Wow, this is quite a rant by somebody going by the name Beifeng (found via ESWN). Now, I don't really want to comment on the Oiwan case. Somehow I just couldn't see it as being as important as others have argued. And although I'm generally supportive of non-violent civil disobedience in support of a good cause, I can't see the cause in question as being so important or having reached the stage where civil disobedience becomes necessary. And besides, before you engage in civil disobedience you have to understand and accept that such actions have certain legal consequences. Civil disobedience should not be undertaken lightly. Dammit, now I've gone and told you my views on the Oiwan case, and I didn't really want to comment on it at all. Silly thing is, I haven't really thought much about the case, just observed it from my little corner of Chaoyang, and the opinions I just expressed when I didn't really want to express them just came out of nowhere. Thinking out loud, if thinking on a computer screen can be called out loud.
Anyway, before this develops more tangents than a high school maths textbook, the subject at hand: That letter to Oiwan linked to above is quite a rant. It contains some very good points and some digressions and tangents that make this rant seem on topic and some.... odd things, too. And the title of the letter is an oddity:
To a Chinese Trapped in White Morality
As is the opening:
You must have heard before how the gweilo pronounce 林? Lamb. They just can’t get the intonation right. Perhaps they have defective tongues. All of them.
Well, I won't speak for Hong Kong's gweilo, but I assure you this laowai pronounces 林 'Lin'.
But, as I said, some good points are made:
Yet, the moment you begin that thought, you invariably suggest you know what is true morality. And when you challenge TELA with a pair of open tits, you are, in effect, asserting your individual sense of moral worth; you are saying your righteousness is lawfully right, and TELA’s is wrong. But your righteousness is your definition of morality. Why, then, should anybody accept your moral definition by sparing money for your defence, regardless of whether the morality is lawful or not?
It is the called the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance. That, ultimately, is the law you have to fight not TELA or its functionaries. Presumably, your defence is that the article or photograph is not within the definition of indecent. Again, whose definition? Your definition? Why should anybody accept your definition?
In short, there is a lot of subjectivity in definition. Weighed also into the individual interpretation of what is called decent or indecent, there are social circumstances, culture sensitivities, and moral age. To accuse TELA of being unreasonable, or without common sense, misses the point.
All moral statements – “my exposed tits are decent”, for example – are purely subjective, argumentative statements. They are neither true nor false; they are nonsensical, and they merely represent your wish. Your wish, unfortunately, may not be TELA’s and may not be consonant with the law. In TELA, there is no double standard because there is no fixed, good for all times, for all purposes, single objective standard in the applicable law.
Well, I'm not convinced that the fight should be with the law instead of with TELA or its functionaries. It seems to me that a large part of the problem is TELA's cackhanded application of the law. But yes, absolutely: Who is Oiwan Lam (or Rebecca Mackinnon or Roland Soong or me or anybody) to arbitrarily shout "TELA is wrong, I am right, this photo is not indecent!" It does often seem that liberals are not really as liberal as they claim and they spend just as much time trying to impose their standards on society as the conservatives who seem to have taken over TELA. But on the other hand, I don't think this is the point. Oiwan's posting of a photo of a topless woman may have been ill-advised, and Beifeng does make a good point in that Oiwan sounds like a TELA official arbitrarily imposing standards of what is decent or indecent, but the point of posting that photo was to expose the serious problems in TELA's application of the law and the absurdities that result from TELA's actions.
And another problem with this rant is that Beifeng flies off into some odd little tangents:
This kind of liberalism has lead countless white men, and now you, into believing the following: relativity, no values, diversity and so on.
Uh.... Why is the invocation of "white men" necessary here?
This is why your situation looks perverse and absurd inside a Chinese society: a white ideological convert now has to fight the law on the same white terms that converted her - and she doesn’t even know it.
Oh, I see, now Oiwan is some kind of neo-colonial subject. Right.
Guess who passed those laws? That’s not even the end of the matter, Hong Kong now imports more white liberals, like MacKinnon, to educate the Chinese? What do they “educate”? How to be liberal like you?
This, then, is the situation: Hong Kong in the past imported white preachers to tell the Chinese god exists, all should accept his morality or go to hell. Now it imports other secular preachers to tell us the morality that came before is actually … relative, subject to individuals. Don’t you see: this is the present day absurdity in western societies that you look up to?
Ah, yes, clearly it is a case of the continued colonisation of Hong Kong. The white governors and preachers may have gone, but now the educators have taken their place. Oops, should've put scare quotes around "educators".
We, our generation and generations to come, have to pay for the sins of colonialism, and you don’t even realise it.
Welcome to the real world, Beifeng, it's the same in every former colony, even for those of us descended from the colonisers.
By the way, Hong Kong, by demographics, by culture, by constitution, by geography, by history, by politics, by sovereignty, by blood, by birth right – the rights derived from our forefathers and as descendents of Huangdi – is a Chinese not a cosmopolitan city. Get that straight.
Oh no, why did you have to do that? Why'd you have to resort to the fenqing tactics and reasoning? This is a really good way to shoot yourself in the foot, this kind of argument. Take an honest look at China and its history: Currently there are 56 officially recognised ethnic groups, and the largest is so diverse in language, culture, "blood" (genetics, really, get that straight) that I find it hard to accept as one single ethnic group. Now, add in the myriad ethnic groups that have passed through, settled down and been absorbed into the Han and the constant and massive cultural, scientific and technological exchange between China and the outside world that has been happening for millienia all of a sudden 'Chinese' looks like a synonym for 'cosmopolitan'. Sorry, appeals to nationalism never work. Why? Because it is so easy to show up such ranting for what it is: silly, childish, ill-informed nonsense.
Now, can you see why you are not TELA’s victim? You are the victim of an ideological import, available today via your white liberal buddies. They and their moral, aesthetic and cultural relativism and their postmodernist pieties - free expression, body art, “high culture”, diversity, human rights - goaded you into this mess which they and their ancestors before them had jointly cooked up in the first place in their own homes - one against the other - and which Hong Kong subsequently imported.
Now, I would agree that Oiwan is not TELA's victim, but if you're going to free Hong Kong of these pernicious ideological imports, then what is next? Should Buddhist temples be burned down and the monks shipped off to Qinghai for reeducation? Isn't Buddhism an Indian ideological import keeping Chinese minds enslaved? Or maybe Oiwan should ignore you and continue on with one of China's oldest and finest traditions: importing from outside that which is good and useful and adapting it to Chinese needs. After all, Beifeng, that is how you got to be writing a blog in English.
Post Script: If somebody again tells you “hang in there”, tell the person: It is not your neck at the end of the rope, so shut up.
Excellent point. On this, I agree with you whole-heartedly.
Well, despite the many flaws in it, this rant of Beifeng's certainly counts as the most interesting and entertaining episode in the ongoing saga of Oiwan, and Beifeng does have some good points to make. Trouble is, Beifeng also manages to reinforce my impression that the nationalists who react to colonialism are just as colonised as the "Uncle Toms".
Having said all that, let me just make this statement: Although I disagree with Oiwan's tactics and I don't see this issue as being as important as some are making out, I am generally supportive of the goal of sorting out TELA and the problems it has created. I would probably be more supportive if I lived in Hong Kong. I would certainly be supportive if there was any evidence that TELA was going to start calssifying inconvenient political speech as indecent or obscene as part of some government conspiracy to harmonise Hong Kong, but the real issue with political speech, so far as I can tell, is media self-censorship, and not TELA prudes getting all hot and bothered at the sight of a nipple.