Thursday, October 07, 2004

Almost Cut My Hair
I'm guessing that Hong Kong politics gets little international coverage aside from some cursory wire stories about the recent election. But there's a novice legislator in his late 40s who dominates the pages and TV screens here who has had me increasingly intrigued, amused and occasionally irritated. His name is Leung Kwok-hung, but because of his nearly waist-length black mane he's always referred to in news stories by his nickname, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung.
Or more accurately, the boiler plate intro to a Long Hair story - much like old wire service cliches such as "roving bands of Negro youths" or "the victim, whose nude, partially decomposed body" etc. - usually reads: "Clad in his trade-mark Che Guevera T-shirt, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung..." and then goes on to detail the latest public near-outrage he's committed.
To someone who grew up in the US in the '60s and '70s, he's either a throwback - a Chinese Abbie Hoffman of sorts - or a guy who today wouldn't draw a second look in my hometown, Boulder. As a proud, loud radical activist sporting St. Che on his chest and, as he did most recently before and after he took his oath of office, punching the air with a People Power salute and screaming in Chinese and English, "Reverse the verdict on June 4 (Tiananmen Square massacre)! Power to the people! End one-party rule! Release the political prisoners!" it's a virtual wet, green loogie launched in the bland, scrubbed face of a society which emphasizes and celebrates group harmony above and beyond the individual. There's a Chinese proverb, like the Japanese one about hammering down the protruding nail, that warns that a bird which flies from the flock will be shot down.
Long Hair flies alone and suffice to say he's shaken up the staid, largely Beijing-rubber stamp legislature. His election victory was unexpected and his agenda, his attire and his naked contempt for the Hong Kong powers-that-be have already almost had him evicted from the legislature before he's served a day. Indeed, before he was elected he was arrested several times for the kind of shenanigans that he's engaging in now.
Which is why though I admire his populist ideals and his committment to getting Beijing to give Hong Kong direct, universal sufferage and to acknowledge the Tiananmen Square massacre for what it was, he sometimes frustrates me. He's been handed an opportunity to bend the system from within and is close to blowing it before he begins.
The irony of a guy in a Che Guevera T-shirt pissing off a bunch of neo-communists has been lost, though. As far as I can discern, irony as we know it is largely unknown in China - it seems to be distinctively Western - and I'm not even sure Long Hair realizes the twist. Che, like Mao is becoming, is now nothing more than an international fashion icon for clothing, wallets, ash trays and all manner of overpriced bling-bling.
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