Fed up with the stream of depressing news as Hong Kong is slipped into a new set of chains? So am I. Therefore let us, for a change, consider the bright side of totalitarian rule. The future is not all gloomy.

Living with dictatorship does have a bright side, difficult though it may be to appreciate it under present circumstances. So here is a rough list of the pleasures we can look forward to:

File photo: Wikicommons.

Cool uniforms: let’s face it, dictators do tend to have strikingly well-dressed minions. The gold standard for uniform design, by general if slightly embarrassed consent, was set by Hitler’s fashion team.

Of course it takes time to change these things, but we already have our own set of Men in Black.

File photo: Studio Incendo.

Group calisthenics: nothing cheers up a drooping despot like the spectacle of a football pitch full of his loyal subjects, arrayed in neat rows and waving their arms around in a frenzy of healthy disciplined activity.

This was a big thing in Eastern Europe in the old Warsaw Pact days, and careful observers of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony will have noticed that it goes down well in the Imperial capital as well.

Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics 2008. File photo: Wikicommons.

Of course it is not just about the spectacle for the spectators. Participants are themselves taught the improving lesson that they are tiny cogs in a huge machine, and the alternative to discipline is chaos, as of course it is if you are trying to get several thousand people to do the same exercise at the same time.

Bigger parades: I’m afraid this is one area where democratic countries are a sad let-down. Apart from occasional bursts of Napoleonic nostalgia in France they do not do parades like their authoritarian competitors.

The Queen’s birthday in Britain is a good example. Just one Guards regiment doing an extended rendition of the sort of foot drill which won the Battle of Waterloo, and wearing uniforms from about the same era. Then you get a brief appearance from the Household Cavalry, and that’s it.

File photo: Wikicommons.

Your dictators, on the other hand, do not bother with nostalgic manoeuvres. They like their troops in solid square blocks, as here:

File photo: www.kremlin.ru, via Wikicommons.

This is a formation of no tactical significance. Indeed it is of very little use for anything except marching straight along a wide boulevard or square. If you imagine everyone wielding a long spear you could mistake it for an Ancient Greek phalanx, but they went out of style somewhere between Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.

The appearance is, though, most intimidating, which is no doubt the object of the exercise.

This brings us to Marching styles: Suggestions that Po-po, who set the local standard in these matters, should switch to something more Chinese, Russian, or (in origin) Prussian have so far been resisted. Only a matter of time, though, before we are treated to something like this:

File photo: www.kremlin.ru, via Wikicommons.

Swifter elections: Don’t you find elections a drag? We have a solution for this. The leaflets, the loudspeaker vans, the queues, the noise, the people … all become unnecessary with a simple innovation: only one candidate is allowed to run for each seat. 

Our leaders are well on the way to achieving this very considerable saving in stress, cash and impact on the environment. 

Did you know that the total spending on the last round of elections in the US was nearly US$11 billion. All that money down the drain. The next LegCo election, by contrast, could come down to a simple government press release announcing the winners, which actually we will already have known since the close of nominations and disqualifications.

Shorter meetings: We really cannot have Legislative Councillors sitting at their desks for eight hours a day in case some troublemaker challenges the quorum. It’s like having a real job, which is not what they signed up for at all.

The new, all-blue, opposition-free LegCo will go back to meetings of what you might call colonial length: everything done and dusted in one afternoon on Wednesdays. Urgent matters will be transacted by email on a “let me know if you are not happy with this” basis.

File photo: HKFP

Nostalgics who remember the all-appointed LegCo of the 80s, whose meetings were often derided as “scripted charades”, can look forward to looking backwards.

More gardening: Many students of life under Communism in Europe have noticed the proliferation of small but lovingly tended plots. The owners of these mini farms often spent most of their free time in them.

This was no doubt partly in an effort to supplement food supplies, but flowers were grown as well. It seems to have been a sort of displacement activity: if you have no control over your own life you can at least bully your onions.

I expect to see a proliferation of those places in the New Territories where, for a small fee, you can cultivate a plot roughly the size of a small desk. No daffodils please. They’re yellow.

Shorter trials: It is an ongoing scandal that Hong Kong’s courts are wasting so much time deciding matters which are really, as Mr Henry Litton has pointed out, quite simple. But we can expect to see considerable economies in time as the mainland’s frugal habits leak over the boundary.

File photo: Wikicommons.

It is said that in the English legal system you are innocent until proven guilty, while in some Civil Law systems you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. In the mainland legal system life is much simpler. You are presumed guilty until you confess, and then you’re really guilty.

This is the destination towards which Hong Kong judges and magistrates are being pushed and it will entail huge savings. Mainland trials are generally over in a matter of hours and more than 99 per cent of them end in convictions.

You can see why people used to this system might find Hong Kong’s present practices a bit of a puzzle. 

Constitutional language: The reality is that it is a waste of time to read the Basic Law, because it means whatever our rulers wish it to mean. By way of compensation we will be treated to a great deal of elaborate constitutional verbiage.

Thus a cynical observer might suppose that we were now helpless under the successors to a bunch of rural bandits who shot their way to power and kept it by running a nasty police state. The politically correct way of describing this is that Hong Kong is now engaged in accurately and fully implementing ‘one country two systems’ in accordance with national policy and the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Doesn’t that feel better?


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Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.