This is an essay dedicated to college students in Hong Kong, especially those who would not agree with me now. I wish you can understand, sooner or later.
The song I love most is one called “Blue Lotus”. It begins with a magical melody and the lyrics “There is nothing in the world, to stop your dream of freedom”. Indeed, “freedom” is a word that makes everyone feel differently, yearn for, and quest for in his/her entire life. You may want to say “this guy is funny”, because you may be thinking this question, “isn’t freedom something everyone was born with, at least for most people in the world?” I wish you are not too angry when I tell you, my answer is actually “no”.
The freedom I want to discuss does not mean the same thing to you and to me, at least not entirely.
Everyone needs to express himself/herself at times when they are happy, or unhappy. When you feel the coldness of the world and get nobody’s attention, a feeling of desperation probably would be triggered in your mind. When your heart is filled with sorrow and it luckily meets the warmth from another mind, we all know how special that moment can be. However, if we cannot find the warmth we need for a very long time, we may get frustrated, and lost. Crash of emotions occurs between us and others, such as our parents, partners, children, friends, and of course, strangers.
Occasionally, the expense of these crashes is unexpectedly high. I came across a simple but very touch movie recently. It is called The Mustang, which tells the story of an inmate learning how to get along with a horse and to a deeper level, with himself. The most memorable moment in the film to me was when a psychologist asks a group of prisoners how long it takes them to make the wrong decision and action that lead them into cells. To my surprise, the unit used by the inmates is seconds. One guy said it took 22 seconds for him, another said 2 seconds. There were some other answers, and the answer from Roman, the protagonist, was split second. The price he was paying for that split second was 12 years. What made him feel worst probably was not the loss of superficial-level freedom, but the loss of SELF. He made his wife paralyzed, and left her to his beloved daughter, who was still a child then. He was lost.
You may be a little confused now. How can one lose his/her “self”? People are not born with a “self”. Children develop the awareness of self around two when they start to learn how to say “no”. Then when they become teenagers, they say no more meaningfully, they model pop stars, instead of their parents, in the ways they say and do things. Then when they grow into adulthood, role models dive into the subconscious level. However, there are always differences between who I was, who I am, and whom I want to be, the ALL THREE of which are what I call SELF.
When we do not have a SELF, we do not have the true freedom, because you cannot be what you want to be without accepting who you were in the past and who you are now. You cannot make a tree grow taller by cutting it in the middle. The three components of SELF need to be consistent, or at least compatible, with each other. How to make that happen is easy for some of us, but difficult for others.
So, why am I talking about all this when the discussion is about freedom. Because today, I see many people not seeing the difference between true and false freedoms. I grew up in China, which is infamously a place where people do not have the “freedom of speech”, where human right is not respected. I thought it is true. Untile I spent many years in the US, which is a place famously where people have the freedom. I found they allow people to call their president and his family “chimpanzees”, they allow armless African American to be killed without letting the murderer pay a penny, they isolate minorities by segregation, they “encourage” black youth to commit robbery crimes by allowing a popstar to say that is cool in his song … Those are freedom, which even let their presidential election interfered by foreign nations. Oh, yes …, freedom of speech, foreign nations have that too.
I am somewhat mean when I was saying all those. Some people in the US may argue with me that the following was what was said in the Declaration of Independence,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
My friends, you are exactly right, but do you remember what was said after this one. It is the following,
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men …”
So the exact purpose of Governments is to constrain some people at some time. When citizens cannot tell fake news from the truth, isn’t the government’s responsibility to eliminate them? When a popstar is teaching my son how to rob others “safely”, isn’t the government’s role to regulate? When a person is abused in social media, isn’t it a government’s duty to protect?
I am not saying the Chinese government was always right. I just want to say it is not so different from other western-style governments in protecting people’s freedom. I do not really care if I have the freedom to defame Trump, I care if I can have HAPPINESS. I want to be a good father, a good husband, a good professional contributing to the world. And to do all of that, I want to live in a SECURE society, so that my happiness won’t be disregarded because other people’s “liberty”. I do not want to be abused on social media, so I am not going to do that towards others either. And I do not wish others are allowed to do that by a government.
Freedom of speech is just a lollipop. I am not a kid. I want to pursue the true freedom, don’t you?
此处谝言晋商那段历史让君见笑了。不过，中英那些年间的关係也许并非偶然，商人与商人之间应该是有许多可以跨越语言的默契的。不论是哪个商帮，不管来自哪个国家，商业合作只是交流的开始。有了贸易的纽带，文化意义上的交流才会接踵而至。晋南地区在十九世纪出现了许多传教士的身影。讲传教士中混杂了少数别有用心的人是个不争的事实，我也知道因著战争的缘故，多数国人对于基督教没无好感。但如果你愿意相信我，我会告诉你，教会裡面人们以弟兄姊妹相称彼此时，是秉著一份难得的谦卑和真诚的爱的。十九世纪末在中国内地工作的传教士处境是十分危险的，有时被人屠杀并无它因，只因为外表的面貌与汉人不同，让人看了生怯。但还是有很多人选择留下了。如果君有幸参读Hudson Taylor编辑的《Days of Blessing in Inland China》，你会看到那些带著小孩在混乱和狂热的包围下还愿留在中原的所谓洋人，其内心有著与你我一样的善良和诚恳。1878年中原大旱时，很多英国的基督徒是慷慨相助的。
“I just want to be myself”. This is probably what people often say when they were teenagers, but as adults, though we don’t say it, we know we need that feeling too, the feeling of self-esteem. Yet the sad thing in Hong Kong today is that I am not seen as myself by some. A small group of people just like to put all kinds of labels on me, including the name of a vermin. I thought likening marginalized immigrant groups to insects is just a natural product of human emotion until recently I learned from a book, this is a heritage of European culture. In my mother tongue, there is one nasty word towards new immigrants too, luckily, no one really knows how to write it.
There is no doubt most people in Hong Kong are kind and friendly. You can see their kindness in their eyes. Occasionally you may meet a person covered with many scary tattoos, even in that guy or lady, I can see a soft heart. Who does not want to be recognized and accepted? Who likes being put a tag on his/her chest every day? Our lives take different paths; we stumble here and there, with friction between each other. We do not want to be refused by society simply because we are different in the past or at this moment. That isolation can cause deep cut deep inside our hearts. It is not very painful, but it lasts.
I understand the passion of the small group of writers who comment a lot about new immigrants. When my grandma was talking about her childhood in the early 1900s, she called it a period of invasion by “barbarians”. I know what she means. She grew up in a cross-dynasty business family. She was referring to Japanese soldiers during WWII, and probably some Chinese soldiers, who lost their minds under the spell of Ares. I have no doubt wars can destroy beauty. I know this for sure from the “legendary” story of Ares, and human history. Anyway, my grandma did not keep and transfer that bitter hatred towards anyone today. Not many can capture Ares. The ups and downs of her family are just a single frame in a long movie. She only wanted to remember the storyline, and know her children and grandchildren are in a peaceful time now. Why would she bother to recall Ares’ masculinity, which was the nightmare of many?
Sorry, friends. My mind strayed away because of grandma’s story. The unsettled atmosphere in Hong Kong today is definitely not comparable to anything in a war. Yet because of grandma’s story, I accepted the idea that I am an intruder, who disturbed the peaceful life of people who have been here long before me. I accepted occasional stings because I thought he or she probably just had a bad day. They were just not happy. I try to be considerate in every word and act, as careful as a baby learning skating. Until one day, I stumbled into a bookshop and learned something new. I was trying to look at high-school physics to understand how to teach my college class, yet I ended up feeling jarred by their culture and history textbook. I realized no matter how hard I try not to be an intruder, their textbooks just tell them I am one intruder, so are many other new immigrants. Ah … I guess I am doomed, by someone, who ruthlessly put a black hat on me and did not give a chance to say anything.
I was standing there, but my mind was overwhelmed by feelings of scare, confusion, and maybe anger as well. I recalled the story about Rapunzel, who had the magical power to give people eternal youth. She was taken away from the King and Queen by a witch, who raised up Rapunzel and kept telling her every day, “do not leave this tower, because the world outside belongs to monsters“. I was not able to help but connect that story with Hong Kong’s history and today. The sad and shocking conclusion is that “Rapunzel” has grown up and become an adult, who had her own kids now, and she is repeating the story to her children, “the world outside belongs to monsters“. I was stunned by my thoughts because following this storyline, I am one of the “monsters”.
My mouth and my tongue are often sluggish. Once a friend told me that the British had a lot of good deeds in the development of Hong Kong. I did not know how to respond, and I fell silent. After thinking about those words for a long time, I want to ask here, in a gentle and kind voice, didn’t they come to Hong Kong just for trading? And is there a trade that can work out without local partners? Aren’t we forgetting someone or something?
The early 1900s was a culminating period in the history of the United Kingdom (or used-to-be Great Britan), but that was a time when the Kindom was not ruled by a King or Queen. It was probably co-ruled by merchants and Ares. There were 173 wars and rebellion/resistance between 1700 and 1850. I can still feel the pride of a winner when I read the text about that part of the history on Wikipedia. That emotion of pride makes me feel nervous. My father’s parents were both born in merchant families, but my mother’s parents were not that lucky. My mother had never seen her grandparents. She only knows that during WWII, her father and uncles fought numerous bloody wars. Shanxi was the main battlefield in WWII. She has never felt any pride when her father talked about wars. Instead, she only felt his fear. More than once, her father wanted to run away simply because fo seeing too many corpses. In a British drama, I heard that in the eyes of some gentlemen, war is just a game on a map. Maybe this is why the tone on Wikipedia is different than what I expected. After all, most of those wars were not on the mainland of the UK.
Besides Ares, the other leading role was merchants. Though the tone on Wikipedia denies it, losing the North America continent was a hard punch to the UK. The American Revolutionary War turned the once source of honey and curds for the UK to the home for the brave. I guess most of the British businessmen arriving at Hong Kong at the early 1900s probably did not have too complicated purposes. They just wanted to earn some money and make a living, just like what every one of us is doing today for our families. Despite everything, a trade still is a trade, which needs both sides.
Commerce activities in the late Qing Dynasty were dominated by three different networks originating from three different regions of China, which are around Shanxi, Anhui, and Chaoshan. These networks were built based on personal connections, so merchants and businessmen in these three groups can mostly trace their lineage to those three regions. I happen to be born in Shanxi and know some legendaries of the Shanxi business network.
The first peak of Shanxi merchants’ activities emerged in the trades between China and Russia, for the exchange of tea, silk, furs, etc. Businessmen from Western European countries naturally became their partners too later. Just like most of today’s trades, businessmen at that time need to connect the entire chain of commerce, including the source of produce, shipment crew, and the destiny market. So naturally Shanxi merchants laid their first two milestones — Camel Union and Ship Union. After many years of operation, by chance or not, the Shanxi business network established the most powerful banking system in the Qing dynasty. They were called “Shansi banks” in history and were the last legendary of the Shanxi business network (since modern China does not encourage this kind of family-origin-based business network anymore. Personally, I think it is a right choice for the public good). The indemnity for the Treaty of Nanjing in 1942 was processed through a Shansi bank Rishengchang, who connected the money flow from different provinces to the ultimate recipient, the United Kingdom. Before the Shanghai Rubber Stock Market Crisis in 1910, Shansi banks reach their final peak, most of them, as well as some western banks like HSBC, were dreaming in an excessively extravagant party of investment, until eventually the stock in most people’s hands became a piece of plain paper, which cannot be more useless at all.
此處諞言晉商那段歷史讓君見笑了。不過，中英那些年間的關係也許並非偶然，商人與商人之間應該是有許多可以跨越語言的默契的。不論是哪個商幫，不管來自哪個國家，商業合作只是交流的開始。有了貿易的紐帶，文化意義上的交流才會接踵而至。晉南地區在十九世紀出現了許多傳教士的身影。講傳教士中混雜了少數別有用心的人是個不爭的事實，我也知道因著戰爭的緣故，多數國人對於基督教沒無好感。但如果你願意相信我，我會告訴你，教會裡面人們以弟兄姊妹相稱彼此時，是秉著一份難得的謙卑和真誠的愛的。十九世紀末在中國內地工作的傳教士處境是十分危險的，有時被人屠殺並無它因，只因為外表的面貌與漢人不同，讓人看了生怯。但還是有很多人選擇留下了。如果君有幸參讀Hudson Taylor編輯的《Days of Blessing in Inland China》，你會看到那些帶著小孩在混亂和狂熱的包圍下還願留在中原的所謂洋人，其內心有著與你我一樣的善良和誠懇。1878年中原大旱時，很多英國的基督徒是慷慨相助的。
Ah … I guess I got lost again in thinking about my ancestors, so embarrassing. The collaboration between Chinese and British business elites was probably not a coincidence, because merchants have a way to resonate between each other without language. Commerce was about trading mostly, but people were connected in those activities. And a deeper-level connection started to be built after this ice-breaker “reception”. In the latter half of the 19th century, many people who were born on the island of Great Britain traveled to Shanxi province and other places in China. They did not stay long in Hong Kong or Shanghai, because they wanted to share something different with Chinese people. At that time, Shanxi and many other inland places were dangerous for foreigners. One can be killed simply because he or she does not have an Asian face. Despite that, they were determined to go there, and some of them even brought their children with them. They were doing all of that for one reason — because they trusted God. They wanted to share God’s love with someone they have never known before. They wanted to let those strangers learn about the Holy Spirit in them, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, … I guess many of them enjoyed their travel in China. Because some fruits of the Holy Spirit had been valued by Chinese people for thousands of years from the heritage of Confucius. We look different at the superficial level, but deep in our hearts, we share a lot in common.
We know the trade between China and the UK became dominated by Opium in the later stage. All kinds of disputes occurred because of conflicts in economic interests or misunderstanding of cultural values. The entire world became a mess in WWII. I cannot find out the exact cause of the Opium Wars, which led to a change in the ownership of the land in Hong Kong. Allow me to fall silent here, since criticizing anyone in that war is meanless now, after such a long time.
Yet I have to force myself to voice my opinion for the errors in today’s textbooks, which shape the mind of every child in Hong Kong in a distorting way. The Gini coefficient for the mainland of China, USA, and Hong Kong are 0.47, 0.48, and 0.54, respectively (CIA Gini), but the conclusion goes with those numbers in the book, one to help kids memorized “standard” answers in exams, was that “(China) is facing a high risk of societal chaos”. I don’t know how I may re-program my logic to support that conclusion with those numbers. Another thing that jarred me was the phrases used to describe the “Cultural Revolution”. Those authors stated that “people (in China) devoted themselves to the Cultural Revolution”. If you ever watch one movie about it, you know what kind of disaster that was in human history; the cruelty of it is not less than a war and the power Ares was seen again in that chaotic period. My grandma was bullied in those years, my favorite professor in college was too, and the president of China at that time was lynched. I can hardly grasp the reason why those authors used the word “devoting” (in Chinese) in their description, are they mocking my grandma and everyone else in China?
I am an adult, who is mature enough to stand that kind of mocking. Those errors did not stun me. The worst results are that some naive kids would accept this illusion that the vast continent to the north is full of terror, and they would avoid traveling northward as much as they can. What led my despair was the part about “sense of identity”. In an English textbook, I found the statement that “… when individuals look for common characteristics shared by themselves and the group, a sense of identity [recognition] towards that group will be developed and they will view themselves as part of the group“. The problem is that … in Hong Kong, which group should I attach myself? Can I choose not to attach to any group but meanwhile, also call myself a Hong-Konger? How is the group “Hong Konger” [Hong Kong People] defined? In the Chinese context, I usually call myself a Shanxi-er since that is where I was born and grew up, but in (US) English context, I think everyone can call themselves a New Yorker as long as they live in the New York City. I thought the glory of Hong Kong implies that I can be a Hong Konger too, yet the information I grasped from the textbook is that … I have to kill my identity of being a Shanxi-er, or even being a Chinese in order to become a Hong Konger. I imagine when my kids go to school … will they be forced to pretend to be a Hong Konger (in the Chinese sense) so that they can play with other kids intimately … or will they be forced to say “I am an expat” so they can pretend they don’t care? I know how it feels when one does not have a sense of belonging. And that probably means more loneliness for little souls than adults’.
The Genesis told us “every one of us has the image of God in ourselves”. I always think the image is intact in the mind of little kids, so while some family and school educations are necessary, why wouldn’t we try to let them be themselves? I mean, why don’t we give nothing else but love and respect, to the SELF of every child? They can define themselves in good or bad ways, depending on whether we feed them truth or lies. The textbook authors may think they were writing about the truth. Yet I remember, in his last words, the founding father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, told us his last forty years was devoted the cause of “pursuing the freedom and equality of China”. He suggested “abolishing unequal treaties” should be done as soon as possible. So was 1997 a year to make one of his wishes to become true? If he can see us from Heaven, how would the verbal abuse among us make him feel?
Not long ago I learned in Hung Hom there is a “Shansi Street”, which is neighboring Kiang Hsi Street, and Chi Kiang Street. The spelling of those names is totally different from their modern translations (Shanxi, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang). If you Google “Shansi”, you can find some accounts of the early “Shansi Banks”. Thus, when I was standing on the Shansi Street the other day, I had a telepathy-like feeling. I saw the generation of my great-grandparent working in Hung Hom. They stayed late when new transactions needed to be processed; they celebrated the marriage for a young couple in traditional ways; they wrote letters to their families who stayed in the North and were waiting for them.
Hong Kong has been the “Eastern Wall Street” for more than one hundred years. I agree that the Westerners (I personally think the more accurate term should be “European Hong Kongers”) contributed tremendously to Hong Kong’s development, but didn’t the early Chinese business elites in the three big networks contribute more? If I move my lens to the peaceful era after WWII, a trade is, after all, a trade, which is contributed from both sides. It is really odd that we are still using some language which explicitly or implicitly asserts the ownership of Hong Kong and the superiority and inferiority of different groups in different situations. I doubt the same set of words were used in the time before WWII, and I do not think they will keep appearing in our books and media for a very long time. I don’t know how soon this process of language evolution may take, but I cannot believe human will judge each other based on superficial level characters, birth origin, skin color, language, etc. If I see anyone who differs from me as an evil person, won’t I be labeled the same way? Thus my logic forces me to reach one conclusion, the differences between us, especially those superficial-level ones, cannot tell us much about one person. We need to learn about others by listening to them wholeheartedly. I do not know about Hebrew or Greek, but I know the English word “understanding” in the bible was translated into Chinese words “smart” and “wisdom” in many places. I believe our children will become smarter than us and human beings as a whole will be wiser in generations.
I totally understand people’s love for peace, as well as the passion of some young activists to protect the peace of their homeland. But can we all calm down and hold our fear due to a witch’s lies or ignorance or whatever, and listen to each other, wholeheartedly? Let our children look at the world as it was, it is, and the future it can be. They deserve to live in a world with less fear, especially the unnecessary fear due to hatred triggered by all kinds of lies, from which freedom and equality can never arise. I think my great-grandfather did not abandon yours, and yours did not forget mine. It is just that this documentary film of history is such a long story, the Screenwriter did not let us meet each other until now. Yet we should appreciate this encounter wholeheartedly because it has long been dreamed by some. It is not something easy to reflect upon the history, but letting a child be resilient is much easier than letting an adult be the same. Why don’t let our kids start the learning now?
P.S.: I wish anyone who shares the same love for kids like me can push the reform of Hong Kong textbooks. I would humbly suggest unifying HK textbooks for starters. Regardless of skin color, mother tongues, birth origin, or any other differences, I think no parents want to let their children live with a heart filled with biases and hatred. Some young students got lost in protesting activities because distorting lens have been put on them. Let’s all take some courage to reflect on history and our differences, so that we can create a world filled with more love than we have today. If Hong Kong wants to become a more internationalized city, its culture would definitely become more diverse. The ocean is great not because of its volume, but because of its inclusiveness to thousands of rivers. Lastly, I wish no one would suffer from assault, battery, or infliction of emotional distress in the process of reforming textbooks. No one is perfect.
[ The translation was definitely not done at the line-by-line level. Because I find in an article like this, the priority is to convey the genuine emotional information behind language instead of the meaning of each word. To fulfill this goal, I had to depart briefly from the other version at some places.]
Let me start with the big picture. The Paris Agreement set a very high goal of reducing carbon emission. Some scholars proposed adopting a global carbon tax to aid the reduction process (Crattini et al. 2019). They suggest redistributing the revenue to citizens to win public support. However, we see this plan as something that will never work out.
Because the main idea here is still asking “polluting industries” to curb emission all by themselves, to compete with each other, to win or to lose in this “great game”. If we think of the globe as a big industry (or family), the energy industry is just doing their job to support other sectors (family members). What people are doing now is simply using economic measures to force the energy industry to completely replace fossil fuels in a very short time scale. We do not care if some people (countries) will lose their jobs or not; we assume some eager competitors will seek opportunities to rise in this game, and reach our ultimate goal: net-zero carbon emission.
This strategy did not really work for regular environmental pollution problems, not completely. We know the fact is that some countries got clean air while pollution problems are transferred to other areas … If we think we can automize everything and put our heavy polluting industries to some deserts, we reach a solution by then. However, CO2 is transported everywhere, thus moving the emission sources spatially does not help anyone, not really.
People put their hope on those eager newcomers in the energy industry. On the one hand, their promises cannot really be trusted. If you look at the documentation about the “Great Leap Forward” in China around 1960, you will find out what kind of lies people are willing to tell when they are under great public pressure and economic temptation. On the other, quite a few nations around the world rely on the traditional energy industries (petroleum, natural gas, shale gas, coal, etc.) What will they do if some of their citizen, if not all, lose their jobs? They will have to move to other industries or countries, introducing competition, if not conflicts, to their new places of living.
I am timid to mention the word “war”, but it is just a fact that if we (anyone not working in the traditional energy industry) keep treating our industrial partners (family members) so harshly, the probability to have some regional, or even global-scale, wars, is obviously high.
Thus we suggest people in every corner of the earth work together to face the global warming problem. Instead of reprimanding traditional energy industries (our family members), why don’t we collaborate with and support them?
Surveys have already shown that the public supports the idea of the global carbon tax if it is used to mitigate global warming (the same paper, Crattini et al. 2019). If we want to avoid destabilizing the global society and maintain our current economic thrust, the best strategy is to keep every other part of the global industry fixed while replacing the broken part, the traditional energy industry — that is, pumping revenue from the global carbon tax to the traditional energy industry directly and make them rejuvenate.
This sounds a bit like the old Soviet-type economic planning (STP). STP has a lot of disadvantages. However, one of its major advantages is to reduce the unemployment rate. Unemployment may be tolerable for one country, but if unemployment happens at a global scale, can we really bear it? Actually, despite all kinds of critics, the GDP of the former Soviet Unit was $2.7 trillion in 1989. It made the Soviet Union the second largest economy by that time (the first was the USA, which had a GDP of $5.6 trillion in 1989). The former Soviet Union also contributed tremendously to the development of science and technology of the human world, which is a fact that cannot be denied by anyone. There must be some advantages in the STP approach, otherwise, the tremendous economy and science contribution of the Soviet Union to the world cannot be explained.
Today’s world is interconnected by global trades and worldwide waves of immigration. Some of us are “weakly” connected by economic activities, but for others, the connection across continents is deep in our blood. Today’s global economy is filled with Darwinism. Yes, competition helps people contain their greediness in business and helps humankind as a whole to achieve more in the technology field. But as a whole, what other species are we trying to compete with? Aliens? Do we really have to treat each other so harshly to advance human history?
Global warming is a challenge to all of us. We do not really have more time to argue and compete. The psychological nature of human competition is not very different from that of dog play. Puppies appear to be wrestling with each other on the surface while they play, but we know they are just having fun underneath. They do lose their temper occasionally (and we all know the human counterpart of this), but most of the time, a fight without hurting each other is a good and fun play. Yet, after all, a play is a play, we don’t have time for that kind of fun.
STP sounds scary for some of us on this planet. But this seems to to be the only acceptable option for us for now and a foreseeable future. And, since we have run this exercise once (actually more than once …) in human history, we wouldn’t repeat the same kind of mistakes anymore, would we?