HK's protesters need to learn critical thinking

Updated: 2014-09-29 05:47

By Ho Lok-sang(HK Edition)

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Student activists who boycott classes and "Central occupiers" who rally against the political reform package claim that they have independent thinking, and will fight until the central and SAR governments yield to their demands. As an educator, I am happy students have such a strong sense of mission and a willingness to make sacrifices for a better world. But I hope they also have the courage to be sensible and considerate whenever they take actions that may affect others. Holding and cherishing high ideals is one thing, hurting oneself and others is quite another. Adults, particularly educators, should be cool-headed, and should inform and educate students and citizens about options beyond defiance and "civil disobedience."

As a long-time observer of student movements and social issues, I must say independent and critical thinking is not the hallmark of youth. Indeed it is not even the hallmark of adults, especially when they're embroiled in mass movements and political struggles. If independent critical thinking is so prevalent, in the sense of a critical examination of risk versus reward for society before people act, the world would have been far more beautiful, and many tragedies would have been avoided. The reality is that human history is littered with examples of different factions fighting each other, as in the case of Shiites versus Sunnis, and the violence seems to get worse each day. Former US president George W. Bush claimed the Iraq war was a "just war". We cannot say Bush did not have any independent thinking. He was the US president, and the war enjoyed the support of both Republican and Democratic parties. Congressmen who voted in support of the war are certainly capable of independent thinking. If adults can be wrong, so can students.

The fact is: Independent thinking can be blinded by arrogance and a lack of critical thinking. I hope that students and activists will think seriously about what rewards and what risks their actions may bring to Hong Kong and to the nation, and that they try to understand why the central government is worried about potential candidates who oppose the mainland's political system.

HK's protesters need to learn critical thinking

Most "pan-democrats" do not accept the current political system on the mainland, which they equate without critical thinking with totalitarianism or dictatorial rule. But this conclusion is premature, and is certainly not based on evidence. The central government has been responsive to the needs of the people and done much for the welfare of its citizens, to the extent that these days many foreigners have chosen to live permanently in China. The central government has outperformed many democratically elected foreign governments in serving its people. For example, the World Bank acknowledged China's remarkable achievement in alleviating poverty; great progress has been made to protect workers' rights; healthcare and social insurance have improved significantly; and judicial reform is an ongoing exercise that will help establish the rule of law. The central government is working hard to prevent corruption and the abuse of power by officials. Although the central leaders are not popularly elected, they are subject to specified terms of office and are selected through rigorous mechanisms that ensure their suitability as leaders.

President Xi Jinping recently talked about consultative democracy, clearly distinct from the adversarial democracy of the West. The spirit of consultative democracy is that decisions are supposedly for the common good. The spirit of adversarial democracy, conversely, is that elected politicians supposedly serve the private interests of the constituents who vote them into power. There is no evidence that adversarial democracy is more effective than consultative democracy. Imposing adversarial democracy upon others, as though it were the only legitimate form of democracy, is paradoxically undemocratic.

Some "pan-democrats" claim the political reform framework, passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), is aimed at screening out those with political views differing from those of Beijing. But who holds "a different political point of view"? Why would Beijing screen out strong candidates? As NPCSC Chairman Zhang Dejiang has explained, Beijing's bottom-line is only that any candidate must not oppose the mainland's political system. Any serious candidate for Chief Executive (CE) must certainly understand that the role of the CE is to serve Hong Kong and the country. Is it too much to expect that he or she must love Hong Kong and the country? If a "pan-democrat" loves Hong Kong and the country, why should anyone assume that the NC would screen him/her out?

The author is director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at Lingnan University.

(HK Edition 09/29/2014 page7)