Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Simon Shen: A Letter for Henry Tang -- Lend Me Your Ears, What Went Wrong? [Translated Blog-post - Further polished, amended and updated with links]

沈旭暉:給唐英年的信--Lend Me Your Ears, What Went Wrong? (Original article in Chinese can be found here)(Please refer to the linked blogposts under "Further Reading" for conversations I had had with fellow bloggers regarding the quality of writing in Shen's essay; links are also provided for a couple of other articles that critiqued Henry Tang's speech as well as Shen's essay itself).

Simon Shen: A Letter for Henry Tang -- Lend Me Your Ears, What Went Wrong?

Dear Henry(唐老)﹕

Dear Henry (Old Tang):


Thanks again for kindly attending the Roundtable anniversary event of last week. Some say that the reason you chose that particular occasion to air some deeply-held views, was either because we are too moderate and you wanted to get us onside, or because we are too rebellious and you were keen to show us who's boss. Either way, that is a non-issue. Some also say that you were simply rehearsing your policy speech as the next-in-line governor of Hong Kong. That is even more of a non-issue. Aren't you already the de facto mayor of our city? On the other hand, the way in which you represented the dominant post-50s' generational view of today's youngsters in your speech, that really is an issue.



There are many among the senior generation who genuinely inspire and command respect, but whenever the topic of today's youth is broached, their views often generate mistrust and disgust instead. Why is that? Apart from what I previously discussed regarding the "post-50s super-stable societal structure", I think the key to this question relates to what could be described as the "post-50s super-stable identity structure", whereby one relies solely on the sentiments of yesteryears to evaluate the current events of today, which inevitably leads to methodological limitations for understanding issues due to differences in referential era. Whilst what you touched upon in your speech were all positive concepts, the first problem is that the mainstream post-50s generation have the exact opposite takes on the same underlying concepts vis-a-vis the post-80s generation; the second problem is that both generations have little inkling regarding the nature of this enormous gulf in understanding between them; and the third problem is that one simply cannot govern Hong Kong without taking into account this huge gulf in consensus.

This is what is alarming.


After the dissemination of the "Tang Five Points", many young people of my acquaintance are rather sceptical of your views, whilst a few would agree that your hollow-sounding platitudes do contain some grains of truth. Yet even those among the latter group would prefer that you behave a bit more like Chrissie Chau in having the urge to comb through your thinking in a bit more depth. Based on these feedbacks, and as the host of last week's event, I very naively believe that I have the obligation to help you bridge this gulf in understanding, and explain how the same five points you had proposed are bound to generate the exact opposite reading to which you intended:

一、 甚麼責任、自由、權利組成公民社會﹖
在 不少新一代眼中﹐lend me your ears﹐「責任」還有以公民力量彌補現制度局限、「自由」著重消極自由(不受外力干預的自由)、「權利」包括此刻並不完全享有的普世價值﹐才能造就一個 真正成熟的公民社會。按這定義﹐沒承擔責任、沒尊重他人自由和權利的卻是一些五十後。

1. What kinds of responsibilities, freedoms and rights are comprised within a society of citizens?

You declared that "a genuinely mature society that values citizenship, would place emphasis on rights at well as ensuring people are aware of their own obligations in discharging their societal duties", and that "no rights are absolute, one must also respect the freedoms and the rights of others". Nobody would at all argue with the wording in the above lines. The only thing is, these words mean quite different things to different people.

Plenty from the post-50s generation see abiding by rules and adhering to the status quo as one's "societal duty", whilst "freedom" refers only to "positive liberty" (freedom to act as defined by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin), and that which is sanctioned by the current laws of the land as the only "rights". They then use this schema to judge today's youths as having "triple faulted" in coming up short on these key measures. But using these benchmarks, one could also say that the North Korean society is rather respectful of the rule of law.

From the point of view of many among the new generation, Mr. Lend-me-your-ears, "societal duties" include the empowerment of civil society to counter-balance the repressive limits of current laws and regulations; "freedoms" include "negative liberty", the freedom from coercion; and "rights" include those universal human rights that are currently not fully realised within our society. These are the ingredients of a genuinely mature society that values and respects citizenship. And according to these benchmarks, those who shirk their real societal responsibilities, who disregard and disrespect the most the rights and freedoms of others, are actually those from the post-50s generation.

二、 怎樣定義多元與反多元﹖
你 說「這個世界是豐富多元的,我們應該有包容的胸襟,尊重他人的想法和意見,而不是對持相反意見的人動輒口誅筆伐」。每字都正面﹐但句子是不平衡的﹕「多 元」是客觀、形而上的﹐泛指不同觀點、生活方式的並存﹐是恆常的﹔「動輒口誅筆伐」、「謙恭」是主觀、形而下的﹐每個時代都不同﹐說句術語﹐被建構的。
青年發表不同意見正是支持多元﹐若因形而下的「口誅筆伐」而被標籤、邊緣化﹐難免深信五十後在偷換概念﹐進行反多元的思想壟斷。若有心確立多元﹐lend me your ears﹐無論對方的口筆如何﹐都應有包容胸襟。

2. How to define pluralism and anti-pluralism?

You said, "This is a rich, pluralistic world, we should all strive to be tolerant and inclusive and respectful of others' thinking and opinions, rather than engage in verbal mudslinging at the slightest provocation to those who hold opposing views." Every single word in the above sentence is positive, but unfortunately, the sentence itself is unbalanced: whilst "pluralism" is an objective concept, an abstract ideal that refers generally to the enduring coexistence of different viewpoints and different lifestyles within a social body; but words like "verbal mudslinging" and "respectful" are subjective and empirical, differing from era to era -- to put it in more technical terms, their meanings are socially constructed.

The post-50s generation subjectively labels today's youths as engaging in "verbal mudslinging" to somehow demonstrate that they are being objectively anti-pluralist. But it is pointless to use that which is subjective as evidence to prove that which is objective, just like how the subjective verbal mudslinging that occurred during the May Fourth Movement was somehow nonsensically used to show it had generated an "objective" intellectual pluralism. And while the older generation may not condone foul language, on certain internet forums such rhetorical whiplash is skilfully employed as the grammar that allowed for the vibrant exchange of ideas and knowledge, and "Letting a Hundred Expletives Bloom" actually helps generate a fruitful proliferation of viewpoints from across all sections of society.

The fact that the youths of today are declaiming different ideas and viewpoints is precisely what helps to promote societal pluralism. If their voices are being marginalised and stereotyped instead with a subjective label of "verbal mudslinging" by the post-50s generation, then one cannot blame the youngsters for criticising the post-50s for engaging in an anti-pluralistic monopolising of thought by way of a conceptual bait-and-switch. If you are indeed serious about embracing pluralism, Mr. Lend-me-your-ears, you should strive to be inclusive and tolerant of those whom you deem as engaging in verbal combat, however rhetorically violent those speech-acts may indeed be.

三、 妥協、民主、社會進步之間有何關係﹖
你 說「以各退半步去尋求最終大家能夠共同進一步的結果」不錯﹐只是「妥協是民主的產物」並非共識。據Lijphart概括﹐共識性民主為荷比盧瑞士等採用﹐ 英式議會民主為反妥協模型。也許你不是說民主﹐只是談哲學﹕盧梭的社會契約論主張「每人都放弃天然自由而获取契约自由」﹐倒算妥協。
新 一代多認為修正的社會契約應有分工﹐由個別群組負責不妥協來彰顯理念。伯夷叔齊採薇而食是毋須妥協的﹐戴高樂被勸拘捕「搞事」的哲人薩特時說「'On n'arrete pas un Voltaire」。若社會不接受﹐不妥協也無影響力﹔接受了﹐價值觀則會改變﹐正如沒有保育人士的不妥協﹐政府不會修改基建指引加入保育評核。Lend me your ears﹐這就是進步。

3. Compromise, Democracy, Societal Progress -- What are their links?

What you said about "Each backing down half a step to ensure that both can move forward a whole step together" is not bad, though your other statement that "compromise is the product of democracy" isn't the common consensus view. According to Lijphart's summary, consensus style democracy are prevalent in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, but the British parliamentary democracy is actually predicated upon an anti-compromise model. Or perhaps you weren't really talking about democratic systems per se but general political philosophies, like what Rousseau proposed regarding the social contract, in which case what you said actually made some sense.

Quite a number of the post-50s believe that this societal contract requires everyone to compromise, otherwise society would not progress. But if everyone just compromises within a society that already has a severe power imbalance, so that everything is stacked in favour of the establishment, then society would not actually move forward either. If one took Rousseau's ideas to the extreme, it could lead to the kind of mob rule as had been witnessed during the French Revolution. [Translator's note: hmm, not sure if this historical example really is the result of taking ideas of social contract to the extreme?]

The new generation believes in an amended social contract the obligations of which should be split among different societal groupings, whose disagreements with each other are a way of sharpening their individual ideological ballasts. When Pa Yi and Su Chai chose to forage in the wild during the Chou dynasty, they didn't need to compromise their political views; when Charles de Gaulle was urged to arrest the "trouble-making" philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, he said, "On n'arrete pas un Voltaire" ("One doesn't arrest a Voltaire"). If society does not accept one's ideological standpoint, there is no need to compromise as the individual poses no threat to the social order anyway. On the other hand, if society does accept one's views, then its values will have changed accordingly to accommodate. Without the uncompromising stance of the conservationists, for instance, the government wouldn't have amended its guidelines on infrastructural development to include an audit rating for conservation. My dear Mr. Lend-me-your-ears, this is called progress.

四、 怎樣論證複雜問題簡單化﹖
科 學論證應以雞蛋一方的無罪假定為起點﹐以研究作準。假如某君關心五個議題、五個都找到官商勾結的數據﹐lend me your ears﹐只能算「言簡意賅」。何況不同商人、部門有不同口碑﹐盲目逢商必反不會這樣。在青年眼中﹐以一個標籤否定一個論點﹐也是「懶於理性思考的借 口」。

4. How to prove one is oversimplifying a complex matter?

Your reminder that youngsters should not "oversimplify complex matters", that they should pursue independent thinking, is something that everyone can agree with, but how is your negative perception of today's youths actually shown to be valid?

Those who are part of the status quo often lament that they don't get any credit from today's youths, whose attitude they typify thus: "Anything to do with the government and the corporate world would result in a knee-jerk accusation of corruption and transmission of interests among the politicians and business leaders involved".

But this is not entirely logical. The above is simply a wrongful assertion by those already occupying a dominant position on the high wall.

Scientific proofs work instead by assuming the null hypothesis in favour of the meek and fragile, on the side of the egg, and requiring research evidence as the sole arbiter of truth. If someone is interested in five different topics and uncovered evidence demonstrating collusion among politicians and business leaders in all five cases, then my dear Mr. Lend-me-your-ears, those aren't knee-jerk accusations but rather succinct and valid commentary. The fact is that different business leaders and different government departments do have differing levels of ethical repute among the general population, which would not have been the case at all if indeed we were simply being anti-business on principle. From the point of view of the young generation, refuting a valid argument simply on the basis of a simplistic label is just another example of what you yourself referred to as "an excuse for lazy irrational thinking".

五、 甚麼環境會觸發政治暴力、如何比較案例﹖
你 說美國槍擊案令你反思香港青年的激進。我曾對此研究﹐略知各地暴力或恐怖主義多由五元素互動造成﹕(1)有鼓勵暴力的組織(如蓋達)或容易被暴力濫用的法 例(如美國若干修正案)﹔(2)有激進意識形態(如白人至上主義)﹔(3)組織帶來資源或令武器氾濫(如美國槍支協會)﹔(4)激進組織有慈善支部吸引普 羅支持者、或有NGO支援激進行動者(如哈瑪斯孤兒院、美國為極端思潮辯護的ACLU)﹔(5)擁有主流媒體(如真主黨燈塔電視臺)。香港一無所有。
在 互聯網世代﹐上述「方法」還有致命訊息盲點。我們在電視報章也許看不見菜園村﹐但lend me your ears﹐這在網絡是常識﹔香港槍擊論沒有佐證﹐社運青年被摔傷的影片卻有極多網民check it out。有前輩通過麥長青獲TVB最佳男配角論證獅子山下精神長存﹐對青年﹐這只反映電視台北望和沒落﹔有前輩說林峰得巨獎證明電視台實力﹐在網上﹐這常 被視作又一不公義。

5. What kind of environment would instigate political violence, and how do we compare different examples?

You mentioned that the recent incident in the United States, where people at a political rally were gunned down, caused you to reflect on the rebelliousness of today's youths in Hong Kong. I actually researched the topic a while ago, and can tell you that political violence or terrorism witnessed around the world could roughly be summarised as being caused by the interaction of the following five factors: (1) the existence of organisations that promote violence (e.g. Al Queda) and/or the existence of legislation that could easily be usurped as an instrument for violence (e.g. a certain American constitutional amendment); (2) the existence of extremist ideology (e.g. white supremacy); (3) organisations that provide resources for the proliferation of weapons (e.g. the American National Rifle Association); (4) the existence of extremist groups with a philanthropic wing who could garner popular support, or the existence of NGOs that support extremists (e.g. orphanages run by Hamas, the ACLU in America who protects the ideology of extremists [Translator's note: not sure if I entirely agree that ACLU exists solely to reinforce extremist ideology to be honest]); (5) the ownership of mainstream media organisations (e.g. Al Manar [Translator's Note: After further digging I am finally positive that Shen was referring to Al Manar]). None of these factors are actually present in Hong Kong.

Generalising from the isolated example of the Tucson shooting in America to our own post-80s generation in Hong Kong, reacting with fearful screams at televised pictures of citizens' protests against the high-speed rail, making knee-jerk, alarmist and unsubstantiated comparisons and lacking any systemic analysis in your commentary regarding society's ills, all these run counter to the ethical conduct of comparative politics, even if you are actually being sincere in your admonitions of the young. Like we wouldn't casually associate any patriotic protests with the events of '67, nor would we ask you to be careful with your drinking just because somebody else had killed his mother when he got drunk on red wine.

In the age of the Internet, this kind of "logics" has several additional irredeemable informational blind-spots. Perhaps we might not be able to read about the wanton destruction of Choi Yuen Chuen from the mainstream media, but Lend-me-your-ears, this is already a case commonly acknowledged in the online world. While your theory regarding a Hong Kong shooting incident similar to the one that occurred in the States has yet to find any actual empirical support, there are plenty of online footage that records how a young Hong Kong political activist was injured when he was gratuitously thrown to the ground during peaceful protest, with plenty of netizens checking it out. A senior commentator once opined how a television soap star winning the best supporting actor award from TVB is proof positive that the Lion Rock spirit survives in Hong Kong -- this however only demonstrates to today's youngsters that the broadcaster concerned has merely become increasingly Mainland-oriented to the detriment of the Hong Kong viewers, signalling the station's decline. Another senior media commentator mentioned how the fact that another television soap star winning a top music award is testament to the strength of the same broadcaster -- online this entertainment news is simply greeted with derision and viewed as another instance of gross injustice.

不同世代的觀念差異不易調和﹐但回應結構性問題的青年本身不可能是「問題」﹐把這當成問題 的方法論才是問題﹐遺憾地﹐不少資深建制青年工作者卻如是觀。你笑說別稱「唐老」﹐據說因看過我以「呂老」尊稱呂大樂的文章﹐說起來﹐上述確和與呂老的方 法討論大同小異。老吾老以及人之老﹐出發點是善意的﹐一如你的坦白。

Different generations' views and attitudes are not easy to blend together, but the youths who respond to the systemic problems within our society today could not possibly be labelled as the "problem" themselves. The trouble lies precisely with those who treat this as a "problem", but that is unfortunately the view held by many experienced youth workers. You jokingly suggested that I shouldn't refer to you as "Old Tang", apparently because you have seen how I humbly addressed Dr. Lui Tai Lok as "Old Lui" in responding to his article. Now that you mentioned it, the above viewpoints do actually exhibit much similarity with those propounded by Old Lui. As the saying goes, respect to our own elders as well as those of others, my intention is entirely benign, just like your honesty.

可惜﹐這份坦白建基於對世代認知鴻溝的漠視﹐無論主觀 意願如何﹐都有以五十後定義單向批判八十後的客觀效果﹐或曰「機已屈」﹐引起的反響無助世代溝通﹐反加深了誤會和對立﹐這不應是你樂見的。按華人傳統﹐評 論主禮發言並不合禮﹔對一些八十後﹐本文會被批評為太溫和﹔但若「平等位置」真的存在﹐我衷心希望你與公眾分享反思﹐這才符合你定義的跨代溝通﹐畢竟世界是你們的﹐也是我們的﹐但歸根究底是你們的。古代說lend me your ears﹐今人說listen up guys﹐都是發自肺腑的﹐thank you。


Sadly, this honesty of yours is predicated upon a profound ignorance regarding the enormous gulf in understanding between the different generations. Whatever your subjective intention, your speech has the objective effect of unilaterally criticising the post-80s generation using a fixed and fixing post-50s lens -- in other words, you have already gamed the system to your generation's advantage. The waves of negative response generated by your speech are not only unhelpful towards inter-generational dialogue, but actually serve to further deepen the misunderstanding and opposition across the generational divide. This shouldn't be what you would be happy to see. Whilst it is against traditional Chinese etiquette to criticise the speech by one's guest of honour, for some post-80s readers, my article here would actually be seen as being too kind to an undeserving target. If however there could indeed be a semblance of parity of esteem among all participants, I sincerely wish that you would partake in the above reflections together with the general public, for this should be what is really meant by inter-generational dialogue as you yourself have identified. After all the world is all yours, as well as ours, but at the end of the day it is still yours. There's an old saying, "lend me your ears", whereas nowadays people would say "listen up guys", both expressions are sincere and heart-felt. Thank you for listening.


Translated by Snowdrops, 2011. All rights reserved. (Translation polished at 11:38; "Russell" amended as "Rousseau" at 14:38 - was thinking of Bertrand rather than Jean-Jacques - a most embarrassing slip!)(Translation amended again with slight modifications at 23:23 on 28 January further to kind suggestions by Sidney Sweet - see comments)(Translation further amended at 6:42am on 2 February, 2011 to polish off certain clunky sentences and corrected "straw man" as "bait-and-switch").

Further reading:

向沈旭暉進一言: 辭達而已矣

形而上 / 形而下






陳雲:反對壟斷 對抗複製(節錄自《九評地產黨》)

香港的問題,絕不是「五十後」鬥「八十後」的問題。大量「五十後」的人,都是被社會遺棄的窮困階級,很多老人家流落街頭拾荒謀生,只有絕少數人成為中環大 亨。香港面對的不是世代抗爭,不是老人不願退位而年輕人不能上位的問題,而是共同的時代問題,是機會重新開放、經濟轉型和社會價值觀改變的問題。「八十 後」提出的議程,是跨世代和跨階級的香港人的共同利益。踏入二十一世紀,2000年之後的幾年,八十後提出的保育香港運動,保衛天星碼頭皇后碼頭、保衛灣 仔喜帖街的街坊生活、反對時代廣場圈禁公共土地、反對興建高鐵浪費公帑破壞人文地理、保衛菜園村及鄉郊農民生計,都是代表香港整體人民、特別是代表被剝削 的弱勢社群去抗爭的,絕不是為了自己的世代利益。


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At Fri Jan 28, 05:58:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger Sidney Sweet said...

"無論主觀 意願如何﹐都有以五十後定義單向批判八十後的客觀效果﹐或曰「機已屈」﹐引起的反響無助世代溝通﹐反加深了誤會和對立﹐這不應是你樂見的。"

「機已屈」is derived from a video game parlour jargon in Hong Kong:「屈機」。

Not sure what it means, though.

I've tried to find the English equivalent for 形而下 but failed. Literally, 形而上 is metaphysical. In this sense, 形而下 could be just "physical". Although don't really understand why Shen says 「多元」是客觀、形而上的。(and therefore not socially constructed)

Still waiting for the 形而上 v 形而下 blog post promised by W Wong.

At Fri Jan 28, 06:17:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger Sidney Sweet said...


Here "主禮" means Henry Tang so 主禮發言 means 主禮嘉賓的發言 [the speech delivered by the guest of honour] etc.

It doesn't mean "the dominant view". Perhaps you've misread 主禮 as 主體。

At Fri Jan 28, 06:20:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger Sidney Sweet said...

I like your translation, Snowdrops. Both your English and your knowledge are excellent and those make you an outstanding translator.

At Fri Jan 28, 11:18:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hi Professor Sweet! Thank you for stopping by my humble blog and especially sincere thanks for your really kind and informative comments on my translation attempt, which I really appreciate.

"「機已屈」is derived from a video game parlour jargon in Hong Kong:「屈機」。"

Yes I have heard of that as well, and apparently one way of translating it is to say that one has "gamed the system" (to one's advantage). I was perhaps rather lazy in translating it as "game is up", which also doesn't make any sense. Now that I re-read it, perhaps the line should have been put as "...in other words you [as in Tang] have already gamed the system to your advantage."

"I've tried to find the English equivalent for 形而下 but failed."

Yes, same here. I'm so relieved to learn that it wasn't just a case of my bad Chinese in this instance...

"Literally, 形而上 is metaphysical. In this sense, 形而下 could be just "physical". Although don't really understand why Shen says 「多元」是客觀、形而上的。(and therefore not socially constructed)"

Exactly, it's impossible to find antonyms to "metaphysical" in a way that fits with the rest of Shen's own sentence logically... (at least in English).

I have just seen and replied on W. Wong's blogpost on 形而上 v 形而下, I'm
glad to see that our problems in translation are more to do with the fact that there are simply no easy equivalent concepts in Western philosophies.

Perhaps we will just have to co-opt 形而上 v 形而下 into the English language, like people do with certain German philosophical terms like "Dasein". We may have to refer to these terms as "Yingyeesheung" and "Yingyeeha" when using these in English (and always with a note to describe that these literally translated as "Shape-and-Up" and "Shape-and-Down"!)

"Here "主禮" means Henry Tang so 主禮發言 means 主禮嘉賓的發言 [the speech delivered by the guest of honour] etc."

Thank you so much for this! I have to confess I really didn't realise what 主禮 was referring to (I understand 主禮嘉賓, but I was too slow to cop that 主禮 was used as the shortened form of that term, and so I actually thought perhaps it was a typo error). Thanks for setting me straight as the sentence makes a lot more sense now.

I really have a lot to improve as regards my Chinese comprehension skills, so you're being far too kind to compliment my so-called translation skills at this stage! But I'm grateful for the encouragement.

Many thanks again for your very kind 賜教 :)

P.s. Very sorry but I must admit that I was slightly taken aback by your picture :P For some weird reason I always thought you are meant to look grumpier! *insert embarrassed smiley here*

At Mon Jan 31, 04:54:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger Sidney Sweet said...

Unlike you and W Wong, I'm not in academia. My friends, William Poon and LAICHUNGLEUNG, jokingly call me Prof Sweet sometimes 'cause I'm too quick to offer my unsolicited opinion or show off what I know. My job is in the field of interpretation and translation, though.

Your blog is one of the most readable ones that I know of.

At Mon Jan 31, 08:20:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hi Sidney, very sorry for having wrongly addressed you previously - serve me right indeed for following the example of LCL!!!

It is interesting that the "Prof" label is applied to those who are being "too quick to offer unsolicited opinion or show off what [they] know." I have to admit I am one of the worst offenders... it's a dreadful occupational hazard. Oh well.


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Have just finished...

Me, Anime...

A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?