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
Dr Eric Li is the LegCo
Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative.
For more information, refer to his website at