Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu

Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu
    Book Description:

    Elsie Tu is well known as a social activist and crusader against injustice and corruption in Hong Kong. In this powerful personal statement, she expresses her views about the injustices in the past colonial system and her fears about present day economic colonialism. This is a book with strong messages for today. Mrs Tu's deep concerns about the current international scene have the most immediate and obvious topical relevance. But there is an equally strong lesson in her description of the corruption that used to be so pervasive in Hong Kong and her battles against it. She reminds us forcefully of the need for continued vigilance if corruption and its awful effects are not to return. However, the most important message of this book pervades all parts of it: the example of a life devoted to improving things for the ordinary people of Hong Kong, a life not just lived according to high principles, but characterized by a dogged and fearless determination to fight for those principles, to be an activist. This book is important because it records the beliefs, some of the experiences and above all the commitment of one of the most notable people of post-war Hong Kong. By giving rich insights into the mind and beliefs of an extraordinary and indomitable person, it brings to life the recent history of Hong Kong and challenges the next generation of Hong Kong people to contribute as much. Readers may have heard of Hong Kong's economic miracle during the second half of the twentieth century, but they may not be aware of the suffering and injustices caused by greed and corruption at that time. This book shows how the society's struggle stirred the spirit of determination upon which the Hong Kong we know today was built The book will also give readers a bird's eye view of the worldwide scale of suffering and injustices caused by nations seeking economic and political domination. I write this book because I believe that human beings can only comprehend the present when they understand the past, and they can only make a better future when they learn from previous errors. And I feel compelled to alert the younger generation of the dangers that confront the world today from those obsessed with wealth and power. I hope that all prejudices and evil ambitions can be set aside, and an equal playing field can be created for all nations. - Elsie Tu

    eISBN: 978-988-220-079-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Elsie Tu
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. Autobiographical Note
    (pp. 1-6)
  6. Part 1 The Quest for Justice in Hong Kong
    • 1 A First Taste of Hong Kong in the 1950s
      (pp. 9-12)

      It was in February 1951 that our last group of missionaries made their way to Hong Kong from Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province. Some of the older missionaries had already left in early 1949 as the civil-war fighting in China drew nearer to that province. None of us, however, had been forced to leave by the new Communist government, which reached Nanchang in mid-1949 and proclaimed final victory over the Nationalists in October of that year.

      The fact was that social conditions did improve after the Communists took over. None of the atrocities we had been taught to...

    • 2 Hong Kong After the Second World War — First Impressions of the Early Days
      (pp. 13-18)

      I reckon it took from three to six months for a newcomer to Hong Kong to become either one of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’. ‘Us’ meant the colonials, the social climbers, the omniscient and omnipotent ones. ‘Them’ meant all the rest, numbering several million people, the ordinary folk.

      A lot depended on where a person lived, on what propaganda he was exposed to as well as his natural prejudices and opinions. It was possible, of course, to find a rebel on the Peak, or a colonial on the plains. Certain areas were out-of-bounds for an expatriate in government service;...

    • 3 The Municipal Councils of Hong Kong
      (pp. 19-34)

      My personal connections with the Urban Council date back to 1963 when I was elected on the Reform Club ticket because the Club wanted a woman candidate, preferably in the education field.

      The Urban Council was a municipal council set up in 1933 to deal with matters of public health, recreation, culture, food hygiene, hawkers and markets. Its predecessor was the Sanitary Board, set up by the government in 1883, to deal with public health at a time when plague had become endemic. After the Japanese occupation, the government introduced an element of democracy into the Urban Council, with two...

    • 4 Hawkers as Prey to Corruption
      (pp. 35-42)

      If it is true that the British are a nation of shopkeepers, it is equally true that until recently, Hong Kong was a city of hawkers. According to Hong Kong records in the early days after British colonial occupation, the new colonial masters encouraged Chinese workers to come from the mainland to Hong Kong to work on construction projects. Small businesses followed the workers and set up their hawker stalls to supply the daily needs of the workers. From those early times, the British colonial government attempted but failed to control the hawkers, who often fouled up roads and pavements...

    • 5 The Chronic Housing Problem
      (pp. 43-48)

      When the Second World War ended in 1945, strife continued in China. The civil war between the Nationalist and Communist armies lasted a further four years. Many people who had fled from the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, and many others who had gone to China to support their compatriots in the war against Japanese aggression there, returned to Hong Kong. Moreover, tens of thousands fled to Hong Kong to escape the civil war. Consequently Hong Kong’s population doubled, and continued to increase by an estimated one hundred thousand per month.

      Those with money rented flats, but the vast majority...

    • 6 The Housing-Policy Stimulus to Corruption
      (pp. 49-56)

      In the last chapter I mentioned three policies that became sources of corruption: the policy of providing public housing; the government’s encouragement of the redevelopment of pre-war private housing, and the 1954 policy of demolishing newly-built squatter huts on sight.

      Public housing in those days was very cheap; it offered safety from fire, typhoon and flood, and at first it was built conveniently near to the urban areas. In those days, even Kwun Tong was considered remote, but when the local urban neighbourhood could offer no more space for public housing, people objected to going to Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan...

    • 7 The Trials and Tribulations of Registering a School
      (pp. 57-66)

      Registering a school in those pre-ICAC days was an exercise in frustration, and at times a huge joke. The pranks played by corrupt officials were truly incredible. Of course I never attempted to register the school we set up in a tent, but it was my intention as soon as possible to find some way of obtaining premises that could be registered. As a professional teacher and a law-abiding person, I always tried to follow regulations, for the safety and well-being of the students under our care. Corruption was not in my book of rules. Unfortunately, at first I could...

    • 8 Of Officials, Contractors and Triads
      (pp. 67-72)

      Corruption could not have existed in the Housing Department without the connivance of some officials in the Public Works Department (PWD). It was to that department that applications for new buildings of any kind had to be made and plans submitted. It was that department that had to check every building after completion to make sure that it complied with approved plans. And it was that department which finally issued the occupation permit before a building could be occupied or rented out by the owner.

      As a result of the freedom afforded to corrupt bureaucrats in the three decades after...

    • 9 Hong Kong – 1960s Criminal Paradise
      (pp. 73-84)

      One year in the 1960s, a man appeared on the streets of Hong Kong carrying a banner that told how he helped to catch some robbers, but later, the robbers robbed him. The robbers were accused in court of assault, and the robbery was not mentioned, so their sentence was light. The aggrieved man then picketed all the police stations with his banner, seeking justice. A man looking for justice may find a mental hospital before he ever finds justice. This was the situation in the 1960s in Hong Kong.

      Like the man with the banner, I have no hope...

    • 10 Even the Legal System . . .
      (pp. 85-94)

      Democracy, we are repeatedly told, depends upon the rule of law and a directly elected government by universal franchise. I contend that that is not necessarily true, as we have seen in many so-called democracies. Theory is not always practice.

      Until the Hong Kong Basic Law was formulated in 1990, Hong Kong had no directly elected members on the legislative body. The Hong Kong government introduced a partially elected system in the Legislative Council only in 1991, after a century and a half of non-democracy. It provided only partial elections to the powerless District Boards, and to the two Municipal...

    • 11 Corruption Reaches out to Transport
      (pp. 95-102)

      One of the surest ways to generate corruption is to create a shortage of the necessities of life for the vast majority of people. Those who have money to pay for what they need, with a little graft added, can enjoy life and its luxuries, while those with little money are deprived of the most basic necessities. And for low paid workers, transport is usually a basic necessity.

      For more than two decades after the end of the Second World War, getting transport to work was a daily headache. Two bus companies, the China Motor Bus Company and the Kowloon...

    • 12 Two Summers of Discontent: 1966 and 1967
      (pp. 103-112)

      For those who lived through these two summers, the memories will remain forever. But that happened 35 years ago, and a new generation has grown up that probably knows little about the reasons for the discontent, and even the press frequently confuses the two dates. Though the immediate causes were totally different, they had one thing in common: a groundswell of discontent caused by corruption and injustice. It required only a spark to ignite the gunpowder.

      In 1966 the economy was in poor shape, and poor people lost their meagre savings when some banks closed their doors, never to reopen...

    • 13 Peter Godber Gives the Game Away
      (pp. 113-118)

      In my struggle against corruption I was always on the look-out for policemen who were honest enough to do something about it, but honest police in those days were hard to find, and those who attempted to fight corruption were in danger of losing their contracts.

      Some time about 1970, I cannot remember the exact year, a new man took up the post of head of the Anti-Corruption Branch of the police. I went to see him because he indicated that he wanted to know more about graft among the police. He assured me that he intended to tackle corruption,...

    • 14 Is the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Succeeding in Its Mission?
      (pp. 119-126)

      This is a question frequently asked by researchers into the Hong Kong corruption phenomenon. I believe that everyone in Hong Kong (including myself) who was familiar with the situation before the ICAC was set up, would give a hearty ‘Yes’ to that question. Hong Kong has become a different world, in which even young children are taught the evils of corruption either at school or on television. Corrupt people now know that their activities are in jeopardy, though some still continue to take the risk. Many of the guilty parties fled Hong Kong, some going to Taiwan where there is...

    • 15 Democracy in Hong Kong
      (pp. 127-132)

      The political situation in Hong Kong was a shocker to me on my arrival in 1951. It is only fair to say that the huge influx of people from China after the Second World War put the colonial government under heavy pressure. Thousands of people were sleeping in the streets, in cardboard lean-tos against walls, or in squatter huts on the hillsides. Tens of thousands of children had no chance of education, medical care was minimal, and social welfare depended almost entirely upon donations of dry rations from international welfare organizations. The government was slow to move on these problems....

    • 16 Step-by-Step Democracy
      (pp. 133-144)

      It is debatable whether democracy should be achieved by evolution or by revolution. I believe the answer depends upon the circumstances and that the same system does not suit every country or community.

      When the lot of the people of any country is so dismal that they can see no hope for their government ever taking steps to curb injustice or change repressive laws, the danger of revolution exists and indeed may be the people’s only hope. But history has shown that revolution does not necessarily bring about improvement. More often than not, more suffering is inflicted and a new...

    • 17 The Transitional Years in Hong Kong, 1992–97
      (pp. 145-152)

      I mentioned in a previous chapter that when universal suffrage was given to all adults who registered their wish to vote, the system applied only to Municipal Councils and District Board elections, in spite of Britain’s reputation as the ‘mother of democracy’, the colonial power continued to reject all proposals for election to the legislative body, the Legislative Council. But in 1985, nearly 150 years after colonizing Hong Kong, the government introduced an outdated element in electoral systems: an electoral college and functional constituencies. By that I am not saying that these were bad systems, but they were no longer...

    • 18 Hong Kong’s Future After 2007
      (pp. 153-156)

      Annex II, Clause III of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region deals with the voting procedures subsequent to the year 2007. It states:

      With regard to the method for forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and its procedures for voting on bills and motions after 2007, if there is a need to amend the provisions of this Annex, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the...

    • 19 Colonial Ignorance
      (pp. 157-162)

      I suppose I belong to that generation of British people who were known to speak up for the underdog. I believe there are people of all nations who do so, but I also suspect that when social conditions improve and the middle class becomes larger, fewer care enough to do so and more become self-seeking.

      To me, the underdog is not necessarily a poor person in need of financial assistance. The underdog could be an individual, a group of persons, or even a whole community. If they suffer injustice, they are underdogs and need support. Present day politics have produced...

  7. Part 2 What Happened to Democracy?
    • 20 Why Write About Democracy?
      (pp. 165-168)

      ‘I think . . . all that alleged democracy is nothing but a fraud,’ said I Fidel Castro, president of Cuba, in a published conversation with a Catholic priest, Frei Betto, in 1986.

      Castro had been called a cruel dictator by the United States press, but he had no means of responding to the accusation through the same press. During his conversation, he explained to the priest the difficulty in putting the truth before the American public and that he had come to the conclusion that, ‘When you speak of freedom of the press you are really talking about freedom...

    • 21 What Is Democracy?
      (pp. 169-170)

      I once heard a politician calling out ecstatically, ‘Democracy, I love you!’ That left me with the impression that, to him, democracy was some kind of goddess to be worshipped. That politician had obviously fallen in love late in life, because he was already about fifty and had until then never shown the least interest in democracy. In fact, democracy is not a god to be worshipped, but a state of mind, and a democrat is not a party member but a person who cares about people.

      That declaration of love for democracy at once gained the politician many admirers...

    • 22 The Development of Democracy
      (pp. 171-174)

      The word ‘democracy’ is of Greek origin. Demos means people, and ‘-cracy’ comes from the word kratein, meaning ‘rule’ or ‘strength’. The Chinese translation catches the meaning well: minzhu means ‘people’s power or rule’.

      In spite of its name, democracy in ancient Greece referred only to ‘freemen’. Women, who made up approximately half the population, as well as slaves, were not included in the Greek concept of democracy.

      Greek civilization goes back in history about three thousand years and some of it is now legend, but it is known that there were overlords who depended upon the votes of the...

    • 23 A Machiavellian Era
      (pp. 175-182)

      Five hundred years ago, the Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (1469 – 1536) said, ‘There is nothing more wicked, more loathsome than war. Whosoever heard of a hundred thousand animals running together to butcher one another as men do everywhere?’ Indeed, in war, men are more cruel than animals, which kill only for food.

      The title of this chapter refers to a contemporary of Erasmus, in that dark era of European history. He was Nicolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), born in Florence, a city state of the now united Italy. A political philosopher, he advocated that any political means, no matter how unscrupulous,...

    • 24 The Imperialist Mind
      (pp. 183-186)

      I travelled by boat on my second journey from Britain to Hong Kong in 1956. Air travel at that time was rare and expensive. On that occasion I shared a cabin with two ladies, one American, the other British.

      There was little space in the cabin because the American lady had insisted that all her heavy luggage must be placed in the cabin, and her luggage amounted to large trunks and suitcases. She explained that she did not trust the crew with her luggage. The other passengers had to put their heavy baggage in the hold because she had made...

    • 25 How Democratic Is a Stolen Country?
      (pp. 187-194)

      If charity begins at home then democracy should begin with one’s own nation. Time after time in television interviews we hear US presidents and chief spokesmen mouthing hypocrisy about ‘democracy and human rights’ — especially as regards other countries, usually countries of which they disapprove for political reasons. The cliché is nauseating, so nauseating that I find myself repeatedly back-answering the television set to anyone who happens to be with me, ‘Why don’t you practise it in your own country?’

      Propaganda about America, the land of the free, the great democracy that boasts about its human rights, about the wonderful American...

    • 26 Economic Colonialism
      (pp. 195-198)

      In Chapter 23 I mentioned the political philosophy of Machiavelli, that ‘any political means, no matter how unscrupulous, is justified if it is intended to strengthen the power of any state.’ This philosophy is not dead. It has been the aim of successive American presidents during most of the twentieth century and especially in the fifty years since the Second World War. When, after the Gulf War, President Bush, Senior, talked of a ‘New World Order’ he was promising nothing new. According to writer Joel Bainerman in his book The Crimes of a President, this philosophy came directly from the...

    • 27 Fascism After the Second World War
      (pp. 199-204)

      Although the Second World War was fought to contain fascism in Europe, and the European fascist leaders Mussolini and Hitler disappeared from the scene, 1945 actually saw the beginning of a new era of fascism, disguised as democracy. Hitler had attempted to pinpoint the Soviet Union as the real enemy, but his aggression against European nations destroyed his credibility and he had to be disposed of first before action was started on communism. Thus began the ‘Cold War’, a misnomer, in view of the fact that millions of people were slaughtered after the war in the West’s attempt to contain...

    • 28 The Legacy of the Monroe Doctrine
      (pp. 205-212)

      The Monroe Doctrine was a unilateral proclamation by US president James Monroe in 1823. It warned European states to make no further attempts at extending colonialism in the New World, as the Americas were then called.

      South America is composed of a number of independent countries which had no part in the Monroe Declaration. Nevertheless, the United States took upon itself the role of protector of South America. Eventually this doctrine was used not only to prevent colonial aggression but also to dictate the leadership of the South American countries, especially after the Second World War when the United States...

    • 29 Democracy Misinterpreted
      (pp. 213-222)

      Like all traditional philosophies, religions and systems throughout history, the concept of democracy has changed with the times. It no longer gives power to the people except in theory. Maybe its real name should be ‘capitalism in democratic clothing’ or maybe ‘laissez-faire for superpowers’.

      No one, myself included, would oppose true democracy, provided a new system could be devised whereby the people have a say in their government, and not just a meaningless vote. History indicates that no matter what system has existed in the past, it is always the ambitious, the greedy and the strong, who ultimately find a...

    • 30 A New Concept of Democracy
      (pp. 223-232)

      A century ago, democracy seemed to give hope of a more egalitarian political system, as the Greek word demos (people) suggests. Now that meaning of the word scarcely applies, and the words ‘party-ocracy’ or ‘capitalist-ocracy’ appear to be more appropriate to the system that operates today. The struggle for party power, and the use of capitalism and militarism, have little to do with the will of the vast majority of the populace. Voters are now realizing that they have been misled by the name ‘democracy’ and voter turnout in older democracies decreases year by year. A recent report by a...

    • 31 Voting Systems
      (pp. 233-238)

      In an earlier chapter I mentioned that Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative Party ruled Britain for nearly twenty years with the support of only about 40 per cent of the voters. That 40 per cent does not take into consideration the many potential voters who did not vote at all, so the actual support for her party could have been less than 30 per cent. By no means could this voting system be called democratic because it excludes the wishes of too many of the ‘demos’ (people).

      Not all countries use this undemocratic system. In some, such as France, the winner of...

    • 32 Quotations on Democracy and Pseudo-Democracy
      (pp. 239-244)

      Half a century ago or more, I believed that democracy meant what it says, that is, ‘people’s power’. During that half-century, my dreams of democracy and world peace have been shattered. Democracy too has been shattered, at least, democracy as we in the Western world have always been taught. It no longer means what it says.

      From my reading of books on history and politics, mainly but not entirely written by American academics, I have come to realize that the only hope of achieving real democracy and peace in the world will be when the world ceases to believe propaganda...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 245-250)

    If anyone had any doubts whether George W. Bush would carry out his hawkish election promises, those doubts must now have been removed. He has made a splendid start by introducing his programme of tax relief for the long-suffering billionaires, announcing that he would pay back taxpayers’ money to the taxpayers, especially to those who least need it. But not a word has escaped his lips to suggest that he will deal with the problem of the millions of undernourished and homeless families, a disproportionate number of whom are African-Americans. If they had been considered full human beings, they might...

  9. Appendices
  10. Reference Books
    (pp. 317-318)