Who are the Chinese?

Lessons in Sino-Malay Relations

Eric Liu, the man in the above video, had earned his name from, reputedly, writing speeches for former US President Bill Clinton. In the video, the most relevant part to this article lasts about 6 minutes from around the time stamp at 00:27:00. Although Liu speaks in terms primarily of Chinese-White American relations, those parts are equally relevant to Sino-Malays in Malaysia. And the wonder of it is that political parties, the Barisan National in particular, had never adopted those ideas in order to better the country and the Malays, given especially that Liu’s remarks are not new and would be in favor of the Malays. A Taiwanese academic (Harvard, Peking universities) named Tu Weiming 杜维明 was among the earliest, modern-day advocates calling for the revival of neo-Confucianism (see video below, for example, Tu Weiming versus Francis Fukuyama). Indeed Tu and Anwar Ibrahim had met (briefly) when the latter was deputy prime minister while Singapore, regretful of its Charlie Lee-Anglophile ways, had brought him in to advice on national policies. Here, instead, we spent time and effort beating up each other.


It is not only among the Chinese in Malaysia. Elsewhere as well (in America for example) there has been one of the most vexing questions raised by the children and descendants of immigrants; children and descendants because the first generation Chinese seems to face no such problem. Until the advent of modern communications and the rise of nationalism, there was never a need of the latter to ask those questions: Who are the Chinese? What makes a Chinese?

A standard answer is this, the Chinese is an ethnicity with a hanzi name and a lineage traceable to mainland China. Another but typical, Helen Ang answer copies the Constitution that had (unfortunately) given the Malay a pigeon-hole, tautological definition: A Chinese is a Chinese in identity, in culture and in language. There is a third answer to the questions; it is an evasive one provided by the incredibly naive and ignorant DAP Christian politicians such as Hannah Yeoh: she says, somewhat rhetorically, there are no Chinese, only Malaysians.

The first two answers are both inadequate and misleading, hence erroneous.

In China, a Chinese is never defined by ethnic classification. Manchu rulers in Qing China were considered Chinese, indeed ‘more Chinese’ than the commoner Chinese. The former, for example, made sure, through law that children formally mourn their dead parents for no fewer than three years. Confucian classical text were mandatory reading and these were required passing subjects in order to get government appointments, even at the lowest magistrate level, the first of nine ranks. Nor is geography nor religion a point in classification. Li Bai, considered one of the three best Chinese poets of all time was born in what is today Kazakhstan. Hui Muslims (a Han ethnicity converted to Islam) are no less Chinese than the godless Han and it would be an affront to the former if you were to say they aren’t Chinese. All of which suggests that ethnic identity is fused into nationality (although Tibetans domiciled in India try to make a distinction between the two, Chineseness and Chinese citizenry).

In ‘Malaysian First’, Lim Kit Siang had attempted the opposite of the ethnic-nationality fusion, taking out the ethnicity then subsuming its separate parts  into the whole, one that would end up, he had hoped, without their individual cultural and ethnic qualities. This would be called integration.

Kit Siang’s idea was, in essence, a copycat though adulterated version of Mahathir Mohamad’s own Bangsa Malaysia, which like Malaysian First, acknowledges no single, not even a dominant, ethnic group once everybody is made more or less the same. All would be Malaysians by constitutional default: primarily speaking one language, Malay, and observing for the most part Malay customs, albeit without the Islam. This would be called assimilation; it’s the way the Chinese were made in Indonesia.

Those two notions, integration and assimilation, are highly presumptuous:

  • (a) plurality is necessarily a bad thing and there is such a thing as equality in plurality,
  • (b) Malaysia’s constitution has the last word for being what’s to be Malay,
  • (c) all know what it’s to be Malay, it’s there on paper; so Malays (and the Chinese) also assume they know what it is to be Chinese,
  • (d) ethnicity is reduced to an absurdity that is pure law, constitutional law,
  • (e) China, like Malaysia, but as a people, a civilization and a country, also has the last word for being Chinese or what’s to be Chinese.

Most of the assumptions need not detain us whereas Point (e) in particular needs some clarification, sieving out the elements of truth from common perceptions. This would be an arduous, historical task. So, for brevity’s sake, let’s say China’s doesn’t have the last word because, for example, the May Fourth Movement attempted during the last days of Qing rule to erase every aspect of Confucianism from the personal and social lives of the Chinese, an attempt repeated again during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Both failed.

So deeply entrenched are Confucianist tenets and creeds in the Chinese being that nobody notices they are there. To name two…

One, the middle path. This superb quality emanates from not being bound by an Abrahamic, monotheistic conduct code of morality because, how could Hannah Yeoh be tolerant if her Bible instructs her — and she obeys — to stay away from idols and submit to only one God and no other? Result? The Chinese cell phone street peddler is far, far more ‘liberal’ than Hannah, although it’s the latter who has far more education and experiences, things that, to the Chinese, give people wisdom.

This is to mean that the qualities of Chinese godlessness are being ‘liberal’, being accommodating, being tolerant. A Chinese is, by definition, a moderate. And, by extension, amenable to compromise and accept to concessions. In short, to parley and reason. Taking the middle ground (to avoid disputes) is a banality in the spectrum of Confucian ethics. When Cheras Umno’s Syed Ali Alhabshee suggested to the Chinese to take up the Malay give-and-take attitude, his advice was offered to the wrong group of people; it should be to PAS Malays because, unlike them, Chinese ethical traditions are not tyrannical, iron clad rules written on stone tablets as if they were the Ten Commandments or Middle-Eastern Islamic law.

Sino-Malay relations is a history of such compromises, most tellingly in the creation of Malaysia when no Chinese disputed the Malay aboriginal — hence hereditary — claims on a land they called Tanah Melayu even if, among numerous Malays, this is plainly false (consider Petra Kamarudin).

Two, knowledge, which isn’t just formal schooling. The purpose in the Chinese devotion to learning is knowledge. By knowledge, Chinese traditions take it to mean knowing, understanding and awareness to a body of facts (historical facts in particular), truth and principles. In sum, intelligence.

Daxue 大学 or Great Learning is one of the Four Books on Confucianism (four because these were Song era selected text that were required reading for the civil service examinations) to have survived and passed on four centuries before Christ. Here’s another quote from the Analects (論語), which is really common place to the Chinese-educated: “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” (論語 Lunyu 2:15).

Reflection is an ingredient of learning: absence of it means that ideas — absolute ideas unfiltered by thought and by the intellect; communism, liberalism, and so on — are inherently dangerous. This point, carried over to the ‘holy’ books, suggests why (the Abrahamic) religions are in equal measure inflammatory and benign; intended to serve some divinity, they exist merely to instruct and to be obeyed, not to be argued over. Dogmatism is a western creature; learning and moderation are Confucianist, Chinese inventions.

Three people are indispensable to the Chinese consciousness. While the first Qin emperor Shi Huang 秦始皇 gave the Chinese a single, unified nation and Sima Qian 司马迁 (c.145 or 135BC-86BC) wrote the history of the Chinese, Kongzi or Confucius singularly created the Chinese identity, not on terms of ethnicity – skin type or physiological traits — but of ethics. Racism is a western invention.

The Chinese live, therefore, on a set of creeds or tenets (for example, ‘middle path’) sourced from and derived from knowledge because learning, to be useful, has to have an end or purpose. The end of this learning is ethics, that is, how to live, how to cultivate oneself, how to make of oneself, not alone but always in relation to the family, friends, colleagues and others.

It is with this accumulation of ethics, created individually and derived from learning, explains why Chinese societies everywhere have cultivated a highly ‘liberal’ environment, with no qualms about absorbing foreign ideas or even tolerating gays and lesbians or sex workers who could walk down the neighborhood street without being stoned. A man answers to himself and to those around him: deeds and words are those that defined a Chinese. It is an open ended ethical quality: ‘all are born the same but, in time, they grow to be apart‘, is another popular Confucianist quotation Chinese school students recite by heart. Expand that notion, and in a forward sort of way, we reach the core of the Chinese being: What is a Chinese? Who is a Chinese?

A Chinese, therefore, are a people who, because they refused god, have always taught and learned the history in which their ethics are written. It is an open-ended Confucianist, identity definition but one that works well and explains why the May Fourth and the Cultural Revolution all failed in their attempts to eradicate Confucianism: they were, in effect, self-immolating.

There is a Dao saying that the greater is the insistence, the lesser is the chance one gets to your demand: try to slice the water, it simply comes round to a more determined flow. The Chinese is the cumulative traits a person exhibits: wisdom, balance, virtues and values (see sidebar below, Death of a Chief Executive) when acted out in relation to others, family included.

Now, take that definition of Chineseness, which is broadly a cultural definition that includes into it the elements of language, customs, rituals and ethics, and placed it alongside the popular idea of the Chinese, say, Helen’s tautology:  A Chinese is a Chinese in identity, in culture and in language. But, what’s the Chinese identity? What’s Chinese culture? Answer those questions, it is easy to see why, legal recognition excepting, Hannah Yeoh is hardly a Chinese nor is Ridhuan Tee nor Helen herself. Many ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, imbued by and suffused in western thoughts and sense of being then acting them out, are in their underlying reality bastardized versions of an orang putih, Helen included.


Tu Weiming versus Francis Fukuyama. Neo-Confucianism versus Liberalism


Death of a Chief Executive 

IMG_20141113_230624Only the Confucianist in the Chinese could have produced this kind of protest art: a coffin intended for CY Leung, the Hong Kong chief executive, who, having failed to live up to his human role as ruler, might as well end his life. This is to suggest he is no longer useful, whether as human or ruler, neither to himself nor to the society.

Near that coffin is another protest banner that reads in English, ‘We’re made in Hong Kong. HK exports values and virtues.‘ This might seem queer to Anglophiles like Helen Ang or Lim Guan Eng. But, that statement underscores the foundation of the current protests, now stretching to its seventh week: the values and virtues held by the Chinese in Hong Kong are those different from the mainland; Hong Kong was the bastion of a Confucian Chinese culture when China was in tumult. China does not have the last word on what’s to be Chinese — overseas Chinese do — and it’s a point the Chinese there repeatedly and inadvertently make, beginning with the attempt at eradicating Confucianism during May Fourth and now with the introduction of a hedonistic culture devoted to material well-being, absent the ethical foundations of the Chinese, cultivated the last three thousand years. 


黃玫瑰 Ode to the Yellow Rose – a People


Here, used to beat up on the Chinese, are popular lines that essentially say, identity determines morality: Petra Kamarudin‘s favorite, ‘the Chinese are greedy and selfish’. Helen Ang: ‘Everybody else are willing to integrate, but never the Chinese’. Lisa Ng: ‘The Chinese-educated have a ghetto mentality and this is why they are chauvinist’.

But, here’s another way to think: It’s morality that determines who we are. Morality makes the self so that whether a person is Chinese or Malay is derived from the sum of a man’s words and deeds. Confucius had preceded this philosophy of the mind that now, 2,500 years later, say:

…we’ve been thinking about the problem precisely backwards. It’s not that identity is centred around morality. It’s that morality necessitates the concept of identity, breathes life into it, provides its raison d’être. If we had no scruples, we’d have precious little need for identities.

Save Ourselves

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.Isaah Berlin in The NY Review of Books, October 2014


Conventional Islam has always assumed that it can and must “live in the world” on its own terms; that it is entitled to do so; that, in order to realise itself and thrive, it must do so; and that it may insist upon and even, when possible, impose upon others the terms of its own thriving according to its own ultimately sacred, since divinely ordained, sociopolitical template….

When one sets aside its divine dimension, Islam is in mundane terms a religion not of peace but of domination and submission: the submission of all Muslims to Allah, and of other Muslims to those Muslims who claim to exercise the authority of Allah; and of non-Muslims to Muslims, under arrangements that are said to embody the sovereignty of Allah. That is the basis upon which Islam claims to offer social peace and, in the words of its political apologists, to be a “religion of peace”.Clive Kessler in Quadrant, September 2014


When Hannah Yeoh, Ronnie Liu and the other Chinese Pakatan politicians (Christians in particular) dressed themselves in Malay clothes and Muslim scarves then visiting mosques, they weren’t simply trying to pass on the message that they are politically and culturally inclusive people, therefore deserving of Malay respect — and, after which, to lure the Malay vote — they were especially expressing a collective idea. It is the idea about themselves: that they are liberals. Being liberals, they have no problem with Malay culture or their Islam or their God or their ummah brotherhood; they can live with anybody, they serve everybody since all are God’s children. They are untainted by racism, they don’t think on those terms; they are race-free.

Hannah Yeoh won’t bow before Chinese temples; Malay politicians from both Pakatan and Umno neither. But, in their electoral campaigns, PAS politicians would speak to church congregations inside churches. Why this discrimination? Again, it stems from an idea about themselves, that they, their politics and their Islam are inclusive. ‘PAS For All’ was their version of DAP’s race-free, ‘ubah’ politics. They, too, are liberals although in an Islamic fashion. More than that, the like of Tony Pua and Khalid Samad have especially something in common: it is a brotherhood descended from their Abrahamic god and that they is no other god but Jehovah. It is a tyrannical notion alien and completely at odds to the Asian traditions tolerating any creed and kind.

In a short space of a decade, Malaysia imported and made mainstream an array of religious and cultural symbols, signs and devices, all of which were in turn translated into an absolutist political strategy, best illustrated in the slogan ‘Anything But Umno’. Not coincidentally, the ranks of this strategy are filled by self-professed liberals, Anwar Ibrahim included.

For sure, Pakatan’s politics is not served by alienating the ulama and the Malay mainstream. The alienation was seeded with the rise of political Anwar, starting with ABIM. When Umno, for wanting to sweep up the electoral Malay vote, went along with the drift of Islamification, the party provided the instruments of power (sharia laws) and the institutions (fatwa committees and JAKIM). Many of these creatures were created shortly before but expanded during Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure.

If Pakatan’s introduction of liberal, supposedly ‘race-free’ politics into mainstream Malaysia had not alienated the conservative segments of the Malay/Muslim population, then it greatly freed politics from the oligarchy — the political families, their lawyers, their business tycoons, all of who jointly dictated Malaysia’s direction from inception. Mahathir and Anwar were just the beginning. After them, even the like of Abdullah Zaik or Hannah Yeoh or Ridhuan Tee, unheard of names before and small fries in the bigger scheme of things, aided by Malaysiakini and the proliflerate web sites, learned to influence state policies. If they, why not then the ulama, the Malay riverine kampungs and the children of Chinese noodle sellers? Even reporters (Helen Ang, Steven Gan) have come in.

Barisan represented exclusivity and connections; Pakatan represented mass, popular and Islamic, liberal popular politics which is, of course, effective. Their combination gets votes. There is a problem: liberalism, as west-defined, as imported, understood and practised by the DAP and PKR, don’t sit well with political Islam. In the past and negotiated behind closed doors, Malay demands for the public largesse and contracts and for the Chinese to preserve their individual gains could be negotiation on when not suppressed.

Today, where liberalism (individual rights, and do-whatever-pleases-you) and Islamic politics meet, there is no ground to give up. And when negotiations can produce nothing, DAP and PKR politicians end up apologizing (it’s the ‘agree to disagree’ thing) not only for the Islamic radicalism within PAS but also within the individual Islamic institutions in, notably, Selangor and Penang, the states where liberalism and Islam intersect. Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim, men lauded everywhere for their defence of individual rights and freedom, end up as tyranny’s greatest apologists.

Like Christianity, Islam is non-negotiable. It is a point Clive Hessler made in the Quandrant article (top of page). Nor is liberalism, also a western political idea with god stripped out. It is a point Isaah Berlin avoids making in pointing out that the rise of (foreign) political ideas (Marxism, Communism and Fascism) has led to a century of horrors.

Berlin could just as well, but didn’t, name Islam for its continuing attempt to create this ‘ideal society’ out of the pages of the Quran. Kessler made that point. The Islamic State of a worldwide umma is therefore not new in its manifestation to create such a society, nor are its methods that start with persuasion then laws and when all that fail those methods get violent, chopping heads and so on. The end invariably justify the means.

Farther on down this road, the Malays will be the first (the Chinese next) to feel the full brunt of this radical drift, which may not yet be mainstream but its alarm signals have grown louder by the day.

It is in respond to this threat — challenging the narrow, literalist interpretation of the Quran — that Malays like Zaid Ibrahim have taunted Najib Razak to declare Malaysia the kind of ideal Islamic State envisioned by the like of PAS radicals, JAKIM officials and state fatwa committees: The Malay life shall not be run by committees. The measure of a man’s freedom is to run his life responsibly to himself, his family, friends, colleagues and others. This is to suggest that Pakatan politics must be pushed back; the state institutions put on a tight leash; and, Barisan and Umno collectively must redefine their political purpose on humanistic grounds, fitting Asian traditions, and not pivoted on divinity because it is people they serve not God.





Malay vs the Stars


Nusantara ruins or Malay ruined?


Of Immigrants and Identity, of Malays and Chinese

It’s the Malays who are struggling to know themselves. They are struggling to realise that the world is not what they are being told. They are being taught that there is always instant success and reward in this life, that the world revolves around this fixed formula….Zaid Ibrahim.


There is no God here

Nights are long in the Petaling Jaya police station lockup. In one late humid night, they had brought in three Indonesian men and two Bangladeshis picked up from a police swoop of neighborhood areas for, ostensibly, illegal immigrants. One behind the other, they tiptoed around other men asleep on a forecourt that separates the steel gate entrance and three inner cells, one each for the Chinese, Indians and Malays. After they had emptied their pockets and left the policemen to pilfer their wallets, the Indonesians were led to the Malay cell where Rafick had been awake and waiting since he learned they were bringing in new prisoners. Like everybody else, they had been made to strip, their clothes and and other belongings to be left in wall lockers outside the cells. But, here, there are far more prisoners than lockers. Clothes and shoes piled up on the floor.

To the right, adjacent the Malay cell, two Indians — for reasons comprehensible to nobody — were taking turns with fists and feet to beat up two Bangladeshis. One man was squatting on his knees when, on the first strike, a knee struck a body then, in succession, a blow to the head and a foot to the ribs. Throughout, he uttered not a whimper. His countryman kept this head bowed and low.

Left of the Malay cell is the Chinese where five men were lying on a raised concrete platform which is used as bare bed. They might be asleep except for a young boy, surely no more than twenty, who was taken in because his motorcycle license had expired for several months since a cop stopped him the night before. The next morning he had wanted to call his parents. A policeman told him he could make one call for 50 ringgit. Now, seated beside a Chinese man as huge as a whale,  he was giving Sumo a back massage. Sumo is by default head of all prisoners because of his size. A week has passed since he was brought in from the Kajang prison waiting for a court hearing on a drug charge.

There are more than a dozen Malays in the Malay cell so there was little space for the three Indonesians on the concrete floor facing Rafick, who was himself seated on a platform flanked by his men. Almost no words are exchanged between the Malays and Indonesians; it was as if they had known each other long before but this would be improbable. They seemed to have seen it coming. It was the man at Rafick’s feet who receives the first blow. Delivered to the side, his body shudders. The next fist-blow on the back came to the man behind him and he nearly tipped over on his knees. Another blow sounded like a thunderclap. Then it came again and again, followed by the same cries: Adoi, adoi. He looked at Rafick and said: “Abang, kita sama-sama orang Moslem.” — Brother, we are Moslems.

Rafick rose to his feet and kneed him in the face. He let out a shriek, grasped his face and tumbled backwards. Rafick bend over and stuck a finger at his face: “Disini ta’ada tuhan.” — Here, there’s no God.

Malay Pendatang from Wales

The Federal Constitution was both presumptuous and patronizing to assume that Malays of the future should even believe in God, a foreign god at that and, therefore, by popular and Umno definition, a Pendatang. God’s immanence is also his limitation. In a Petaling Jaya jailhouse, God might as well not exist or, if he does, he might as well be dead. If, as a result, the Malay today – Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK), for example – is not the kind of Malay, say, a hundred years ago, then there is no reason to believe RPK’s grandchildren would be by like him, himself half white. A more obvious case in point is Ridhuan Tee, Chinese by birth and ethnicity, Malay by constitutional definition.

This convoluted identity of the Malay is, of course, not his fault. Yet his existential angst could not have come about by accident nor simply by his alienation from the world, as Zaid Ibrahim has suggested (‘the world is not what they are being told‘). Claimed by PAS, by Umno, by Arabs most pertinently, by half-Indians most aggressively (Mahathir Mohamad),  by Pakistanis, by half-whites, even the Turkish,  the Malay has far too many claimants to his soul. The world has descended on the Malay to the extent he is no longer recognizable even as the broad, open-ended ethnic group RPK’s pseudo-scholarship has tried to define and, thereby, to give the Malays some sense of ethnic legitimacy. In RPK’s loose and deluded pedagogic treatise, ethnicity is reduced to a matter of geography:

…(I)n Bahasa Indonesia, Nusantara is synonymous with the Indonesian Archipelago or the national territory of Indonesia. In this sense the term Nusantara excludes Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines. In Bahasa Malaysia, this term is synonymous and often interchangeable with Malay Archipelago or Malay realm (in Malay: Alam Melayu), which includes those countries and the Philippines.

Then this contradiction (Nusantara = Indonesia = Malaysia = Philippines, depending on who uses the Nusantara term) is retrogressed into historical terms:

The Malay Archipelago has been defined as an island group of Southeast Asia between Australia and the Asian mainland and separating the Indian and Pacific oceans. It includes what we now call Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Southern Thailand (up to the Isthmus of Kra), Singapore, East Timor and Brunei. … All those Malays who moved from one island to another but within the Malay Archipelago are not pendatang. … Today, any Bugis from Indonesia who comes to Selangor can be called a pendatang. But in the 18th Century we were not pendatang. That is a historical fact.

Which is to say the Buddhist Indonesian or a Catholic Filipino is a Malay in the 18th Century but a Bugis and a Christian otherwise in the twenty-first. Then there is Petra’s penultimate tautology:

All those Malays who moved from one island to another but within the Malay Archipelago are not pendatang. It is just like Malays from Penang moving to Selangor.

If a person from the Malay Archipelago is a Malay, what is an archipelago that is supposedly Malay? What does that make of Petra Kamarudin, a Malay descended of a woman from more than 10,000 km away in Wales? If ethnicity is reducible to regional geography what does that make of the PAS Malay who claims his soul is derived from Arabia? What is a Malay if, in Malaysia, he is not a Muslim? When is a Muslim not a Malay? Is there a thing such as a constitutional Malay who is not an ethnic Malay? What is an ethnic Malay when not descended from the Malay archipelago?

Petra is not alone to try to fit square pegs into round holes; others before him were Kadir Jasin, Ibrahim Ali and Mahathir Mohamad. In never ending cycles they define then redefine the Malay, as if to anchor his identity to some place and some thing, such as religion. By conflating the common sense notion of immigrant (pendatang) with ethnicity, by equalling lineage to residency, the Malay self is not made clearer. Rather they heighten the Malay sense of who and what he is; they exacerbate the Malay identity crisis.

In a police, Malay cell, Nusantara has no meaning; Malay brotherhood is reduced to a set power relations; even God is redundant.

Threats to the Malay

Contrast the Chinese sense of self to the Malay.

A Chinese is a Chinese anywhere, anytime, anyhow, especially for Ridhuan Tee. Even by accepted constitutional standards of ethnic categories he is never a Malay. Hannah Yeoh’s puerile and infantile attempt to erase Shay Adora Ram’s Chinese parentage on the mother’s side does not succeed; Hannah can only do so by administrative fiat which changes nothing. The Taiwan attempt ten years ago to categorize its residents as Taiwanese (but not Chinese) in order to distinguish the island from the mainland is today an international joke. Everybody could it see as pure political semantics.

Likewise in Malaysia, where the Malay has existed until not so long ago primarily as a political identity and where he is the only demographic group permitted to exploit his identity as a force of power, as a game-changer in politics. And it could have been left at that, and nobody’d care, the Chinese least of all. It could have been used as a method of co-existence. But, to subsequently press the religious, Islamic element then other, ethnic elements, such as lineage and birthplace, into the Malay being, how could he not be confused?

His reason for being, that is, the purpose of his existence, he was told at one time, was the preservation of his cultural identity, his institutions and his language. After that, in Mahathir’s era, he was told to get rich, as rich as the Chinese or richer. Then he was told to live the Islamic life to the full and thrive it in the purest environment that the ulama, the politicians, the laws and the government are to construct; everything else is turned subservient to the purpose. Now, he is told his life is being imperiled, his identity a sissy, his ability emasculated, his pristine desert Arab world poisoned by a man dead 2000 years ago, by dogs, by beer, liberalism, lotteries, clothes, haircuts, Chinese, Hindu shrines, German festivals; even the island freedoms of his past and his ancient history are corrupting. It is as if life has been set up against life, and life is itself, so the Malay is told, a perversion, modernity is profane; life is debauchery; life is deadly to life, specifically the Malay life.

Malaysians, Malays pertinently, had been raised to see that man’s fault is in the stars, in the world, never in themselves. In this ongoing state of affairs, the Malay is invited to compare with the Chinese (and vice versa) so that if there exists a ‘Malay-Chinese divide‘ the division seems wider today because there are greater numbers of grievance manufacturers, all just as patronizing. Before it was Mahathir, Ibrahim Ali, Zainudin Maidin, now lawyers, Petra, Ridhuan, Hannah Yeoh, Lim Guan Eng.

Malaysia becomes a danger to the Malay being.


Day +9 Umbrella Revolution, 2014 October 9

Human nature, essentially changeable, as unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds, and its very self. – Franz Kafka in ‘The Great Wall of China’




Alarm on the night bell once answered – it cannot be made good, not ever. – Franz Kafka

All too often men are betrayed by the word freedom. – Franz Kafka

46350401_p0_master1200Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached. – Franz Kafka

 Day +8, +9, +10, +n: Kafka in the Umbrella Revolution


Give It Up! Give It Up!

It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was on my way to the station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized it was much later than I had thought and that I had to hurry; the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I wasn’t very well acquainted with the town as yet; fortunately, there was a policeman at hand, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: “You asking me the way?” “Yes,” I said, “since I can’t find it myself.” “Give it up! Give it up!” said he, and turned with a sudden jerk, like someone who wants to be alone with his laughter.



The Law: The high degree of autonomy of HKSAR is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership. The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.

Student of Hong Kong sits before the Law’s Doorkeeper C Y Leung. She bears a gift…

Before the Law

Before the Law stands a doorkeeper on guard. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country who begs for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot admit the man at the moment. The man, on reflection, asks if he will be allowed, then, to enter later. ‘It is possible,’ answers the doorkeeper, ‘but not at this moment.’ Since the door leading into the Law stands open as usual and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man bends down to peer through the entrance. When the doorkeeper sees that, he laughs and says: ‘If you are so strongly tempted, try to get in without my permission. But note that I am powerful. And I am only the lowest doorkeeper. From hall to hall keepers stand at every door, one more powerful than the other. Even the third of these has an aspect that even I cannot bear to look at.’ These are difficulties which the man from the country has not expected to meet, the Law, he thinks, should be accessible to every man and at all times, but when he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his furred robe, with his huge pointed nose and long, thin, Tartar beard, he decides that he had better wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. There he sits waiting for days and years. He makes many attempts to be allowed in and wearies the doorkeeper with his importunity. The doorkeeper often engages him in brief conversation, asking him about his home and about other matters, but the questions are put quite impersonally, as great men put questions, and always conclude with the statement that the man cannot be allowed to enter yet.

…[A]t the beginning of the story we are told that the door leading into the Law stands always open, and if it stands open always, that is to say, at all times, without reference to the life or death of the man, then the doorkeeper is incapable of closing it. There is some difference of opinions about the motive behind the doorkeeper’s statement, whether he said he was going to close the door merely for the sake of giving an answer, or to emphasize his devotion to duty, or to bring the man into a state of grief and regret in his last moments. But there is no lack of agreement that the doorkeeper will not be able to shut the door. Many indeed profess to find that he is subordinate to the man even in wisdom, towards the end, at least, for the man sees the radiance that issues from the door of the Law while the doorkeeper in his official position must stand with his back to the door, nor does he say anything to show that he has perceived the change.”

Whatever he may seem to us, he is yet a servant of the Law; that is, he belongs to the Law and as such is set beyond human judgment. In that case one dare not believe that the doorkeeper is subordinate to the man. Bound as he is by his service, even at the door of the Law, he is incomparably freer than anyone at large in the world. The man is only seeking the Law, the doorkeeper is already attached to it. It is the Law that has placed him at his post; to doubt his integrity is to doubt the Law itself.”

“I don’t agree with that point of view,” said K. shaking his head, “for if one accepts it, one must accept as true everything the doorkeeper says. But you yourself have sufficiently proved how impossible it is to do that.”

“No,” said the priest, “it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.”

“A melancholy conclusion,” said K. “It turns lying into a universal principle.”



Session 1: The constitutional basis of the constitutional development.

[In Session, Friday, 4:01 pm. 2014, October 10]

Comrade Lam: In Hong Kong, the channels of communication are wide open. Anyone who disagrees with the stance taken by the Standing Committee is more than welcome to use normal, sensible channels of appeal. To communicate, one ought not resort to extremes like “Occupy Central.” This is not communication, it is confrontation.

Student A: With respect, Madame, you play with words, and so well, too, like a fiddler and so with our lives.

Student B: There is perhaps no people more faithful to the Emperor than ours in the south, but the Emperor derives no advantage from our fidelity. True, the sacred dragon stands on the little column at the end of the village, and ever since the beginning of human memory it has breathed out its fiery breath in the direction of Peking in token of homage–but Peking itself is far stranger to the people in our village than the next world.

Comrade Lau: During this extraordinary moment, the people of Hong Kong should unite in supporting the law of the Special Administrative Region’s government and the firm decisions of its police force, and quickly restore public order. They should act in accordance with Hong Kong Basic Law and the provisions set out in the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, in order to push for the development of a democratic system that suits the realities on the ground in Hong Kong.


Session 2: The legal requirement of the constitutional development.

[In Session, Saturday, 4:01 pm. 2014, October 11]

Comrade Lam: All comrades in the party and the people throughout the country must soberly recognize the fact that our country will have no peaceful days if this disturbance is not checked resolutely. This struggle concerns the success or failure of the reform and opening up, the program of the four modernizations, and the future of our state and nation.

Student A: The government has no sincerity.

Student B: We have a message to the government. Face the demands of the people!

Comrade Lau:  We should all follow the Basic Law, which was promulgated 27 years ago. We should work within the framework of the decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). Only do we follow the provisions of the Basic Law and the decisions of the NPCSC can we have universal suffrage in 2017.

Student C: One should not waste our time here. We’ll waste it at your door. Where, by the way, is your Doorkeeper?

Comrade Lam: Insolence gets you nowhere. One man, the real power, we all know, resides only in the highest court, which is totally inaccessible to you and me and everyone else. We don’t know what things look like up there, and incidentally, we don’t want to know.

Day +6: Hong Kong versus the Rest of China

How China’s Central People’s Government cheated on politics, cheated Hong Kong, and cheated its own people. In other words, they are why Hong Kong protested: a revolution to bring back a status quo.

China is a danger to itself — thence to Hong Kong. China keep out. 

The Umbrella Revolution in three words:

zheng = strive. 改 gai = change.  變 bian = different.


Strive. Change. Be Different.

The Umbrella Revolution is different from other revolutions in that it does not seek upheaval nor to bring down anyone since there is no status quo to change. On the contrary, it is seeking precisely the opposite — for a return to a status quo, which is to keep Chinese mainland life out of Hong Kong. And that is for a good reason, we shall return to.

The Hong Kong government crackdown on dissent in particular on September 28 and 29 rests on two primary justifications: (a) its responsibility towards social order and (b) unlawfulness of the protests.

The Beijing government adds one more, foreign interference in China’s internal affairs, a problem easily dealt with through a cease and desist order on the Filipino maids and their men hangers-on not to participate in the demonstration and then to be deported, Pinoys fuck off! Forthwith. Beijing wants to forget that it was the people of Hong Kong and political parties like the Democratic Party that rose up in street demonstrations to denounce the Philippines for killing eight Hong Kong people for no reason other than that they were on tourism holiday in Manila. The killings followed, incredulously, by a Pinoy government apology for the murderer, a cop. It was pure, unadulterated Pinoy racism and this hasn’t stopped. Philippines today routinely round up Chinese fishermen then parade them to their media for incursion into Philippine waters which one could never tell where it begins and ends. All the while, Beijing’s only response is to give speeches — they and their apologists like Global Times are so good at it.

If the problem is social disorder, then Confucius might well ask, who and what had created it in the first place? If the problem is one of legality, what then is the law?

Answers to those questions will have to go backwards, specifically one month.

Orwell and the NPC Paper

Dated 2014 August 31, a paper released by China’s parliament the National People’s Congress (NPC) had sparked three major groups within Hong Kong into unprecedented protests, which were to seize then occupy the government offices of Hong Kong for an indefinite period. The groups are (1) students, (2) the Anglophiles and (3) political parties. Although it gets the widest media publicity, the Anglophone Occupy Central, comprised mostly of English speaking professors and the Church that is sponsoring them, is the least important of the groups. It is the students who are at the front line, taking the bulk of the police abuse while the professors give speeches — in English — after the tear gas has cleared. The political parties meanwhile resign themselves to issuing press releases.

Now to the NPC paper. It has an Orwellian, Big Brother style language in its subtitle which reads — now don’t pause if are to get through it in one breath:

Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Issues Relating to the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by Universal Suffrage and on the Method for Forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the Year 2016.

Break it up and the paper boils down to two bullet points, although these are called ‘issues':

  • Election of the Chief Executive (CE) of Hong Kong, and
  • Formation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council in 2016.

Place your attention on the CE. Before that, some background explanation which, for the sake of brevity, will be made to revolve around three core matters:

  • (a) the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s ultimate legal authority,
  • (b) a promise by the Central People’s Government (CPG) to Hong Kong running up to the 1997 handover, and
  • (c) election timetable.

There was never actually a timetable written anywhere but if Hong Kong’s autonomy has 50 years to run then that could only be meaningful if elections for both the legislature (Dewan Negri) and the Chief Executive (Mentri Besar) were held before the expiry date. In the beginning the Opposition parties pushed for 2007 to elect the CE, ten years after handover, then 2012. All those came to nothing until most recently when they got 2017 for the CE, by which time there was just 30 years left. Legislature elections are in 2016.

Now, in the NPC paper, the CPGovernment agreed to both dates, thereby giving specificity and concreteness to the promise made under Deng Xiaoping that states, fundamentally, only ‘Hong Kong people shall administer Hong Kong’. It is a promise later to be enshrined in the policy principle of One Country, Two Systems and given legal weight in the Basic Law (Art. 22) which states inter alia that nothing under CPG, that is, Beijing’s jurisdiction, may ‘interfere’ in Hong Kong affairs.

Day +4 street scene in Hong Kong.


Broken promises. Broken deals.

It is at this juncture that things begin to unravel over the problem of non-interference and, hence, Beijing’s promise under Deng. Unraveling starts with the paper. Go to the last page, Page Three, and it is here that a methodological framework for the CE election is spelled out in some detail. These are reproduced below for concision:

  • First, the CE is elected by ‘universal suffrage’, whatever that means, but it is to say, by a direct vote.
  • Second, for the purpose of nominating candidates for the CE election, there shall be a ‘broadly representative nominating committee’.
  • Three, the nominating committee in turn nominates ‘two to three’ candidates to contest in the CE elections. Nomination is by way of ‘more than half’ the committee vote, that is, n+1 where n is any number constituting the committee members.
  • Four, only one candidate is elected to the CE by a direct vote.
  • Five, after which, the candidate is ‘appointed’ by the CPG.

Article 48 of the Basic Law lays out the duties of the CE who, although accountable to the CPG and the legislature, has presidential powers as if this is America, a state within a state. It’s unprecedented in the history of any modern state and so it is to China’s credit and Beijing as well to let Hong Kong go this far, like saying that New York can cut itself off from the rest of America, elect its own president, adopt socialism, print its own money, and essentially do what it likes except in matters foreign affairs and national defence.

Given those concessions, why aren’t Hong Kong people satisfied?

There was never any need by Hong Kong politicians, the democratic side in particular, to agree with a new CE even one who is approved by Beijing. Legislative Council (LegCo in short) politicians have powers the CE doesn’t, such as the control of finance, so that it is within their purview to make hell out of the life of any CE.

But to do that democrats (as opposed to pro-Beijing politicians) must have enough of its people inside LegCo. But they don’t. It is this minority status that leaves the political life of the democrats in abeyance: the more they shout against Beijing, the more likely they will alienate themselves from the mainstream population, hobbled in their political future and never able to expand beyond their anti-Beijing electorate base.

This explains why parties like the Democratic Party have been exceptionally quiet in these days, preferring to leave the protest to students who have no political ambitions and very little to loose. Occupy Central organizers, although they shout the loudest, were non-starters. Comprised of university professors and church goers and kitchen maids, they have little competence in politics beyond their platitudes of peace and love; and most, if push come to shove, would throw you under the bus if only to save their skins.

All this leave the students very much alone… But so be it.

In their attacks on Hong Kong dissension, Beijing apologists (in the English Global Times lead the pack, Hidden Harmonies is next) repeatedly make two points: (a) those Hong Kong ingrates never had anything remotely like this during British administration and (b) that the CE is also accountable to China and not just Hong Kong alone. But if they are right — and being right is not merely a matter of historical or legal veracity, but of ethical exactitude — why then is it you can find holes in the NPC (above) formula that are as large as CY Leung’s nostrils?

Crime going up? Wrong. Journalists, a strange lot, read the graph upside down: Prosecutions have gone up, but the wrong type.


Thou shall have no other God but China.

Much of the NPC paper’s discourse and its pronouncement on election methods are not new; they are regurgitated from the Basic Law, most pertinently Annex I: “Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. It is what the apologists (Hidden Harmonies) left out that have stung Hong Kong the most:

(a) The NPC, or CPG by another name, has limited the EC contest to ‘two to three’ candidates. This limitation not only went against the spirit of the Basic Law, it also broke the promise of what has been so far an unwritten, hands-off policy. Worse for it, the NPC decision was also unconstitutional (Art. 25 and 26) when all are equal before the law, with the same right to vote and stand for elections.

(b) A far more ominous case of interference was in setting the standards for determining the appointment of the CE. Recall that the CPG appoints the CE-elect, a case akin to the ceremonial monarch who appoints the prime minister, as in the experiences of Commonwealth countries. There is a difference however. In the NPC paper the CE-elect is defined as somebody who ‘loves the country and loves Hong Kong’ and then it goes into platitudes about why this ‘love’ is a necessary requisite for appointment: national sovereignty and so on. It is as if a monotheist religion has crept into politics, a certain religiosity, indeed a western, Christian feel to the requirement: Love thy China. Thou shall acknowledge no other God other than China.

Nobody had heard of such a principle until then. How had this absurd messianic idea come about? From what? Whence? Why presume your nationals are out to sell your country? How had Xi Jinping, to take one official among others, proven his love credentials? That such a condition should be thrown up so suddenly, so arbitrarily, out of the blue, reflects CPG’s distrust of Hong Kong people, themselves Chinese who they had wish to see Chinese integrated with the mainland.

In their media reports western journalists tended to impute that Hong Kong people distrust China, hence the politics and the protests. They are wrong. It’s the other way around. In Beijing’s power corridors, they often presumed the worse in people, Hobbesian rulers (to who life is short, nasty and brutish) scheming up ideas and then dressing them up as laws and principles that invariably put lives into straightjackets.

A legacy of a western conservative ideological thought, raised without any ethical compunction, they see no other way to regulate behavior other than to rely on an apparatus of regulations and rules. In short they are a bunch of bananas, yellow outside, white inside. They are the precise opposite of the Confucian code of conduct of internally, self driven volition and discipline seen everywhere in Hong Kong and are seen exercised by its protestors. They are as un-Chinese as they come.

China is such a regulated society that in the days of the Qing dynasty there was a law requiring mourning to last for three years. Now, one mourns a once great civilization reduced to a hedonist life, below.


Mao Yeye from 1 Yuan Up

China is today a highly regulated society — far more regulated than say, America — in part because the Chinese can be an ungovernable lot. But the more the regulations, the more they produced cases of cheating, giving rise to precisely the opposite effect of laws’ intent: more corruption.

Why the CPG should cheat on Hong Kong is like asking why China cheats at all. It is today an every day story, a norm: business contracts are nothing more than pieces of paper fit for the toilet. Nine of every ten persons you meet have a sordid tale of being cheated by family, by relatives, by friends, by taxi drivers, by business associates, by communist party officers, by some buzhang (部长) or some lingdao (领导) personnel, even by some casual acquaintances one meets in a train station or over QQ or Taobao that have become facilitating agents for widespread fraud. Always the cheat gets away with it and this, in its turn, engenders more cheating.

Why should the Central People’s Government be any different from the rest of China? They had been raised the same way after all and their only moral compass is the state exhortation to get rich: trust nobody other than Mao yeye, the man who appears in all the currency notes from 1 yuan up. Hong Kong people had seen this state of affairs from up close and sees no reason why they should be a part of such a society — the farther it is from the mainland the better for Hong Kong. This has to start at the top — the Chief Executive.

Stn01_20140731In the station above, diesel and petrol are smuggled in from Burma then sold from storage tanks placed above ground (pic below), illegal on both counts. But, as in many things Chinese, and with God dead, everything is permissible at the right price; an entire corp of lingdao bought off.



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