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

Dear TR,

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,

GSS

Copyright (c) 2012 by Gary S. Smolker

About Gary S. Smolker

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: No enterprise can exist for itself alone. Every successful enterprise ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others. Otherwise, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. Imagination, open mindedness and flexibility are the most important factors in unlocking potential. Those who embrace innovation, improvisation, continuous learning, time management, are action oriented, high energy, passionate, creative, purposeful and intense individuals are best equipped to succeed. We all have ideas and the ability to make progress by sharing information and our ideas and also by changing our ideas when appropriate. We should always be on the lookout for teaching and mentoring moments. We hold time like water in our hands; however tightly we clench our fingers, it drips away. But, if it falls on a seed, a seed may grow to become something that will have a positive social impact. PERSONAL INTERESTS: I have a passion to learn, to innovate, to lead, to mentor and to teach. I seek to write things worth reading and want to do things worth writing about. I enjoy (a) driving a fast car, (b) having intense conversations (c) teaching/mentoring, (d) reading and (e) being involved in productive activity. PERSONAL: I believe in cultivating and backing passionate people, innovation, and old fashioned good ideas. I love making human connections and spreading good ideas. I am strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence of thought and action are called for. PERSONAL GOALS: I want to live life vibrantly, to be as sharp as a tack until my last breath and to change the world by being me. My personal goal is to be fully engaged in life, to lead by example, to set high standards and to continue to amass firsthand experience and knowledge in all that interests me. PERSONALITY: I love fun and mischief. I relish absurdity. I have an irreverent, facetious and satiric disposition. I dread boredom. I have spent a lifetime reading. I have no bias against people who have lived successful and/or complicated lives. I write to release tension, to get things off my chest. SOCIAL MEDIA: I post articles on the "Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange" blog at www.garysmolker.wordpress.com, and "Dude's Guide to Women's Shoes" at www.dudesguidetowomensshoes.com. I also post images and comments on Instagram @garyspassion. CONTACT INFORMATION: Gary Smolker, Smolker Law Firm, 16055 Ventura Blvd., Ste 525, Encino, California, 91436-2609, USA. Phone 1-818-788-7290, e-mail GSmolker@aol.com.

Posted on January 1, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Gary, your letter on Hong Kong brought back memories of my time in China, 1945/46. I was on Okinawa when the war ended in the fall of 1945. We landed on Okinawa April 1, 1945 and after the island was secured we got some rest then began training for what was widely believed to be the invasion of the Japanese mainland. When the news came that Japan had surrendered we had one rip roaring party and a massive hangover next day.

    Then the obvious question, “when do I go home” became our primary interest, and there was really no surprise to learn that there just wasn’t enough shipping available to send us home immediately. Having just turned 20, I was offered a choice which, looking back, strikes me as one of the most intelligent, mature decisions I ever made as a youth just out of his teens. I could either stay in Okinawa to wait for shipping, or go to China with the 1st Marine Division as occupational forces charged with repatriation of the Japanese forces there. I chose to go to China, and that was a wise choice indeed, resulting in a 6 month tour that enriched my life with exposure to cultures and experiences that years in college could not duplicate in educational value.

    I was stationed in the city of Tientsin from September of 1945 until my departure on St. Valentines Day, February 14, 1946.

    The first impression I had after reading your letter was the changes from absolute poverty to a land of wealth, and today I note in the LA Times a front page article which mirrors some of your observations, like China buying more Rolls Royces in 2011 than any other country, and that in barely more than a decade alleys have been replaced by wide avenues lined with Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, Rolls, etc.

    Shortly after the 1st Marine Division landed in China in 1945, all the downtown hotels in the city became houses of prostitution, where every young girl set up business in one of the hundreds of rooms, usually with their mother in attendance as a servant to provide assistance (towels, wash basins, etc), The order of the day was survival, and somehow the crushing need to sustain life made it all acceptable. Years of Japanese occupation had taken a heavy toll on the people of China.

    We lived through some history too, for it was in in that period that the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek was battling for control of China. On several occasions we were ordered to remain in our quarters while street fighting and other civil disturbances were taking place. It was after I left that the Chinese Nationalist set up their government in Taiwan.

    By far, the most entertaining part of my 6 months in China was my contacts with White Russians, a large community of Jews who had settled in the Tientsin area years before after leaving Russia. There is much more history there than I have explored, but I still recall many wonderful evenings in their homes, and attending dances at their private club, The Koontz Club. At the time I was a Corporal, and became a close friend of Sergeant Isadore Bergman, a Jewish marine from New York. He had a contact with one of the White Russian families and included me in a dinner invitation one evening, and fortunately for me that was the beginning of many nights spent in the company of those families.

    Dinners were always conducted the same way, no matter which family we were visiting. Dinner started promptly at 8 PM, with the senior male of the host family, often a grandfather, at the head of the table. Small glasses were filled with Vodka, and one did not drink until the head of the family raised his glass and toasted with, “Nazdarovye.” A Chinese servant would then refill the glasses and we let them sit there, ready for the next toast. I learned to drink Vodka, my first experience with it actually, at those wonderful dinners.

    We would take small gifts, sometimes a nice size chunk of butter from the mess hall, or a dozen eggs, whatever we could manage, and it was received with thanks and enthusiasm, as thought it were something of great value, which I suppose it was considering the time and situation. Once I took a pair of nylons as a gift, after requesting my Mother to send them, and I was hugged by all the women in the house.

    I never recall those times without remembering the rather lovely young woman who asked me to marry her, and as green as I was I still was smart enough to be suspicious of her motives, and besides that her proposal scared me witless. Some years later, after I was commissioned and on my way to join the 1st Marine Division in Korea, I ran across the Sergeant who actually married that girl and I asked him about her. His very brief response, clearly made in a way to indicate that he didn’t care to continue talking about it, was, “I never saw her again after the first day we arrived in the United States.” My wife of 60 years thinks that is an amusing story, but I think of it more as a tragedy, as I also think of the reasons which forced so many Chinese girls into prostitution at the end of World War II.

    Although I have never been to Hong Kong, your interesting letters bring back this flood of memories of my short adventure in China.

    Semper Fi,

    BB

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