The Hong Kong handover hangover.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
June 29 2007 12:11 PM

The Hong Kong Handover Hangover

Ten years on, the natives are restless.

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As if bad art weren't bad enough, in the last few weeks, it seems that pro-Beijing figures in both mainland China and Hong Kong have been scrambling to outdo each other with statements guaranteed to make Hong Kongers uneasy about their future. Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress, proclaimed that Hong Kong had better buckle under, because "absolute authority lies with Beijing." Another Beijing-based academic opined that Hong Kong people weren't ready for universal suffrage, because "they couldn't be trusted to know the right people to vote for."

The worst, by far, was the faux pas by pro-Beijing Hong Kong legislator Ma Lik (his name means "Strong Horse" in Cantonese). During a roundtable with members of the Hong Kong press in May, the subject of Tiananmen Square—a touchy topic for mainland stalwarts like Ma—came up. Ma lost his cool, started ranting, and ended up with his hoof in his mouth. The "massacre" that the Western press is always talking about never happened, he declared. It has never been proved that student protesters were squashed by army tanks! In fact, such a thing was impossible. "Why don't they try it on a pig and see if it can be squashed into a meat pancake?"

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The Meat Pancake Affair (you can read an excellent account of the press coverage here) shocked Hong Kongers, tens of thousands of whom regularly attend the only Tiananmen memorial demonstrations on Chinese soil every June 4. It also inspired the best piece of political satire I've seen in a long time in Hong Kong, or anywhere—a homemade music video called, in its English version, "Folk Guy's Always With You." Created by a Hong Kong high-school kid and Chinese-language blogger who calls himself Lam Kay, "Folk Guy" parodies one of the worst propaganda excesses of the 10th anniversary, a treacley "We Are The World"-style music video titled "Hong Kong's Always With You." In the original version, Hong Kong's Canto-pop pantheon of leng jai (pretty boys), from Andy Lau to Eason Chan, croons cringe-worthy lyrics ("Hong Kong's Lion Rock leads us all the way to the Great Wall … ") as black  helicopters soar across a pollution-free Hong Kong sky and Minnie Mouse waves "hi" from Hong Kong Disneyland.

Such goody-two-shoes patriotic pap practically screams "kick me," so ripe is it for takedown by a subversively clever, tech-savvy adolescent (of which Hong Kong probably has a higher per-capita concentration than anywhere else in the world). Lam Kay does not disappoint. His spitball starts with the refrain of his version of the song, in which he substitutes the Cantonese words "fuk gaai" for "Hong Kong." In Cantonese, "Fuk gaai" means "fortune and auspiciousness," but if you slur the first consonant slightly, you've got one of the most widely used Cantonese insults, pook gaai. The phrase is a shortened version of, "You fall down in the street, and nobody will pick up the bones of your stinking dead body."

In Lam Kay's video parody, the fuckers who are always with the Hong Kong people include not only Ma Lik (his name gets transcribed, in English, as "Malice," and Lam intercuts his smug mug with shots of squealing pigs) but also just about all the current leadership of the Hong Kong government. He has also created a visual catalog of some not-so-joyous incidents in Hong Kong's last 10 years, from the government's 2006 bulldozing of the historic Star Ferry clock tower to make way for a superhighway and shopping mall, to the 2001 awarding of Hong Kong's highest honor, the Bauhinia Medal, to an alleged ex-terrorist who happens to be a longtime Communist Party supporter.

On YouTube, Lam Kay's Chinese version of "Fuk Gaai" had clocked more than 600,000 views the last I looked, and the 7/1 protest organizers have been talking about making it their official march song. I hope they do: It's the best antidote for Hong Kong's handover hangover. But it also raises the obvious question: Why can't Beijing's leaders get as hip as a Hong Kong high-school student and figure out that they have little to lose—and much to gain—by giving the people of one of the most educated, sophisticated, and prosperous cities in the world the right to vote for their own mayor? Can you tell me the Cantonese word for paranoid?

Daisann McLane is a journalist who splits her time between New York and Hong Kong. Her dispatchesfrom Hong Kong can be read on Slate and also on her blog, "Learning Cantonese."