Dispatches from the Twilight Zone
Relevance is not always an exhaustive criterion in Hong Kong journalism. A vague association, the merest hint of connection, a slim link between national prestige and local humdrum is often all it takes to crank out a feel-good headline. Hong Kong’s minority English-language newspapers, in particular, are adept at trumpeting thinly-disguised irrelevance as news. Not always, but it sneaks in there often enough. Consider the front page of today’s South China Morning Post. The banner headline tells of a high court judge who gave an oral ruling in an appeal case and then reversed his decision when he gave the formal written ruling eight months later. The judicial system under the spotlight, a real case for concern – now that’s worth reading about. But with equal billing at the top of the page is this far less explicable headline: “Astronauts confident HK can weather financial turmoil”.
And thus the spacemen speak.
In a world that matches naiveté and nous, credulity and common sense, this is not an entirely unsurprising headline. But it truly beggars belief that any newspaper, save perhaps the Weekly World News, would even try to cast astronauts as in any way knowledge about a very complex financial crisis. Still, the SCMP is ever willing to pander to the overlords of the north and their lesser representatives. The astronauts, members of the Shenzhou VII mission that featured China’s first spacewalk in September, are in town with their support crew to speak about their experience and, it seems, to relate that experience to Hong Kong, even if by the weakest of analogies.
The man who actually made the spacewalk, Zhai Zhigang, reportedly said that “he hoped Hong Kong people would ‘fly highest and quickest” to a better future’ “. Thank you, SCMP, for relaying that sage piece of advice. The Colonel in charge of the mission, Jing Haipeng, apparently spoke for the whole team we he said “we believe the hard-working and quick-witted Hong Kong people will be able to conquer the temporary difficulties ahead of them.” And that is as close as the article comes to actually mentioning the financial crisis.
It would be fair enough to say that the SCMP subeditor who devised the article’s headline isn’t one of the quick-witted people to whom Colonel Jing referred. And, without much of a stretch, Peggy Leung, the article’s author, can’t have been terribly hard working. This is just a fluff piece; it could have been written in twenty minutes with a transcript of the press conference in hand and offers nothing of significance about China’s space programme save the comment from the delegation head that “Hongkongers would be welcome to take part in the country’s space missions”. But given that Hong Kong is a city of 7 million people in a nation of over 1,300 million, the chances of that actually happening are remote.
So, allow me to offer a brief alternative to the article, extracting the petty detail and emphasising the subtext. It goes something like this: Hong Kong is special, but we should never forget that it’s part of China. And, for those who can do the maths, it’s only a very small part of the country (about half a percent of the population). All of the rest is but a vain attempt to dress doctrine up as news.