[Film Critic] When Hong Kong Laughed at China

[Film Critic] When Hong Kong Laughed at China
Written by Sean Tierney

I recently re-watched Her Fatal Ways, the 1990 comedy starring Carol ‘Dodo’ Cheng as Sister Cheng, a mainland security officer sent to Hong Kong with her cousin, played by writer/director Alfred Cheung, on official police business. Watching the movie now, more than 25 years later, it’s interesting to see the way China and Chinese people from the mainland were, and were portrayed. In 1990, Hong Kong was certainly far ahead of China in many ways. It was easy to look down on mainlanders as uncouth bumpkins, or at least to be benevolently patronizing. Today, the difference gap has closed in many ways.

Her Fatal Ways opens with Sister Cheng and Cousin Shing arriving in Hong Kong by bus. Our first glimpse of Sister Cheng is of her hand, which holds a cigarette. She smokes while singing a patriotic song. A fellow passenger spits on the floor, hitting Cousin Shing’s foot. He responds with profanity. Sister Cheng then chimes in with a brief lesson on the etiquette of spitting, which ends no better than the first incident. In the span of less than a minute, the film has illustrated its protagonists using the stereotypes of the day.  

While simple, bludgeoning parody would have been the easy way out, Albert Cheung (who appears in the film as Cheng’s cousin) lampoons virtually all sides of the political and cultural sphere. Sister Cheng’s Hong Kong professional counterpart is Inspector Wu, played by ‘Big’ Tony Leung (Leung Kar Fai). He’s a young, urbane police detective who dresses stylishly (for the time). It turns out that Wu’s father is an unrepentant Nationalist. Sparks inevitably fly, but so do laughs and the discovery of common ground.
Hong Kong has always been a dynamic city that changes with breathtaking speed. But no one could have foreseen the scope and speed of social and cultural change in China. Sister Cheng seems like the ghost of another age, and indeed she is. I remember meeting people from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and they were in many ways just like her; marveling at many of the things around them while steadfastly holding to the ideology that told them how wrong it all was. A young person from today’s China would understandably find Her Fatal Ways offensive. They might find the characterization insulting, overblown, or inaccurate. But for people who remember that time, the portrayal is remarkably astute and, in many ways, sympathetic without being patronizing. 

Hong Kong and China shared a common past, a common ethnicity, and in some ways a common culture. But the recent history of the PRC, as well as it’s closed nature for much of its first decades, helped create a large culture gap that language (and food) alone couldn’t reconcile. Today, Hong Kong and China seem in many ways interchangeable, in financial, technological and cultural terms. In other ways, the roles have reversed; Hong Kong cinema now relies on the beneficence of mainland co-productions. And in still other ways, the differences that remain have become markedly acute. Whereas Sister Cheng’s occasional breaches of professional behavior during interrogations were seen as funny or utilitarian, the reality of mainland security officers operating in Hong Kong is now seen as a much more menacing problem. 

In 1990 people could fall back on a belief in One Country Two Systems and thus keep some of the thornier implications of Her Fatal Ways at arms’ length. But that risk is much more prevalent now than it was in 1990. In 2017, a movie about public security running roughshod through the streets of Hong Kong would not be greeted so airily. 

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Also Read:


A Gentleman’s Guide on Cantonese - Interview with Benjamin Au Yeung by Apertus

“A Gentleman’s Guide on Cantonese” (Full version with foul language in Cantonese)
Written by Spencer Ng, To Wai-hong, Anson Hung (Apertus, CUHK Student Press 47th Proposed Cabinet 1)

Dr. Benjamin Au Yeung (nicknamed Ben Sir) is a senior lecturer in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, who is also a celebrity in the media. His GE course in Shaw College, “Canvassing Cantonese”, is so popular that it is always quickly full. Beyond the campus, he has taught Cantonese in a hilarious way in different TV shows, including “Sidewalk Scientist”, “EatLaMen” and “Sermon by Ben Sir”. Meanwhile, being an expert in the language himself, Ben Sir is generous in sharing his knowledge on various Cantonese sub-fields including pronunciation, orthography (how words are represented in written forms), foul language and internet slangs. What would he say about learning Cantonese and the words used in “dem beat (the activity that a group of people reciting some phrases loudly and moving their hands and feet. It is often used for promotions of societies and the games in orientation camps)?”

Why is Cantonese so hard?
Ben Sir thinks that there are three major obstacles for international students in learning Cantonese although they may have some background knowledge in the language. Firstly, he finds that p, t and k stop consonants in the last syllable are quite challenging to them. For instance, the word 十 (sap6, ten) is easily confused with 實 (sat6, solid). Likewise, the word 熱 (jit6, hot) is often mispronounced as 葉 (jip6, leave). From his observation, even though non-local students consciously try to, they still struggle to distinguish these ending consonants. Besides, they often misuse or avoid using the Cantonese particles, which indicate the tones and emotions of the sentences. Words like 呢 (ne1), 喎 (wo3) and 喎 (wo5) might sound strange to foreign ears, but to locals, sentences without them sound like coming from a news report. Ben Sir has also noticed that counter words are also challenging to non-local students. Instead of using the specific words for different nouns like locals do, they might replace any others with the most common one 個 (go3) and this would sound odd. Ben Sir thinks that as non-local students may be too afraid to make mistakes and so they avoid unfamiliar words. Lastly, as mentioned above, the Chinese particle 喎 has two tones, wo3 and wo5, which indicates slightly different meanings. Another word (啩, gwaa3), which suggests uncertainty, might also be mixed up with 喎 (wo3 or wo5), posing difficulties to some beginning learners of Cantonese. But these are all integral parts of everyday spoken Cantonese; avoiding them would make one sound unnatural or too formal.

How might the locals help
But how to overcome these hurdles? On one hand, Ben Sir recommends non-local students to compare similar sentences with minor differences in tones, particles in context so they will notice which one sounds right. On the other hand, he encourages them to experience local culture in places like Lan Kwai Fong, Yau Ma Tei and Jordan Road with their local friends. An effective way of learning is to experience the local’s everyday life such as going to yum cha (Cantonese Restaurants) or travelling by public transport. We might invite international students to guess how the new South Island MTR line station names are pronounced and go together with them to check if they are correct. By then, non-local students could have more common interests and interactions with locals. Likewise, he suggests local students teaching them Cantonese swear words as they are “the most interesting part of a foreign language”.
When asked which swear word he would he teach, the word 屌 (diu2, fuck) instantly came to Ben Sir’s mind. In his view, this is a simple yet useful word for expressing anger, but surprisingly this is not what he would teach the non-local students first. As a humble and polite person, he says he would teach do1 ze6 (多謝, thank you), m4 goi1 (唔該, also means thank you) and deoi3 m4 zyu6 (對唔住, sorry). There is a subtle difference in do1 ze6 and m4 goi1, as Cantonese people say the first phrase to thank for gifts, and the second for an act. Certainly, polite words are a part of “survival Cantonese”.

The best “beat”
Decades ago in CUHK, when Ben Sir was still an undergraduate student majoring in English, limericks with 4 lines and 7 characters were more commonly used in orientation camps than “dem beat”. These limericks are often derogatory remarks about another college. The best-known line 聯合組媽最盡責 (lyun4 hap6 zou2 maa1 zeoi3 zeon6 zaak3), was even mentioned in a stand-up comedy. The word 組媽 (zou2 maa1) refers to the female students who take care of the freshmen in orientation camps. While the phrase literally means that they are dutiful, the next line states that they performed blowjobs to male freshmen. This offensive phrase first appeared in an orientation camp back in 2002, and shocked the conservative Hongkongers. Anyway, Ben Sir generalises that the four lines in the limericks should ideally form a story, otherwise it would sound awkward.

As for “dem beat”, now a necessity in orientation camps, Ben Sir sees that the one by Morningside College gives out a more powerful tone. He adds that “the whole piece is in a traditional style of writing called 駢文 (pianwen, or parallel prose) in which every line begins with 4 characters and ends with 6.” A great example would be the line so2 hoeng3 pei1 mei4, daai3 dung6 fung1 wan4 sei3 hei2 (所向披靡,帶動風雲四起) which roughly means we are unstoppable and bring chaos everywhere. In Ben Sir’s view, the beats of other colleges sound less like Cantonese. The words used in that beat are colloquial Cantonese, such as ging1 tin1 dung6 dei6 (驚天動地, meaning earth-shattering). while the words used in, for example, Woo Sing College’s beats, are rather sophisticated and poetic because of the phrase po4 so1 syu6 jing2 (婆娑樹影), which describes the trees as “paradisiacal” and “beauteous”. “That’s clearly not the words we would use to describe the trees in our daily life. It is important to strike a balance between readability and complexity.” Ben Sir concludes.

The “Woo Sing Beat” is widely heard and ridiculed. After watching the video of the beat, Ben Sir gave a plausible explanation for this: “Although the words themselves are sophisticated, the students’ attitude did not match the beat. A model looks pretty with a fur coat, but not a person with a humble look. How can the students not be mocked when they looked so unenergetic?”

Is Cantonese dying?
When it comes to the future of Cantonese, its marginalization comes to our mind. But Ben Sir says he is not that pessimistic. There was a study showing that 90% of interviewees were native Cantonese speakers, but when it was repeated recently, the result dropped to 89%. He says we can assure ourselves that 89% is still high, but cannot deny that the figure has dropped, “and it’ll be worse as Hong Kongers will immigrate, die and be gradually replaced by mainlanders.” He continues that, “probably one day only 10% of Hong Kong residents are native speakers of Cantonese. Well, at that time we can still say that Cantonese has not been extinct.”
Ben Sir has noticed that Mandarin words have replaced their Cantonese counterparts in everyday conversations. For example, opening ceremony in Cantonese is 開幕禮 (hoi1 mok6 lai5), but some follow the mainlanders and say 開幕式 (hoi1 mok6 sik1). To slow down the decay of Cantonese, Ben Sir suggests us to write in Cantonese* “so that we can add value to the language, before it dies.”

* Currently, Cantonese is seldom written.

- - - The following is provided by Hong Kong Columns (Translated) - - -
和聲BEAT Woo Sing Beat
wo4 zeon6 tin1 dei6 fung1 wan4 zi1 sing1, waan4 pou5 saan1 seoi2 jat6 jyut6 zi1 ging2
po4 so1 syu6 jing2, jan4 git6 dei6 ling4
juk6 wo4 sing1 jat1 doi6 zing1 jing1, laap6 wo4 sing1 cin1 cau1 mei5 ming4
wo4 sing1! wo4 sing1! wo4 sing1!
Rough translation:
Echoing the sounds of the universe, embraced by mountains, waters, sun and moon;
Trees are paradisiacal and beauteous, these men are great and this land is glorious;
Nurturing Woo Sing’s generation of elites, building names for Woo Sing for centuries;
Woo Sing! Woo Sing! Woo Sing!

晨興BEAT Morningside College Beat
ging1 tin1 dung6 dei6, sing1 sai3 mou4 jyu5 leon4 bei2;
zin2 ci3 gou1 fei1, cong3 zou6 san4 hing1 zyun6 kei4;
so2 hoeng3 pei1 mei4, daai3 dung6 fung1 wan4 sei3 hei2;
hoeng2 jyu6 cin1 lei5, wai1 mong6 zan3 sip3 tin1 dei6;
san4 hing1, duk6 hin2 wong4 ze2 baa3 hei3;
san1 si4 doi6, jau4 ngo5 san4 hing1 daai3 hei3!
Rough translation:
Earth shattering, our trend’s beyond compare;
Fly high, we create the legend of Morningside;
Invincible, we are strong to even draw storms and clouds [referring to big events];
Renowned even afar, our reputation shocks the world;
Morningside, only we show manners of an emperor;
New era, we Morningside will create!

Ching Cheong: Why does Chinese Liaison Office boost Carrie Lam’s chance in full force?

Why does the Chinese Liaison Office boost Carrie Lam’s chance in full force?
Translated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, written by Ching Cheong
Original: https://www.hkcnews.com/article/1540/%E4%B8%AD%E8%81%AF%E8%BE%A6%E7%82%BA%E4%BD%95%E5%85%A8%E5%8A%9B%E5%82%AC%E8%B0%B7%E6%9E%97%E9%84%AD%E6%9C%88%E5%A8%A5%EF%BC%9F 

 林鄭月娥 - 灣仔會展舉行參選特首分享大會(We Connect)

The Chinese Liaison Office has left no stone unturned to boost Carrie Lam’s chances in the chief executive race, and that has caused dissatisfaction all over Hong Kong. The LO even dared to bluff Election Committee (EC) members by pretending it is really representing Beijing. The LO also threatened other candidates who might possibly challenge Carrie Lam. Some even said: “Not voting for Carrie Lam means opposition against Beijing.” The LO also made a 700-strong list of nominations for Carrie Lam, which effectively means the Liaison Office wants to “cherry-pick” Hong Kong's chief executive. It is worthwhile to note this.

FIRST, we must clearly realise: the Chinese Liaison Office by no means represents Beijing.
The most obvious evidence is that the LO was completely on the outside when it came to CY Leung not running for a second term. I wrote an article for HKEJ on 8 December 2016, presenting three pieces of evidence that “Beijing is really developing towards the direction of 'giving up CY Leung'”. On the same day, a friend from the leftist camp asked the LO whether my article was true. A vice-ministerial official of the LO said, “Do not believe in rumours,” stressing that “Beijing's attitude is clear: Beijing will support CY Leung for a second term.” Right after that day, CY Leung announced his decision to not run for a second term. This clearly illustrates that not only does the Liaison Office not represent Beijing, but also shows its “outsiderness” when it comes to key issues.

This is not the only faux pas. Another example was the political reform package in 2012. The Democratic Party put forward the “Super District Council“ proposal.   The Office confidently guaranteed that “Beijing won't accept it.” On 14 June 2012, Hao Tiechuan, the Director-General of the Publicity, Culture and Sports Department of the Chinese Liaison Office, described the Democratic Party's proposal of “universal suffrage of District Council representatives” in very harsh words. “No precedent, no legal grounds, no need to come out from the woodwork.” Hao said the Basic Law has no residual power nor is there an ordinance to allow the functional constituency of the District Council to be applied with universal suffrage. On 21 June, chief executive Donald Tsang announced that Beijing had accepted this proposal. The Liaison Office had to do a U-turn. The embarrassing U-turn even made Lau Nai-keung, from the pro-establishment camp, sigh and remark: “The turn is really ugly.”

These two examples fully illustrate that the Chinese Liaison Office does not represent Beijing, nor does it really understand Beijing's mindset. Therefore, I advise EC members to ignore the pressure of the LO.

SECOND, we should be alert to the reason why the Liaison Office spares no effort to boost Carrie Lam.
I believe that among the four candidates (prior to Leung Kwok-hung’s announcement), Carrie Lam is the best representative of CY Leung's policy direction, as she made clear in her first speech when she announced her candidacy. Therefore, supporting Carrie Lam means supporting CY Leung’s policy direction. Why does the Liaison Office feel it has to continue CY Leung's direction? Because, in the past five years, CY Leung has successfully normalised “the governance of Hong Kong by the Liaison Office” and  “filled his cabinet with people from the leftist camp.” Back in March 2012, when CY Leung was successfully elected but before he assumed office, I foresaw the new chief executive would bring four main crises to Hong Kong. The first being “two systems” merging into “one country”; the “mainlandisation” of the government’s ideology; normalisation of the governance of Hong Kong by the Liaison Office; and filling his Cabinet with people from the leftist camp. (19 April 2012, HKEJ).

The developments of the past five years have been the best evidence of my observations. As CY Leung has successfully allowed the Liaison Office to “participate” (or should I say, “interfere”) in the internal affairs of Hong Kong and appointed a lot of people from the leftist camp, therefore, the Liaison Office has the incentive to support CY Leung for another term.  If that proves unsuccessful, then Carrie Lam, who will support the execution of  CY Leung’s policies as the next chief executive, shall have her electoral prospects boosted.

THIRD, the so-called “power struggle” is ridiculous. 
In order to push Carrie Lam to the top job, the Liaison Office even publicised through pro-Beijing media a so-called “power struggle”.  (17 January 2017, Headline Daily). The author of the article argued that choosing Carrie Lam would be protecting or defending Hong Kong’s regime and voting for others would mean losing Hong Kong's regime. There are several amusing points. First, a CE election supposedly conducted in accordance with the Basic Law is now suddenly a “power struggle”. Then why does the Basic Law stipulate such an election in the first place? Second, HKMAO director Wang Guangya already announced that the pan-democratic camp is part of the establishment, and Home Return Permits have been reissued to pan-democratic lawmakers. So even if other candidates win thanks to pan-democratic votes, that only means a different person in the same political spectrum within the establishment camp becomes chief executive. What, then, is the “power struggle?” People affected by the Liaison Office have lost the ability to distinguish rights from wrongs. 

However, the Liaison Office and its underlings are trying to escalate a normal CE election into a “power struggle”. These kind of conspiracy theories make me feel that there is something unusual going on. Continuing CY Leung’s policies can help normalise the governance of Hong Kong by the Liaison Office and fill the cabinet with people from the leftist camp, but on top of that, there might be a more deep seated reason: the Liaison Office intends to put an obedient person in the top job in order to protect the interests of certain people and their respective factions in Hong Kong. This is the key. My suspicion is not groundless because in the past number of years, there have been many signs that suggest this possibility. Some cases now available to the public can illustrate the problem.

A. The Case of Rafael Hui
Former Chief Secretary (CS) Rafael Hui was involved in a corruption case. People saw that former HKMAO director Liao Hui arranged a sum of $10 million to solve Hui’s debt crisis in order to put him in the CS position, so that Hui could be assured of the job instead of working in the private sector. This might only be Hui’s own rhetoric, but I believe this is true because these statements were made by Hui in court. If they were fabricated, he would be charged with perjury and Liao, who would be framed in this scenario, would surely deny. I believe that no one would dare to frame a ministerial leader from the central authority. Now, there are two questions: Why does Liao have to help Hui (in other words, why must Hui become CS to the point Hui has to be helped with such an extraordinary measure? Where did Liao’s $10 million come from (in other words, how did Liao pay this sum of money to Hui)? This unreasonable phenomenon only renders one reasonable explanation, that is: putting Rafael Hui in the position of CS will help Liao Hui protect the interests of his family or his factions in Hong Kong.

Lessons to be learned from Rafael Hui’s case: In order to achieve their goals or objectives, some people might violate the normal employment terms of civil servants and put obedient people in key seats of the HKSAR government (since Hui took the “aid,” he will surely be obedient). In fact, the $10 million sum already constitutes a bribe to Hui, so how can Hui not repay his benefactor when he is CS?

B. The Case of Song Lin
The former chairman of China Resources Group, Song Lin, was charged in Guangzhou on 8 December 2016. Song Lin's corruption case was already reported by Li Jianjun, a journalist from Shanxi Evening Post, to ICAC and the Commercial Crime Bureau (CCB) of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF). However it was later discovered that someone from the mainland authorities contacted ICAC through the Liaison Office, saying that the case involves mainland China and it was hoped that ICAC would not interfere. Li Jianjun said, as a matter of fact, some misconduct had taken place in Hong Kong and Macau, and China Resources Power is listed in Hong Kong, therefore the law enforcement agencies of Hong Kong are responsible for investigating this matter. ICAC and CCB did not do anything and did not handle this report.

It is universally known that Song Lin is a “super fan” of CY Leung. He was president of the Hong Kong Chinese Enterprises Association. The association had sixteen votes in the 2012 CE election and all sixteen votes went to CY Leung. The year after CY Leung was elected, Song Lin was immediately appointed as a Justice of Peace and holds various public posts, including becoming a member of the Economic Development Commission and chairman of the Hong Kong Business Ethics Development Advisory Committee (HKBEADC) under ICAC. These acts were criticised as political rewards. How can ICAC receive a report and do nothing at all? I speculate that this may be because ICAC was scared of Song Lin, who holds the title of chairman of HKBEADC. Prosecuting him is pretty much a joke to ICAC itself.

From this, we can conclude that whether or not the CE is obedient is very important. If the CE is obedient enough (such as CY Leung), ICAC would not interfere. Economic Information Daily’s chief journalist Wang Wenzhi reported to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) about Song Lin on 15 April 2014, along with the photos taken with Song and his mistress together. If that was not reported, Song is probably off scot-free.

Lessons to be learnt from Song Lin’s case: Whether or not a CE is obedient is very important to the interests of various factions of the Communist Party in Hong Kong.

C. The Case of Xiao Jianhua
The case of Xiao Jianhua is definitely the most shocking news in the political field recently. Rich merchant Xiao, who was handling HK$1 trillion for senior officials on the mainland, was “brought back to China”. The truth behind the incident is yet to be ascertained, but the case led to the surfacing of an organisation founded in 2014, known as the Hong Kong Association of Cultural Industries (HKACI). The vice president of HKACI is Xiao Jianhua and the honorary sponsor is CY Leung. The chairman of the HKACI Executive Council is Peter Lam Kin-ngok. Other directors include Henry Cheng Kar-shun (chairman of New World Development), Robert Ng (chairman of Sino Land), Albert Yeung (chairman of Emperor Group), Charles Ho Tsu-kwok (chairman of Sing Tao Group) and Vicki Zhao (a famous Chinese actress). These facts are worth noting for two reasons: It was unconventional before 1997 for the Governor to hold a post in an organisation with complicated political and commercial ties. Under normal circumstances, this would amount to the CE serving as protection and a promotional tool for this organisation. However, this case may involve the top tier, so the CE can do nothing. Second, many of the directors of the organisation joined Carrie Lam's election office.

Lessons to be learnt from Xiao Jianhua’s case: Putting Carrie Lam in the top job would help strengthen the status and protect the interests of this bloc in Hong Kong. However, this bloc has offended the top tier due to unknown reasons, and thus has exceeded the protection that CY Leung can offer.

D. The Case of Anthony Cheng
The nature of this case is different from the earlier three cases. However, this case can clearly illustrate the direct connection between whether a CE is obedient or not, and whose interests the mainland would like to protect. This case, which was concluded in October 2016, showed that Chief Li and Chief Zhang from the United Front Work Department (UFWD, also known as Tongzhanbu) of the CCP had an appointment with online radio host Anthony Cheng through Peggy Gao, a member of the then CE election office of CY Leung. Cheng was asked to reach out to localists and lure them into contesting about 40 District Council constituencies designated by the UFWD.

The objectives of this were to dilute the votes of pan-democratic candidates and to ensure the “iron votes” of the pro-Beijing candidates. Those localists who accept the offer and contest would get $150,000 per person, and it would not matter whether or not they won. If those bribed localists were to challenge incumbent District Council and Legislative Council members, they could even get $250,000. But the condition would be to get 200 votes. We know that the maximum amount of election expenses prescribed by law in DC elections is $48,000. The UFWD's offer is more than three times the prescribed amount. The intention of the attempted bribery is very clear. Hong Kong Indigenous and Youngspiration, two groups advocating independence, were among the localist organisations that were solicited by the UFWD.

Lessons to be learnt from Anthony Cheng’s case: Some people oppose independence on the surface but support separatist groups privately. This self-contradictory stance can only be explained by the fact that the louder the voice of separatists, the more threats there seem to be to national security. Therefore, more fees for maintaining stability (weiwen) will be needed. Superiors have to acknowledge their subordinates' harsh directions are being executed in Hong Kong, that is, creating non-existent “danger” to strengthen their own political status.

These examples illustrate the fact that some forces in mainland China need to support an obedient CE in Hong Kong so as to serve their factions' interests in the city. These interests are the reason that the Liaison Office is hysterically driven to boosting Carrie Lam with ludicrous rhetoric of “power struggle.”