"I Feel Really Sorry For You"

A favorite device on this blog is to take a single real-life event and then enumerate how the different newspapers reported the same event.  The differences among these news reports reflect the ideological lenses through which these newspapers see the world.  The educational value of such an exercise is to strengthen a healthy skepticism when you pick up any newspaper the next time.

For this particular event, InMediaHK has got everything well-covered.  It is not worthwhile going through all the details, so the following will be summaries:

(InMediaHK) This is a report written by Chinese University of Hong Kong student Wu Ho Tong (胡浩堂).

On April 30, the Chinese University of Hong Kong Alumni Association held a forum on the subject of globalization and its implications for the language(s) of instruction at the university.  When six current students including Wu Hon Tong arrived at the meeting venue, they were refused entry since the meeting was open only to university alumni (and not current students).

Here is the most significant paragraph of Wu's account:

One alumnus Joseph Pang (based upon this writer's Google search, he is the executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive of a certain big bank in Hong Kong) yelled at me: "I will use all my power not to employ you!" (note: in English), which basically means that I will never expect to work in Central.  When I heard these words that were supposed to intimidate me, I replied in English -- the symbol of power -- "I feel very sorry for you" and "I can talk to you in English if  you really want to."  Afterwards, a bewildered expression appeared on his face.  He seemed to be surprised and lost.  I think that he did not expect a bunch of lowly students dressed in t-shirts, sneakers and jeans can speak a fluent language that belongs to the rules and the privileged class.  For a second, he could not respond because the absolute advantage in power was lost.  When he recovered, he came back to the employment issue and he said, "Next Magazine's blacklist really exists!"  He asked for my name, and then he rolled up the paper in his hand and waved it his hand like a rod as if he was a police officer questioning a suspect.  I asked him why he was doing this.  He actually said, "I want to name you because I can!"  I was lost, because I could not understand how he could use that kind of high-and-mighty attitude to question me.  Does having money and power mean that you can control someone else's fate?  This is immature as well as barbaric!  Reputedly, this famous alumnus holds many social positions.  Is this social prominent alumnus one of those global talents with "international vision" that the university claims to want to nurture?

(Sing Tao, via InMediaHK)  May 5, 2005.

The title of the article was "Chinese University English-language instruction was gate-crashed."

The conversation between Wu Ho Tong and Joseph Pang was not mentioned.  The headline was misleading about the nature of the event (namely, a meeting of the alumni of CUHK).  Instead, the whole story was presented with the kind of description appropriate for yakuza gangsters trying to gatecrash a corporate shareholders' meeting.

(Sing Tao, via InMediaHK)  May 10, 2005.

The title of this opinion piece was "Is the whole string of storms at CUHK due to the black hands behind the scene?"

Supposedly, a number of CUHK elders believe that the students are attacking the system as well as the university because they were propelled by black hands behind the scene.

Who are the black hands?  People who stand to lose.  When the university budget is cut, some teachers will lose their jobs; when the university promotes globalization and dual-language usage, some teachers who have been teaching in Chinese cannot cope.

At the alumni meeting, some students wanted to speak, but they were turned down; then they asked to listen in.  The meeting was delayed for about 30 minutes, until some alumni lost their patience.  According to reports, the attendees were still angry and felt that they were not at fault; instead, they wondered why people were taking photographs of the unnannounced student gatecrashers at a closed door meeting and then circulating the photographs around.

Finally, a CUHK alumnus was quoted as saying: "You see how the HKU president took care of the opposition over there, and a businessman donated 1 billion HK dollars.  The current CUHK affair has damaged the image of the university.  I would have to think again if I wanted to donate any money to the university.  This was not only the loss of CUHK, but also a loss for the CUHK students."

(Ming Pao, via InMediaHK)  May 6, 2005.

According to those present, CUHK alumnus and Bank of Asia Executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive Joseph Pang scolded the students, demanded that their names be recorded and said: "I will use all my power not to employ you."  He also claimed that he will get all the CUHK alumni in Central District to blacklist the CUHK student union executive board members and never employ them.

(Apple Daily, via InMediaHK)  May 6, 2005.

This is largely based upon Wu Ho Tong's account.  Joseph Pang was identified as the executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the Bank of East Asia (BEA).  Included in the report was Wu Ho Tong's repartee, which was not reported in any other mainstream newspaper.

(The Sun, via InMediaHK)  May 6, 2005.

About 40 CUHK students signed a open letter to criticize the Executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive of a certain famous bank in Hong Kong by name of saying "I will use all my power not to employ you."

InMediaHK questions why The Sun wants to use "the executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive of a certain famous bank" (which has seventeen words 本港一間知名銀行的董事兼副行政總裁) instead of Apple Daily's "Joseph Pang, the executive Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the Bank of East Asia (BEA)" (which has fifteen words 東亞銀行董事兼副行政總裁彭玉榮).  It would have communicated more information in less space.  Why not, then?  Except to protect the named individual.  And why do they want to do that?  This is where one is expected to whisper "advertising expenditure", but I won't.

Ming Pao (via Yahoo! News) has published on May 8, 2005 a public statement from Joseph Pang: "I withdraw everything that I said before and during the CUHK alumni discussion meeting on April 30, 2005, and I apologize to fellow student Wu Ho Tong and others."  So this matter is largely over and done with.  Or so I believe.

But my interest is in the coverage of the case.  From the media side, the reports listed above clearly illustrated my usual point on ideological lenses.  But that is not even what I regard as the most significant aspect in this matter.

This case revolves around a conversation between two parties.  One party, Wu Ho Tong, published his own statement, which was then used to various degrees in different newspapers.  The other party, Joseph Pang, said nothing to the media.  All efforts by the newspapers to contact him failed, and the public apology was his only response to date.

In Ming Pao (via InMediaHK), there was a comment made by another alumnus Ma Chiu-Leung, who is reportedly a senior official in the Department of Education: "I am concerned about these young students.  This is a free society.  They want to enter forcibly into a alumni meeting and they even have the nerve to complain first!  They can have their own thinking, but they cannot impose their will upon others and be so seriously slanted.  Someday they will get  jobs.  Will they tell their boss 'I want a $500 raise' and the boss must give it to them?  And when the boss convenes a board meeting, they think that they can attend because it is good for communication?"  But these are not the words of Joseph Pang.

What is missing in this story is just what was going through Joseph Pang's mind?  What made him behave that way?  Perhaps he was just a total jerk, but I hope that total jerks do not ascend so readily to top positions inside top banks.  Perhaps he harbors some resentment about the styles and activities of the current students.  Perhaps Joseph Pang has his well-reasoned positions (about globalization, economic competitiveness, Confucian values, etc), but I don't know that.  I wish I knew what he was thinking.

And does such a blacklist exist?  I doubt it.  As usual, I am less concerned about the theoretical possibilities (and these people may very well want to do so) and more attentive to the practical implementation of such a system.  After all, I am an operations manager.  Put yourself in the place of someone who needs to get such a blacklist inserted in the hiring practice in a large organization such as BEA as well as other companies in the Central district.  Forget it!  This is unreal.

Why is it important to know Joseph Pang's positions and motivations?  If you believe in democracy, you should give both parties equal weight, time and space.  You've only heard the story from one side, and you should be be fair and balanced.  Besides, in this case, Joseph Pang has the money, power and influence.  Why wouldn't you want to know his side of the story?  And why does he not want to speak out?  I can spin a hundred hypotheses, but they would be hypotheses.  For example, perhaps Joseph Pang has the idea that the media will never ever give him fair treatment (and I can't blame him given some of what I have seen in the past), and that would be a serious indictment of the system.  This remains a nagging thought on my mind even as this episode fades away.

Postscript:  I am often pilloried for taking these kinds of attitudes.  Most of the liberal-minded readers would prefer to think that this is a case when truth and justice because Joseph Pang backed down with a public apology.  I am sorry, but the reality is that this guy is still sitting in his place near the top of BEA, and wields much more power than the CUHK students.  Why wouldn't you feel that you need to know what he was thinking?