while spearheading the reforms which have greatly changed China.  Part of the role as Paramount Leader involves four different, yet interrelated roles.  Thus, President Hu is at the same time Secretary General of the Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China.  The People’s Liberation Army, which has a barracks here, is not answerable to the government of the People’s Republic.  Rather, they are answerable to the Communist Party alone.  When Hong Kong became a part of China once more, the first group to move in was the PLA. 

You see a lot of really ugly old buildings, especially in Kowloon.  These ancient skyscrapers are mostly apartment blocks, but the rent has to be fairly exorbitant.  However, especially when compared with Seoul, Hong Kong is surprisingly clean.  You don’t see anywhere near the number of cigarette butts that you do in any Korean city.  Hong Kong is also one of the safest cities you can visit anywhere in China, something which is good, too! 

Next week, things will get really busy here as Hong Kong host the equestrian events for the Olympics.  One of the legacies of British rule here has been horse racing, the only legal form of gambling in Hong Kong.  (If you want to play with slot machines, you have to go to the neighbouring Macao SAR.  In South Korea, Korean citizens are forbidden by law from gambling in the casinos that exist in Seoul.  The only legal form of gambling for Korean citizens is horse racing.)  Hong Kong possesses excellent equestrian facilities, so it is only natural that Hong Kong host the equestrian events. 

It is very humid here, as one might expect.  But it really isn’t much worse than Seoul has been lately.  Seoul has been really, really hot the last few days, so it doesn’t feel much more uncomfortable.

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Responses

  1. Hey Robert!
    Hope you’re having a great trip!!! How far is Hong Kong from Bejing? Do you feel the excitement in the air for the Olympics? Those “possibly related posts” were interesting. Do you read those too? If there are casinos in Seoul and the people can’t go to them, who supports them? Just questions you can answer when you get back.
    Love, Mama


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