Looking back to life in the future

City talk | Cheng Huan 26 Jul 2021

After 20 years of writing a weekly column, the time has come for some nostalgic navel-gazing and personal reflections.

Like a locomotive that steadily gathers speed, the years also seem to pass more and more quickly.

It does not feel like that long ago when I first put pen to paper and wrote my first book, Defending the Law, but that was way back in 2008. A second one appeared a few years later.

Then my publishers asked for a third. It was launched last week at the Book Fair.

Reflections is a collection of observations and opinions about the past, present and future.

It kicks off with a collection of reminiscences of my early childhood, my formative time as a young and no doubt wide-eyed schoolboy, and the arduous pleasures of the study of the law in London and at the University of Cambridge.

A second section considers some areas of the criminal law that have persistently crossed my desk. Dai pai dongs, money laundering, plea bargains, bind overs, private tenancy allowances, even bankruptcy are some of the subjects that have interested and occasionally entertained me.

A third part brings together a small selection of the more than 700 articles I have written in past years.

Some concern the law or have some residual connection with the law, but to lighten the legal load there are many articles on a host of non-legal subjects.

They include favorite trips overseas, the future of Hong Kong after years of upheaval, HSBC's tortuous and split loyalties, Hong Kong's protest movement, the environment, law and anarchy and even goings-on in the art world.

"How to live a long life," "When drink can be your best friend," "Money and riots - are they connected?" "The tale of two murders and no justice," "It's time to build homes, not infrastructure," "Beware being on the wrong side of history," "How will the turmoil end," "Beware of the BNO," "Sakura watching in Japan" - I have tried to cover almost all the bases.

To wrap up things, the book ends with a short appreciation of a wonderful lady called Enid Howes and her dutiful husband Douglas, whose lives were perfect exemplars of charity, generosity, loyalty and honesty. They were eternally kind to me and I have put together my reflections on their extraordinary lives - lives lived in the now-forgotten world of colonial Malaya.

After all, if we are to make good use of the future, we need to respect and learn from the past.

Despite the disruptions of recent years, I remain stubbornly optimistic about Hong Kong's future.

Of course, it is passing through a period of significant but, I believe, very necessary change as it evolves from its rather old-fashioned colonial past and becomes a modern 21st century Chinese city.

Hong Kong has always surprised its skeptics and I have no doubt it is about to do so again.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clearer by the day that since 1997, Hong Kong rested too much on its old colonial laurels.

Rather than using 1997 as an opportunity to embrace change, there was too much emphasis on clinging to the old ways of doing things.

While the mainland eagerly grasped new technology, ditched old analog and went new digital, Hong Kong changed little.

To match cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai, we have a lot of catching up to do.

I remember well that in the years before the late 1990s, Hong Kong was a fiercely apolitical place. Nobody mentioned politics. The subjects that seemed to dominate conversation concerned social matters and, of course, business and money. Politics did not stand a chance.

Let's hope Hong Kong can return to those golden days when political discord did not exist.

Cheng Huan is an author and a senior counsel who practices in Hong Kong

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