So, here we are in the Year of the Ox – kung hei all round. Apparently the characteristics of the year promise stable growth because the good old ox is both stable and honest.

It is not for me, a mere gweilo, to question the geomancers’ profound proclamations on what and what not to expect for the lunar new year but there is a much wider point to be made here, namely that few things in life are inevitable. Human beings are not so hopeless that they cannot change their own fate.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Yet fatalism has evolved as a major part of the narrative surrounding what’s been happening in Hong Kong. Readers will be more than familiar with how this goes as it runs along the lines of: “What did you expect would happen in a place ruled by the world’s largest dictatorship?” “Don’t you know that it is futile to challenge the power of a regime that is both brutal and, if nothing else, determined?” “Hongkongers should give up their illusions and settle down to accept reality”. I could go on but you get the picture.

In some ways the assertion of historical inevitability is a crude evocation of the Marxist creed of economic determinism. This is the belief that capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction because the relentless development of the economic system, dictated by the needs of capital, will inevitably lead to the creation of a socialist society.

Dragging poor old Karl into the picture is guaranteed to get the local Quislings twitching because most of them, poor dears, have never even read the great turgid tomes that supposedly underpin the beliefs of the system they so vigorously defend.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File photo: GovHK.

Because of this no more than a handful of the local cheerleaders will even be aware of one of the old man’s most famous maxims: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”.

As ever, Marx gets to the nub of things because, economic determinism notwithstanding, he is well aware that history is made and progress is achieved by, to put it crudely, getting off one’s backside and doing what it takes. Inevitability, in other words, needs a bloody great shove.

In some ways it is a great pity that the local defenders of the Communist faith are so mindbogglingly ignorant of what it is they are defending. They pride themselves on being pragmatists who can adopt to any given situation. The people who today avidly wave the five- star flag are, by and large, the very same people who were first in line to declare loyalty to the Union Jack. They follow in the footsteps of their predecessors from Hong Kong’s 1940s elite who spent the years of World War II collaborating with the Japanese occupiers.

Pragmatism as a guiding mantra often amounts to little more than opportunism for immediate benefit. On the other hand, the people who really change society for the better are anything but pragmatists. To challenge the status quo is to be removed from the comfort zone and exposed to risk, yet human progress is rarely achieved without risk. Moreover history tends to be much kinder to the risk-takers than it is to defenders of the status quo.

Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong’s self-proclaimed pragmatists cling desperately to the banner of “restoring order,” celebrating the end of mass protests and the incarceration of opponents. As they do so, the stamp of the jackboot casts an increasingly dark shadow over society. Some of the brightest and best Hongkongers are packing their bags to leave, companies from around the world are looking elsewhere to base their operations and the spark and dynamism that made Hong Kong flourish is steadily being extinguished.

Only those who wish Hong Kong ill will celebrate this state of affairs but to seek change requires courage and determination. Fate will not provide solutions. The inevitability of decline only becomes inevitable if good women and men stand aside and let it happen.

We will need more than “fat choi” in the Year of the Ox.

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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship