The Smolker Letters, Letter No. 5 (January 1, 2012, Hong Kongers, Hong Kong, Confucianism, the Spirit of Free Enterprise and Family Values)
Smolker Letter No. 5
Hong Kongers, Hong Kong, Confucianism, the Spirit of Free Enterprise and Family Values
by Gary S. Smolker
January 1, , 2012
A friend of mine has pointed out if you’re planning a trip, why not go to Hong Kong? In Hong Kong you can visit on whatever budget you like. Your hotel room can cost between US$15 and US$1,000 per night, even on the same part of the same street.
On a recent trip, that friend reports that he visited several of the budget hotels in the Chung King Mansions building on Nathan Road, and found that while they were not luxurious , they were clean and appeared well run and better than a lot of places that many students stay in.
Among other things in the building, the CKM has about 90 hotels and 50 restaurants. The double trolley cars in Hong Kong have a special rate for elderly people of about US 13 cents for as far as you want to ride. Younger people pay twice as much. The subway is faster, but the Star Ferry across Victory Harbour gives you the ultimate Harbour view for less than a dollar. Getting into Hong Kong from the airport is the easiest of any city in the world and also one of the least expensive.
I am sending you a copy of four pages [pages 134, 135, 138 and 139] from a chapter on Hong Kong from a book entitled “The Spirit of Cities” by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit.
On page 134 Bell and de-Shalit discuss their concern that an ancient theory explaining the fall of dynasties may foretell Hong Kong’s future. In short, the theory of “the fall of dynasties” they discuss is: the stronger tribe members’ loyalty and attachment to the tribe, that makes the individual devote himself or herself to the tribe, the more the tribe is capable of fighting and conquering others. Eventually, nomadic conquerors succumb to the temptations of luxurious city life, and that is the beginning of the end. The once brave nomads become soft, flabby and docile towards outsiders, and the dynasty eventually falls to new tribes bound by strong asabiyah (group feeling, loyalty to the tribe).
The authors reflect that in the case of Hong Kong, those who fled from communist rule in mainland China to Hong Kong are dying out. As the immigrant experience receeds from collective memory it won’t have the same motivational power, and elders worry the next generation may be succumbing to the temptations of luxurious city life.
Bell and de-Shalit ask: Is the asabiyah (group feeling) that binds Hong Kongers weakening or is it getting stronger?
On page 135, Bell and de-Shalit state that Chinese-style asabiyah is family centered. The family, the clan, provides a kind of survival raft for the individual. So long as the family is stable, the group will survive. Throughout history, civilizations have collapsed, dynasties have been swept away by conquering hordes, but this life raft enables the civilization to carry on and get to its next phase. The family and the way human relationships are structured do increase the survival chances of its members. That has been tested over thousands of years in different situations.
On page 138, Bell and de-Shalit point out that the only real way to show commitment to the community is willingness to suffer harm on its behalf. Recently, during the SARS crisis, Hong Kong’s health-care workers proved that Hong Kong people are selfless to the extent possible, that they are competent and compassionate and work hard not only for themselves and for family members.
In the dark days of the SARS crisis, the health-care workers of Hong Kong made the city proud. In Taiwan, there were widespread reports of medical staff refusing to show up for work, some even jumping out of hospital windows for fear of being contaminated by SARS patients. In Beijing, health-care workers were basically locked in their workplace. Yet in Hong Kong, medical staff showed up for work out of a sense of professional duty and service to the community. Nobody seemed to let fear of death get in the way of caring duties, though several health-care workers did pay the ultimate price.
Bell and de-Shalit conclude in their description of Hong Kong (at page 139) that there is a moral aspect to the Hong Kong ethos: people in Hong Kong work hard to benefit others, starting with family members, and extending to the neighborhood, the city, the country, and eventually to the whole world.
Bell and de-Shalit theorize that the ethos of materialism in Hong Kong is embedded in and constrained by confucian values that prioritize care for family members and other communities over self-satisfaction.
Bell and de-Shalite cite the famous anecdote that in Hong Kong a rich man parks his Rolls Royce in the poorest neighborhood and is immediately surrounded by admiring people (in poor parts of American cities, the story goes, the car would be vandalized). The point of that anecdote is that there is little resentment against the rich in Hong Kong. Compare that attitude and lack of resentment against the rich in Hong Kong to the spirit of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the United States and the belief of some people in the United States that they are entitled to a better life.
Two famous statistics about Hong Kong are (a) Hong Kong has more Rolls Royces per capita than any other city and (b) Mongkok (located in Kowloon, on the mainland part of Hong Kong) is the world’s most densely populated place: 130,000 residents per square kilometer.
Bell and de-Shalit provide graphic information demonstrating that the Chinese people in Taiwan, Sinapore and Mainland China each have a different ethos, are distinctively different from and live in a different social climate, than the Chinese people in Hong Kong.
Bell and de-Shalit point out that there are thousands of social and political demonstrations every year in Mainland China. According to official figures, there were 58,000 “mass incidents” (strikes, street protests, roadblocks and other forms of mass protest) in the first three months of 2009 in Mainland China. Bell and de-Shalit note that the widening income gap in Mainland China is approaching Latin American levels and threatening to divide the country into separate classes.
I believe the worth of the State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; i.e, with conforming men who do not rock the boat and who do not take individual initiative, no great thing can really be accomplished. I agree with the concluding sentences of Mill’s “On Liberty” in which Mills praises liberty, freedom, individualism and individuality.
It seems that the people in Hong Kong understand that capitalism and the capitalist mode of production develops productive forces more than any other economic system, and that practicing capitalism is the only way to create a material surplus. The reason is that capitalists compete with one another to make a profit; hence they have an incentive to develop new ever more efficient means to produce goods, without which it would not be possible to have a large material surplus to offset “want” and the struggle for the necessities of life. Developed productive forces (advanced technology and knowledge to make use of it) underpin material abundance.
Bell and de-Shalit tell us that “Confucianism … is basically a philosophy of social responsibility; we should strive not just to develop our individual characters but also to be other-regarding to the extent possible, and those in position of power should rule in a competent and compassionate manner. “
I believe it is very important to have social interactions in order to appreciate how different people are and because social interactions are critical for forging the bonds of trust that underpin social harmony.
People, people’s values, people’s approach to life, people’s circumstances, people’s needs and people’s habits are different.
Through their capitalistic business practices, through practicing their confucian philosophy by living family values, Hong Kongers prove the value of having individual contact with the forces of the universe. Being people-oriented and meeting new people is an admirable form of self-cultivation perfected by Hong Kongers. They have achieved a healthy inner attitude and social trust (social capital) necessary to sustain a harmonious society.
There is a difference between people who eat to fill their stomachs (chi bao) and those who really appreciate food (chi hao).
In support of that belief I have joined and am now on the Executive Committee of the Beverly Hills Bar Association’s Social Networking Committee.
Best New Year Wishes,
Copyright (c) 2012 by Gary S. Smolker