Our author Rachel Cartland’s lunch speech at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club a few weeks ago caused a fair amount of controversy, with an article in the next day’s South China Morning Post receiving lots of comments, many of them misconstruing the message in a variety of ways.
In the interest of clarity, below we print the full text of Rachel’s speech. You can alternatively watch the event on video.
Has Hong Kong Become Ungovernable?
My book Paper Tigress deals mainly with my career as an Administrative Officer in the Hong Kong Government which spanned the years 1972 to 2005. Nowadays, if I want a quick ego boost, I use the next taxi ride that I take as an opportunity to let slip that fact and sit back while the driver tells me how good things where when “you people” were in charge and how bad they are now. There is no doubt that a sort of rosy glow has settled over Hong Kong’s past and dark clouds over its present and future.
Looking back, I think that it was not all so easy. It was much more of “a damn near run thing” as the Duke of Wellington famously described victory at the Battle of Waterloo. There were not a few times when Hong Kong faced serious crises of governance. And now… I think that the situation is the same but different and, yes, unfortunately, overall, worse.
The Hong Kong that I came to in 1972 was a society that had been formed by the community’s reaction to the disturbances of 1967 when China’s Cultural Revolution had spilled over into Hong Kong. Television audiences around the world had seen streams of rioters trooping up the main streets to wave their Little Red Books at the gates of Government House. Hong Kong was written off as ungovernable internationally and indeed by many Hong Kongers who fled or pulled out their investments. The timorous were, of course, proved very wrong. I hesitate to say this here but one sided reporting may have played a part in this misjudgment. The ladies of The Helena May were requested not to take tea on the balcony because their calm presence did not give the right image for the photographs being taken from the US Consulate opposite. People who were here in those days emphasize that quality of cool determination: whether of the Police who squared up to the protesters with a ritual beating of batons on riot shields or in the great crowds of workers who, in the absence of public transport, walked quietly from North Point to Central every day. They also say that somehow from early on they knew that things were going to be “all right”. Perhaps