Friday, October 3, 2014

从香港抗议看“法制”、自由与英文语言的必要 Rule of Law vs. Rule by Law

From Hong Kong Protest to See Rule of Law, British Colonial Tradition and the Importance of English Language


By Kai Chen 陈凯, October 3, 2014

As I watched the BBC coverage on Hong Kong student protest, I deeply sensed a very disturbing and sad phenomenon – an entirely opposite interpretation of the British tradition of Rule of Law from its original meaning by a Chinese speaking population.  As some physical altercation broke out between pro-Beijing Chinese speaking mobs and mostly English speaking student protesters, a Beijing’s mouthpiece appearing on BBC accused the student of violating “rule of law”.  And the students on the program somehow are acquiescent of such absurd accusation, using “civil disobedience” as their only defense.  I observed a horrible mal-interpretation of the concept of “rule of law”.  And such misunderstanding of the concept will possibly lead to meaningless actions and negative consequences, even tragedy. 

Under the British rule before 1997, English language is the basis to understanding legal and political terms and concepts.  And the concept of “rule of law” was based on the principle that freedom is God-given and laws are human attempt to safeguard individual freedom by curbing human abuses from the government.  Hong Kong residents, though without election, enjoyed maximum individual freedom with minimum government corruption.  This situation has been gradually reversed with the British departure in 1997.  The influx of Chinese speaking government officials and mainland residents gradually erodes the “rule of law”.  Instead, “rule by law” increasing becomes the norm. 

In Chinese language, there is no difference between “rule of law” and “rule by law”.   They are all mixed together into two characters “Fa Zhi”.  Yet the two concepts are entirely opposite to each other:  “Rule of law” as understood with English language is to ensure that government be not governed by some dictator’s whim to trample on individuals’ freedoms.  “Rule by law” as commonly understood in Chinese is that government has the ultimate authority to make laws to control the individuals and govern the society.  The former is for freedom.  The latter is for slavery and despotism. 

Since 1997, rule of law and individual freedom have been gradually and unmistakably eroded and taken away.  More and more, fear of government, corruption of government officials, self-censorship of the media, toeing government official lines and a Fascist tendency of businesses serving Beijing’s government interests become prevalent.  Now the “White Paper” Beijing issued to blatantly violate the “Basic Law” established to safeguard Hong Kong people’s freedom was the result of more than a decade of cultural erosion.  A despotic culture aimed only to preserve the power of the government and the interests of those who are associated with Beijing gradually stifles the way of life Hong Kong residents enjoyed, even took for granted, under the British rule.  Fear replaces joy and achievement to have become the new norm of Hong Kong.  Lies, falsehood and dead silence in the face of injustice and repression, all in the name of unity, peace, maintaining status quo in order not to offend Beijing masters permeated a culture in which a moral standard of human contact and doing business was a general rule.  Lawlessness from Beijing and the despotic Chinese cultural tradition of parental government and infantile people dependent on the rulers have edged away individual freedom under the British rule.  Now the same rhetoric from those with confused mind and fear of government to defend Beijing’s “rule by law” comes out again and again to attack the student protesters. 

Who has broken the law in the first place?  It is not the students.  It is Beijing and the communist party-dynasty which bases their legitimacy only by the muzzles of guns and by lies and deceptions.  Who will be the ultimate victims of such lawlessness in Hong Kong?  It is not just the students.  It is the entire population of Hong Kong and especially the business community.  Without trust and with a moral code broken down under Beijing’s iron fist, no meaningful transaction of values will happen.  True stability will disappear with Beijing’s irrational orders aimed only to save the communist dynasty.  Instead, stagnation and silence will reign supreme and the population of Hong Kong will be “Zombified” to become soulless walking dead. 

I am glad to have witnessed that most Hong Kong student protesters are English-proficient.  They are able to communicate with the rest of the world with logic and reason, thanks to English language.  There is an unmistakable gap of understanding the world between those who speak English language and those who are stuck with their ancient irrational mother tone.  With a logical language, questioning Beijing’s government and its legitimacy is a natural extension of using the language.  This is probably the most conspicuous difference between Hong Kong protesters and the crowd on Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

In the long run, the student protesters with their goal to ensure a genuine election and democracy in Hong Kong are protecting Hong Kong’s business interest and prosperity, not harming it.  Those who have come out to criticize the student protesters should understand their own mal-interpretation of “rule of law”, confusing with their Chinese despotic tradition of “rule by law”.  They should also understand Hong Kong must go forward toward a future of freedom, not being dragged backward toward a hopeless and soulless existence under the guns of their Beijing masters.  Most of all, they should keenly understand the fundamental premises of “rule of law” – Freedom is God-given, not bestowed upon them by government as some beneficent charity. 
Thomas Bartlett: 

Very eloquent and correct. May I forward this to the China-POL list?

Thomas Bartlett
Visitng Professor
Stanford University

Yesterday at 12:31pm · 10/3/14


Kai Chen: Absolutely Thomas. Please spread this message. It is very important for HK student and people who support the protest to understand the moral foundation of their argument.
Yesterday at 3:23pm · 10/3/14


Personal bio of Professor Thomas Bartlett: 

Thomas Bartlett has taught modern and classical Chinese at Cambridge (1975-76), Princeton (1977-79), Harvard (1987-94), Johns Hopkins (1995-96), and La Trobe (1996-1999) Universities, and modern Chinese at Middlebury (1973, 1983, 1987), Wellesley (1986), and Swarthmore (1987) Colleges, before coming to Stanford in 2010. He received the BA (cum laude) in Classics at Harvard (1961), with a thesis on Aeschylus' drama "Agamemnon", read in Greek. Five years' residence (1967-72) as a student in Taipei, Taiwan, ROC, led to receipt of the MA (1972) in early Chinese history at National Taiwan University, with a thesis on Confucian historiographical thought. In 1978 Bartlett was a finalist in the Department of State's selection of a full-time Mandarin interpreter. In 1980 he resided in Beijing, PRC, for six months as interpreter and translator for a major international corporation in contract negotiations with various Chinese official and commercial entities. In 1985 he completed the PhD at Princeton, with a dissertation on Gu Yanwu (1613-82), a classical scholar whose encyclopedic record of China's cultural heritage is widely recognized as an invaluable resource by modern researchers, and whose study of poetic rhymes was very influential in the history of Chinese linguistics. In 1987 Bartlett declined the award of a Mellon post-doctoral fellowship, when told by the offering institution that affirmative action guidelines would make him uncompetitive for a subsequent teaching position there. In 1989 his proficiency in Chinese was graded at level 4 (of 5) by the US Foreign Service Institute. From mid-1989 through 1994, Bartlett was Professor of Chinese Language and Director of Harvard's Chinese Language Program. In 1995-96 he was Director of the Language Teaching Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. From 1996 to 2010, he lived in Melbourne, Australia, and taught Chinese history at La Trobe University. His published writings have included articles on Gu Yanwu, on early Chinese history and, recently, a survey history of China's Song dynasty (960-1279), in Berkshire Encyclopedia of China. He is currently interested in the history of the word "Zhongguo", meaning "Central State", now usually translated as "China", and looks forward to publishing his doctoral dissertation.


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