I can still remember returning from an Evening at the Comedy Club in Wan Chai nearly 15 years ago, switching on the TV and seeing what I thought at first was a re-run of a Hollywood disaster movie, in which a plane ploughs into a skyscraper. It was when I changed channel and found the same images playing there - and then also on the Chinese channels - that the shock set in.
I hadn't experienced a feeling like this (shock combined with a fear for the future) until I saw pictures of the events in Mong Kok on the evening of the first day of the Lunar New Year. The Criminal Acts carried out by people who threw objects including paving slabs at essentially defenceless transport Police Officers (they had no helmets, no body armour, no shields) prompted a number of reflections.
First, people who can act like this (and in most cases, soberly too) have either lost their moral centre, or they never possessed one. Second, they are cowards: at the first hint of a more level arena being provided for their fight, they run. Third, they are immature: they share the same behaviour patterns as three-year-olds who think they can act as playground bullies with impunity. Fourth, they understand nothing of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship: they do not comprehend that any claims they make to freedom of expression and assembly are based on the principle of doing no harm to others. Fifth, they have no concept of working together with other people to affect change, embracing difference and actively seeking out compromise. Finally, they have no historical knowledge: they fail to comprehend that almost all positive social and political change has been achieved by those who serve an apprenticeship in citizenry, who do the hard miles and with much patience and much suffering (received not inflicted) build a foundation on which sustainable institutions can be built.
I see these pictures and I lament the use that will be made by the opponents of the open society of the actions of these people. I see these pictures and I feel a debt of gratitude to the Police who behaved with such restraint in the circumstances. I see these pictures and I hope that those who committed these criminal acts get locked up for years not months (together with the police officers who punched and kicked Ken Tsang).
I see these pictures and I come close to despair of Hong Kong people working together for improvements to our society. I see these pictures and I remember what Bo Yang says of the squabbling, jealousy and splittism which he considered endemic to Chinese culture. I see these pictures and wonder when - and if - it will ever end. And, indeed, if there exists the will for it to end.