Star Ferry, Queens Pier and Erotica 

(Ming Pao; also at 記憶回收筒)  Star Ferry, Queens Pier and Erotica.  By Ma Ngok (馬嶽, assistant professor, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology).  May 23, 2007.

[in translation]

Ever since the Star Ferry affair, I have been thinking about the relationship between this movement and the development of democracy, social movements and civic society in Hong Kong.

From the scholastic viewpoint, it is not difficult to come up with an explanation.  R. Inglehart and others have earlier pointed out that when the advanced capitalist societies become post-industrial societies, the younger generation will begin to identify with post-materialism.  The younger generation grow up in wealth and the traditional 'bread-and-butter' issues become less and less attractive to them.  Instead, quality-of-life issues such as environmental protection, gender relationship, cultural preservation and so on become more important and a new face is given to social movements.

In the actual situation of Hong Kong, the younger generation of Hong Kong today grew up in a relatively affluent environment.  Their regard for 'livelihood' and 'stable prosperity' is far less that the generation which had arrived in Hong Kong as refugees.  But the SAR government continues to use the language of "development" and treats economic development as the most (if not the only) important value in policy matters.  So every protection/preservation campaign is an ideological struggle.  The preservationists oppose the ideology of "development above all."  After they fought against the harbor landfill, they fought over Star Ferry; after Star Ferry, there was Queens Pier; after Queens Pier, there will be other landmarks.  The SAR government is unable to convince the preservationist why relieving traffic congestion must be more important than collective memory.  After rounds of "chickens talking to ducks" without getting anywhere, they must resort to the so-called procedure rationality within the system, or else they might as well as just move in the bulldozers.

Before the screens around Queens Pier have come down, there is now the affair over the erotic section of the Chinese University Student Press.  I can perceive a generational gap in values.

The mainstream society criticized the Chinese University students without having confronted fully (or perhaps they were incapable of doing so) a fact: the students at the student newspaper (including those fellow student supporters) do not feel that they did anything wrong, or at least the mainstream society is unqualified to call them wrong.

For quite a few students, the erotic page in the student newspaper is nothing compared to the erotic pages in regular newspapers, or popular novels being sold in the streets, or even contents readily available on the Internet.  If those other contents can be published, then why couldn't the non-profit student newspaper have an honest discussion of those topics without sensationalism?  Some people may say that they had poor taste while others may disagree with their moral values.  But all this can be discussed publicly in society and university campus under the umbrella of freedom of speech.  If something should be banned because someone criticized the morality and taste of some of the contents, then I do not think that there will be many newspapers left at the newsstands.

Many of the mainstream society's commentaries are premised upon their own values.  They decidedn up front that the university students were wrong and then they said "youthful ignorance should be treated leniently."  The spokespersons for two mainstream democratic parties said so too.  I can understand why so many university students cast their votes for "Long Hair" for only the League for Socialist Democrats is in their part of the political spectrum.  Another common theme was: "Since there are criticisms, why not just apologize and forget about the whole thing?"  This is just the way of survival that adults have learned learned within capitalist society or bureaucratic organization.  This is not resolving the clash of values.

They cannot hear the university students questioning: "How come your moral values and tastes are correct, but ours are wrong?"  When university students attempted to seriously discuss this issue at a public forum, they were smeared as "issuing a challenge to the public."  The critics did not build a foundation of common values and they did not publicly debate (or perhaps they were incapable to doing so) about the appropriate boundaries for moral values and tastes.  In the end, they could not convince the young people.  So they used their powers within the system to criticize, denounce, "classify," discipline and penalize.  This is no different than when the SAR government could not persuade the Star Ferry opponents, they moved in the bulldozers late at night.  The young people did not see a moral model; instead, they only saw the naked raw power of the parents.

Our mainstream society is one in which people in their 50's and 60's have control.  The senior official in charge of education can say 'rape' any time.  The television beauty pageant hosts tell dirty jokes to harass the contestants each year.  The media organizations that criticize the student erotic page publish their own weekly magazines that have a high degree of erotic content.  Then one day, mainstream society suddenly turns around and demands that the students must have moral levels and tastes much higher than their own.  In the same way, foul language abounds in the streets of our society but we cannot tolerate two phrases in the movie <Autumn's Tale>.  If this is not hypocrisy, what is?

The sinners are still casting the stones, while those with flaws are picking on other people's flaws.  The moral judgment by the media, the judgments by the Obscene Articles Tribunal and the disciplinary hearing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are no different from the bulldozers at Star Ferry.  When a bunch of 50- and 60-year-old rulers could not win by rational argument, they invoke the power of the system.  This is like when a child asks a question that a parent felt should not be asked, the parents slaps the child and says: "You are not allowed to ask!"  The complaints against the Bible and Shakespeare are just the weak resistance by young people against the hypocrisy within the system of power.  The generational gap in values will become wider and wider following Star Ferry, Queens Pier, erotic page, etc.

The world is yours as well as ours.  But ultimately, it is ours because we possess the power.