Friday, August 28, 2009


2047 is a magic number. According to Clause 3(12) of the Joint Declaration, the basic policies of PRC regarding Hong Kong are stipulated in the Basic Law and they will remain unchanged for 50 years. 1 July 2047 will be 50 years after the handover. This is a magic day when the effect of the Joint Declaration will lapse.

No one knows what will happen on that day. However, as the Basic Law provides for one country two systems with Hong Kong's institutions and systems remains unchanged, it may be speculated that they will change on that day back to one country one system. Some overly optimistic people say if Hong Kong proves to be successful and useful to PRC, then the Basic Law and the high degree autonomy will go on forever. On the other end of the scale, some pessimistic people say China will take over the governance of Hong Kong on 1 July 2047 and all institutions and systems may change overnight.

A possible scenario that both sides and the world may like to see is, in 2047 Mainland China and Hong Kong are similar in political systems, economy, and civic expectation. There is no need to change as we are the same. Either the PRC progresses to the level of Hong Kong life style, or Hong Kong gradually takes on board the Mainland lifestyle.

What prompts me to take a look at this topic is the latest issue of the Hong Kong Journal. In this issue, there are two major articles on the recent changes in the policies of PRC on Hong Kong. One is by Jie Cheng, an associate professor of law at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the other by Frank Ching, a Hong Kong journalist. The first one is The Story of a New Policy written from the PRC angle, and the other one How Beijing Plays Its Hand, as seen from Hong Kong. Both have observations that there are clear signs and actions that the PRC is steadily changing the policies by directly involving in Hong Kong politics.

The PRC has given Hong Kong time thinking that a close connection with the Mainland is sufficient to bring Hong Kong and Mainland to the same level in 50 years' time. Since the handover, she has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards Hong Kong. Academics agreed that the pivotal point is the protest march of 1 July 2003. Since then, PRC leaders noticed the role of political organizations in the process of mobilization and confrontation, and also the influence of foreign countries in the process. PRC has started to take firmer control of Hong Kong's internal affairs. In the coming years, we will see more authority assumed by mainland officials and certain Hong Kong residents they choose, with less remaining in the hands of Hong Kong’s own officials and the elected legislative council.

For Hong Kong to automatically integrate with the Mainland in 2047, there are several major issues which could be tackled in the ensuing years. On hardware, there are now much enhanced co-operation between Hong Kong and neighbouring ShenZhen and Guangdong. The on-going trend is that we are having integrated infrastructure across the border including roads, railways, airports and ferries. Daily commute between the two places is now common, both for work and schooling. There are talks on cross-border buffer areas where immigration rules are exempted. ShenZhen could even be open for unrestricted travelling with the checkpoints moving backwards. With ever advancing phases of CEPA, trading and services are integrated within a bigger and bigger special administrative region.

There are of course some more difficult issues such as currency and others. With the decline of the importance of US dollar worldwide, there will come a time, probably before 2047, that all countries abandon US dollar as the major reserve currency. Hong Kong dollars could then link with Renminbi, or change the legal tender to Renminbi altogether.

The major problems are the political system and the legal system. This is something PRC would like to intervene in order to bring about a smooth transition. As such, there is a very bumpy road ahead for the constitutional reform in Hong Kong. But we have plenty of time before 2047. We can wish for a change in Hong Kong as well as a change in the Mainland. In 2047, we could even be living on the Moon or Mars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009





Monday, August 17, 2009


by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

This book received a lot of attention when it came out in 2005 and sold three million copies worldwide. There were much commentaries everywhere claiming it had an extraordinary observation on many everyday life activities. Some startling quotations were circulated. But I never really took a serious look at the book. The craze went quiet after a few years. And then I found this paperback selling at a big discount. The content is more enjoyable than it looks.

The sub-title of the book is A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. It is co-authored by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Levitt is the economist. The book is based on some of his academic articles, re-written by Dubner who is a journalist, into easy reading.


While there are many interesting stories, I just take notes of a few topics of interest which in particular are controversial. Praise and criticism are mixed, depending on the value judgment of the readers, as well as their vested interest.

Conventional wisdom

Many of the ideas in the book are actually challenging conventional wisdom. As explained in Chapter three, this term is often credited to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith who used it in 1958. The original intention of the term is not a compliment. Conventional wisdom is made of ideas that are convenient, appealing and assumed by the public. It has a property that opposes the introduction of contrary belief, to the point of absurd denial of the new information.

To me, conventional wisdom is simple. They are supposed truth that your parents, teachers, priests, or bosses told you. They are not all delusions. In fact, there is a possibility that some of them are really true, within a special circumstance which may already be outdated. Conventional wisdom cannot be believed just for granted. They have to be thought through to see if they could be logically applied in the present tense. When this process is completed, the real truth will migrate from the realm of conventional wisdom into modern wisdom, or your own wisdom.

Where have all the criminals gone?

During a period of 15 years from 1975 to 1990, violent crime in USA rose by 80%. The situation was so bad that many sociologists predicted that the trend would worsen to an uncontrollable level. But starting from 1990, the crime rate started falling. it fell suddenly and with great speed that caught everyone by surprise. Naturally many parties came out to claim credit, including better policing, stricter penal term, better drug control, stronger economy, etc. Levitt did a research on these but none of them correlated. Al last, it boiled down to Roe v Wade which was a landmark case leading to the legalization of abortion in USA in 1973. Since then, there was an average of 1.6 million abortions per year. The theory was that these 1.6 million unborn children could have been potential criminals in their adulthood in the 90's. Many new blood criminals were just simply not born, thus resulting in a drop in crime rate.

This statement was severely criticized by the conservatives as well as the liberals. While many people including the religious people said this was a theory supporting the immoral abortion, the liberals was saying that this was a bias towards blacks and the poor who were more likely to have abortions. All are missing the point that what Levitt did was only a research of economics and sociology. His theory was: the women most likely to seek an abortion were the very women whose children, if born, have been shown most likely to become criminals. In very simple term, he said "Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness; abortion leads to less crime." There is no moral nor racial judgment.

What makes a perfect parent?

If you really want to know what makes a perfect parent, just note the sub-title of this chapter: Do parents really matter? Parents have two roles: the nature which is the gene as well as their family and education background, and the parenting which is the nurturing of the child. Levitt did some in-depth data mining in order to correlate these factors with the success of the child in school results. His data mine was the records of twenty thousand children under the ECLS Early Childhood Longitudinal Study in the US conducted in the late 1990's covering the progress of these children from kindergarten to the fifth grade. The data set included the test scores of the children and data collected through interviews with parents. Family background as well as parenting behaviour were recorded. The result: The background of parents correlated with the progress of the child, while parenting behaviour did not. There is a gap termed nature-nurture discrepancy. Good parents may have good children and vice versa; but good parenting may not have good children, similarly vice versa.

Parents do matter. But the bad news to parenting experts is that most of the things that matter have been decided long ago: who you are, whom you married, the kind of life you lead. If you are smart, hardworking, well educated, well paid, and married to someone equally fortunate, then there is a better chance that your children will succeed. But it isn't so much a matter of what you do as parent; it is who you are. Levitt drew an interesting comparison: An overbearing parent is like a political candidate who believes that money wins elections. In truth, all the money in the world can't get a candidate elected if the voters don't like him to start with.

But if not parenting, what influences the child most? There is another theory by the psychologist Judith Harris. She argued that parents are wrong to think they contribute so mightily to their child's personality. This is a cultural myth. Actually, top-down influence of parents is overwhelmed by the grassroot effect of peer pressure, the blunt force applied each day by friends and schoolmates. But surely parents must matter. Even if peers exert so much influence on a child, it is the parents who essentially choose a child's peer by choosing the right neighbourhood, the right school and the right circle of friends. Some good parents did.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


日前看到龔教授寫下面這個聖經的濫用與運用的議題,很有見地。龔立人教授是較開明的宗教學 者,不會懼怕指出教會的缺點。因為他的地位,他可以抗衡宗教主流迷思;亦因為他的地位,他仍有需要在宗教思維的圈圈內打轉。


但這總不能由教會說了就算。宗教一貫做法是查經,六十幾冊經文,總可以找到一句符合任何情況,教會說是呼召,總有辦法找到經文支持。以參選香港小姐為例,經書有說:以斯帖記 Esther 7:3 "王后以斯帖說,我若在王眼前蒙恩,王若以為美,我所願的,是願王將我的性命賜給我,我所求的,是求王將我的本族賜給我。" 以斯帖以美貌搏得國王歡心而救了她的一族。如果被呼召以美貌當選香港小姐是否很多香港人得救?龔教授的論點是,用以斯帖記將參選香港小姐合理化,說以美貌謀取權力,或權利,是聖經的濫用。不過龔教授仍將香港小姐硬性歸類,認為爭取居港權或參加六四晚會和她們無關。

如何才是運用聖經呢?龔教授用他的說法去解釋以斯帖記;我不作詳述,大家可以上網看看他的網誌。大意是以斯帖因為敬畏神才有此無私的做法。不過這只是自我引申的解釋,因為經書沒有提及神,而以斯帖得寵後才作此事對她自己並無壞影響。龔教授的結論是 以斯帖的美貌和其族得救並無必然的關係。美貌與智慧只是一個口號,不是真實的,以斯帖的經驗沒有支持選美的正當性。我卻認為如果以斯帖不是因為美貌而得寵,其族可能會面臨大災難。


就以參加香港小姐為例,聖經的根據可能是以斯帖的經驗。那麼,以斯帖的經驗是甚麼經驗?簡單來說,她以美貌贏取王后,而她王后的位份成為拯救猶太人免被殺戮一個很重要的原因。但這故事是否說明美貌有它的價值而其價值可以帶來權力,改變不公義,造福人民呢?若以一種經驗相類似閱讀以斯帖的經驗時,有人將參加香港小姐選美合理化。若是,我們是否也可以攪香港靚模選舉?查實,我最大的關心不是選美,而是參加者將美貌與權力拉上關係。不論以經濟或社會地位解釋美貌所牽涉的權力,這是一種對權力的迷思,而缺乏對權力背後的霸權之批判。例如,將美貌等於「三圍數字」、以某種泳裝出現和以娛樂觀眾等等時,這已是一種權力的操縱。可惜的是,在爭取權力時,參加者願意成為這種對女性界定的女性,並將它合理化。我這樣說法是否 反對選美會?這不是我今日要討論的課題,而是我對於那以為透過美貌贏取的權力就可以做很多很有價值的事之論述表示懷疑。不錯,香港小姐關懷貧窮人的行動可以推動社會公益,但真正影響社會的卻是德蘭修女式的身體力行,而不是一種宣傳式的呼籲。再者,我沒有看見香港小姐站出來為居港權人士的爭取,卻看見甘神父。同樣,我也沒有看見有香港小姐參加六四晚會。原來,香港小姐的在權力下是在受她倚賴的權力控制。