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Why the Pearl still glows

During the recent summer recess of the Legislative Council, I took some time off to travel with my family.  The first trip took us on the Silk Road from Xian to Turpan. This was followed shortly by another trip to Athens, the ancient capital of Greece. These two trips, from both ends of the thousand-year-old route of the east and west trades, gave us a marvelous glimpse of the glorious past of human civilization.

Another unexpected reward from these trips was the extra time they allowed me to reflect on and to appreciate the intrinsic values of our hometown, Hong Kong.  It answered two fundamental questions that were lingering in my mind.  Firstly, what makes Hong Kong so different from other big cities in China, and for that matter, other great cities of Asia?  Secondly, why is it that our population continues to grow rapidly after the change of sovereignty in 1997?  In short, what is it that still makes the 'Pearl of the Orient' glow?

The two questions are intriguing to me because of the apparently conflicting phenomena that during the last five years, we have been exceedingly, and sometimes even quite unreasonably, critical of our Government.  We are still suffering, at this time, from the worst economic depression in living memory, while there are now even more choices available to start a new life, in attractive cities nearby such as Shenzhen and Shanghai that are advancing in leaps and bounds.  What is worth the high premium of staying and living in a cramped and expensive Hong Kong?

One sure thing that I learnt from my trips is that whatever the reasons; walls cannot offer them good protection.  We saw part of the original Great Wall of China built in the Han Dynasty; numerous grand temples and religious caves; well-guarded tombs of royal dynasties and strong castle fortifications.  These incredible edifices were built to protect and preserve the economic interests and religious beliefs of the times.  But no matter how strong the temple walls and how treacherous the castle fortifications; and no matter how determined and how absolutely ingenious were those ancient architects who built them, they were all doomed to fail in their intended purpose.  One by one, these walls would fall and the fortunes of nations change.  Different cultures and beliefs would invariably find ways to break free from their captive walls and intermingle with the best of those favoured by man where they would eventually prosper and grow. What are left most intact, admired and envied are the untouchable ideas, knowledge, philosophies, arts and science, portrayed by uncovered artifacts and the unstoppable human spirit.

The intrinsic values of Hong Kong cannot therefore be simply a well-built physical infrastructure and a well-positioned geographic location.  These advantages alone cannot be guarded and will wither away as mainland China makes up its own logistic plan that might one day changes the entire regional economic landscape.

I do not think that it is solely a correct set of government policies either.  Otherwise, any city can simply copy this formula of success and prosper in much the same way.

I believe that the elusive answer actually lies somewhere quite invisible and well out of our touch.  In a recent forum on reviewing the implementation of the Basic Law, it dawned on me that this mini-constitution, which is to preserve the very essence and spirit of Hong Kong, supports my line of thinking.  The Basic Law paid no account of cash and infrastructures built.  It has not inscribed a complete set of hard and fast rules for our Government to follow.  What it has most evidently done is to attempt to meticulously and accurately portray a desirable ¡¥Hong Kong way of living¡¦ for long-term preservation.

The Basic Law guarantees a way of living or lifestyle with maximum personal freedoms and individual rights; the conduct of business, vocation and personal affairs left free to open and fair competition under the protection of the rule of law; the size of government kept small and the conduct of its business kept unobtrusive; the free flow of talents, knowledge and religion to be allowed as a right.  In short, the most basic desire of every Hong Konger to live freely and be able to make one's own choices as far as possible with minimum hindrance are prerequisite under the law.

It is often easy for us to forget what we cannot readily touch and see.  But these precious values of an open and free society, which are already well encapsulated by the basic law, need to be revisited regularly as a constant reminder.  A reminder for us to prevent any fundamental erosion as well as to see what more can be done to enrich a lifestyle that is the envy of other cities.  Amongst the list of improvements that we can still make are providing better educational opportunities for all ages and nationalities; a cleaner environment; a safer city with lower crime rates; greater promotion of world-class cultural events; improvement of our linguistic skills; greater efficiency and friendlier services in both the public and private sector etc.

All the tasks mentioned above take as much conscious effort as building monumental structures, roads and bridges.  They are not the government's responsibility alone and there is no room for complacency irrespective of the economic ups and downs.  The spirit of Hong Kong and our own unique way of life are what we make of it altogether. The way we aspire to live and the collective passion to make it happen is what causes the 'Pearl of the Orient' to glow with undiminished hope.

Dr Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative. For more information, refer to his website at http://www.ericli.org 

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