quite a rant

July 25th, 2007

Wow, this is quite a rant by somebody going by the name Beifeng (found via ESWN). Now, I don’t really want to comment on the Oiwan case. Somehow I just couldn’t see it as being as important as others have argued. And although I’m generally supportive of non-violent civil disobedience in support of a good cause, I can’t see the cause in question as being so important or having reached the stage where civil disobedience becomes necessary. And besides, before you engage in civil disobedience you have to understand and accept that such actions have certain legal consequences. Civil disobedience should not be undertaken lightly. Dammit, now I’ve gone and told you my views on the Oiwan case, and I didn’t really want to comment on it at all. Silly thing is, I haven’t really thought much about the case, just observed it from my little corner of Chaoyang, and the opinions I just expressed when I didn’t really want to express them just came out of nowhere. Thinking out loud, if thinking on a computer screen can be called out loud.

Anyway, before this develops more tangents than a high school maths textbook, the subject at hand: That letter to Oiwan linked to above is quite a rant. It contains some very good points and some digressions and tangents that make this rant seem on topic and some…. odd things, too. And the title of the letter is an oddity:

 To a Chinese Trapped in White Morality

Uh oh.

As is the opening:

You must have heard before how the gweilo pronounce 林? Lamb. They just can’t get the intonation right. Perhaps they have defective tongues. All of them.

Well, I won’t speak for Hong Kong’s gweilo, but I assure you this laowai pronounces æž— ‘Lin’.

But, as I said, some good points are made:

Yet, the moment you begin that thought, you invariably suggest you know what is true morality. And when you challenge TELA with a pair of open tits, you are, in effect, asserting your individual sense of moral worth; you are saying your righteousness is lawfully right, and TELA’s is wrong. But your righteousness is your definition of morality. Why, then, should anybody accept your moral definition by sparing money for your defence, regardless of whether the morality is lawful or not?


It is the called the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance. That, ultimately, is the law you have to fight not TELA or its functionaries. Presumably, your defence is that the article or photograph is not within the definition of indecent. Again, whose definition? Your definition? Why should anybody accept your definition?

In short, there is a lot of subjectivity in definition. Weighed also into the individual interpretation of what is called decent or indecent, there are social circumstances, culture sensitivities, and moral age. To accuse TELA of being unreasonable, or without common sense, misses the point.


All moral statements – “my exposed tits are decent�, for example – are purely subjective, argumentative statements. They are neither true nor false; they are nonsensical, and they merely represent your wish. Your wish, unfortunately, may not be TELA’s and may not be consonant with the law. In TELA, there is no double standard because there is no fixed, good for all times, for all purposes, single objective standard in the applicable law.

Well, I’m not convinced that the fight should be with the law instead of with TELA or its functionaries. It seems to me that a large part of the problem is TELA’s cackhanded application of the law. But yes, absolutely: Who is Oiwan Lam (or Rebecca Mackinnon or Roland Soong or me or anybody) to arbitrarily shout “TELA is wrong, I am right, this photo is not indecent!”  It does often seem that liberals are not really as liberal as they claim and they spend just as much time trying to impose their standards on society as the conservatives who seem to have taken over TELA. But on the other hand, I don’t think this is the point. Oiwan’s posting of a photo of a topless woman may have been ill-advised, and Beifeng does make a good point in that Oiwan sounds like a TELA official arbitrarily imposing standards of what is decent or indecent, but the point of posting that photo was to expose the serious problems in TELA’s application of the law and the absurdities that result from TELA’s actions.

And another problem with this rant is that Beifeng flies off into some odd little tangents:

This kind of liberalism has lead countless white men, and now you, into believing the following: relativity, no values, diversity and so on.

Uh…. Why is the invocation of “white men” necessary here?

This is why your situation looks perverse and absurd inside a Chinese society: a white ideological convert now has to fight the law on the same white terms that converted her – and she doesn’t even know it.

Oh, I see, now Oiwan is some kind of neo-colonial subject. Right.

Guess who passed those laws? That’s not even the end of the matter, Hong Kong now imports more white liberals, like MacKinnon, to educate the Chinese? What do they “educate�? How to be liberal like you?


This, then, is the situation: Hong Kong in the past imported white preachers to tell the Chinese god exists, all should accept his morality or go to hell. Now it imports other secular preachers to tell us the morality that came before is actually … relative, subject to individuals. Don’t you see: this is the present day absurdity in western societies that you look up to?

Ah, yes, clearly it is a case of the continued colonisation of Hong Kong. The white governors and preachers may have gone, but now the educators have taken their place. Oops, should’ve put scare quotes around “educators”.

We, our generation and generations to come, have to pay for the sins of colonialism, and you don’t even realise it.

Welcome to the real world, Beifeng, it’s the same in every former colony, even for those of us descended from the colonisers.

By the way, Hong Kong, by demographics, by culture, by constitution, by geography, by history, by politics, by sovereignty, by blood, by birth right – the rights derived from our forefathers and as descendents of Huangdi – is a Chinese not a cosmopolitan city. Get that straight.

Oh no, why did you have to do that? Why’d you have to resort to the fenqing tactics and reasoning? This is a really good way to shoot yourself in the foot, this kind of argument. Take an honest look at China and its history: Currently there are 56 officially recognised ethnic groups, and the largest is so diverse in language, culture, “blood” (genetics, really, get that straight) that I find it hard to accept as one single ethnic group. Now, add in the myriad ethnic groups that have passed through, settled down and been absorbed into the Han and the constant and massive cultural, scientific and technological exchange between China and the outside world that has been happening for millienia all of a sudden ‘Chinese’ looks like a synonym for ‘cosmopolitan’. Sorry, appeals to nationalism never work. Why? Because it is so easy to show up such ranting for what it is: silly, childish, ill-informed nonsense.

Now, can you see why you are not TELA’s victim? You are the victim of an ideological import, available today via your white liberal buddies. They and their moral, aesthetic and cultural relativism and their postmodernist pieties – free expression, body art, “high cultureâ€?, diversity, human rights – goaded you into this mess which they and their ancestors before them had jointly cooked up in the first place in their own homes - one against the other  - and which Hong Kong subsequently imported.

Now, I would agree that Oiwan is not TELA’s victim, but if you’re going to free Hong Kong of these pernicious ideological imports, then what is next? Should Buddhist temples be burned down and the monks shipped off to Qinghai for reeducation? Isn’t Buddhism an Indian ideological import keeping Chinese minds enslaved? Or maybe Oiwan should ignore you and continue on with one of China’s oldest and finest traditions: importing from outside that which is good and useful and adapting it to Chinese needs. After all, Beifeng, that is how you got to be writing a blog in English.

Post Script: If somebody again tells you “hang in there�, tell the person: It is not your neck at the end of the rope, so shut up.

Excellent point. On this, I agree with you whole-heartedly.

Well, despite the many flaws in it, this rant of Beifeng’s certainly counts as the most interesting and entertaining episode in the ongoing saga of Oiwan, and Beifeng does have some good points to make. Trouble is, Beifeng also manages to reinforce my impression that the nationalists who react to colonialism are just as colonised as the “Uncle Toms”.

Having said all that, let me just make this statement: Although I disagree with Oiwan’s tactics and I don’t see this issue as being as important as some are making out, I am generally supportive of the goal of sorting out TELA and the problems it has created. I would probably be more supportive if I lived in Hong Kong. I would certainly be supportive if there was any evidence that TELA was going to start calssifying inconvenient political speech as indecent or obscene as part of some government conspiracy to harmonise Hong Kong, but the real issue with political speech, so far as I can tell, is media self-censorship, and not TELA prudes getting all hot and bothered at the sight of a nipple.

17 Responses to “quite a rant”

  1. John Says:

    Hong Kong’s current theme does seem to be that after ten years, the dead hand of the colonisers is strangling the locals’ attempts to become real Chinese people again. From what I know about Hong Kong and its history, it always seems to have been a perfectly Chinese city that was merely under foreign management for a while.

    When I saw pictures of Hong Kong from early to the middle of last century, I was expecting to see a lot more English on signs as a marker of colonial rule, but didn’t. Everything was in Chinese. Perhaps the real difference is morals and social behaviour which have been coloured by colonial rule, but I don’t think that’s detrimental.

    I also note that no mention is made of Hong Kong’s south Asian community, who are obviously native to Hong Kong, although I suppose that they’d be labelled a consequence of colonialism.

    As for Oiwan Lam, I haven’t really been paying attention to that. I know there are boobies involved and that TELA has been reacting hysterically, but from what I can tell, the whole matter has been blown out of all proportion.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Well, I don’t know much about the history of Hong Kong, but Beifeng’s hysterical nationalist ranting really does not do anything to help anybody.

    And yes, I think the Oiwan saga has been blown way, way out of proportion. “Storm in a teacup” somehow doesn’t quite seem adequate.

  3. Lonnie Says:

    I think where everyone is missing the boat–I am not even going to comment on the racist blather at North Wind-on the Oiwan thing is that is it about her….It is about a Tribunal that, by law, can arbitrate morality based on whim, not objective standards…These guys can throw accused people into financial ruin as they defend themselves or actually toss them in the slammer over a Tempest in a Teapot…

    We owe it to ourselves and Internet freedom of expression to support Oiwan’s act of civil disobedience whether we view it as a frivilous act or not…

  4. Prince Roy Says:

    you should’ve linked to the tits.

  5. Inst Says:

    I couldn’t believe ESWN linked to 北风, but it seems he wants to give all viewpoints representation. 北风, unfortunately, is really quite a pity. He has what seems to be an original view, or at least a novel one to a Westerner, but when you get past the first paragraph you start to see all the examples of illogical arguments and p->q->p.

  6. cat Says:

    Beifeng appears to have deleted his entire blog.

  7. wangbo Says:

    Lonnie: That’s exactly what disturbs me about TELA: Their actions are arbitrary and irrational, and the system is in obvious need of reform. I don’t much agree with Oiwan’s actions, but I do hope that this case results in some much needed reform.

    Prince Roy: Sorry, mate, but the tits have been plastered all over the internet as it is, and are freely and easily available from plenty of other sites for your viewing pleasure. It’s actually quite a decent, and tasteful, photo, but as it is the tits have received more exposure than any chest should, and I get far too many dodgy searches leading people here.

    Inst: What disturbed me about Beifeng was that buried in all that irrational, nationalist blether were a few very good points.

    Cat: You’re right. I have no idea why, but I’m disappointed, his blog looked interesting and I was planning on going back to read more.

  8. John Says:

    I see you’ve made ESWN’s recommended reading list.

  9. wangbo Says:

    Yep, and I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Not complaining, though.

  10. cat Says:

    Wangbo, I’m disappointed too – I didn’t even know the blog existed until it was gone – I had to find a full copy of the latest post elsewhere, and I can’t get hold of anything else. I didn’t agree with everything that I read, but it was well thought out, had some serious points and challenged a number of easy attitudes. And I’m a bit confused – maybe he/she just rattled off a rant without thinking, but it didn’t seem that way to me – seemed like some effort and thought had gone into it. So why delete it all?

  11. wangbo Says:

    Cat, sorry, somehow you got caught up in the spam filter thingy. You’re lucky I decided to check it today, normally I don’t because I’ve never come across real comments being marked as spam before, and all the comments that have been held for moderation have been clearly spam. Bloody disobedient software.

    Anyway, yes, Beifeng’s deletion of his blog is a mystery. Can’t figure it out. And I did want to go back and read more of his stuff, but now it’s all gone.

  12. Rebecca MacKinnon Says:

    Hi there. If I were sitting in Beijing and didn’t know Oiwan, I might also think there are bigger issues to carry on about. I can’t believe I’ve spent so much time arguing over a picture of tits. But just to clarify, I haven’t been yelling that TELA is wrong to want to ban tits – if that reflects the Hong Kong people’s will, that’s their business. I don’t believe that foreigners should impose their morality on Hong Kong’s people one way or the other. The problem is, TELA appears to be pretty unaccountable and not very unrepresentative of Hong Kong society’s current mores. If I was Oiwan I wouldn’t have done what she did and kept my powder dry for a more clear cut case. But still, slapping her with a criminal record, bankrupting her and generally ruining her career… I just don’t see how the punishment matches the crime.

    Oh and by the way, I’ve been keeping an eye on Beifeng’s blog for some time. Another recent post focused heavily on the theme that we are all part of a neo-colonial conspiracy using certain local people as puppets. A couple months ago he wrote a post advocating that a Filipina student should be deported because she had posted a story online about racism against minorities in Hong Kong. His argument being that she was fomenting anti-Chinese hatred.

    Very fenqing, this guy. Whoever he is.

  13. wangbo Says:

    Rebecca, I’m not sure I expressed my views on the case as clearly as I could’ve. Anyway, you’re right, perspective matters and my view from Beijing does leave me thinking there are bigger issues. But as you say, that’s all a matter for Hong Kong people to sort out themselves. I only mentioned your name in the post because you’re one of the more prominent people writing about this issue, I certainly didn’t mean to ascribe any particular view to you, I’ll let you say what you think about this. Looking back at what I wrote, my point was that none of us, myself included gets to dictate standards like some TELA official. Poor choice of words on my part, perhaps.
    And you’re absolutely right, the punishment does not fit the crime. I hope that the courts see things a little more sensibly than TELA does, and I do hope this case and all this trouble help to get TELA sorted out.
    And yes, Beifeng was an interesting character. I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time reading his blog before he took it down.

  14. Rebecca MacKinnon Says:

    Thanks and no worries. :) Yes let’s hope the courts are more sensible, and see the sense before Oiwan bankrupts herself.
    I have a feeling we have not seen or heard the last of Beifeng…

  15. wangbo Says:

    Rebecca, when you see her next, tell Oiwan that even though I’m a bit of a dissenter on this case, I wish her all the best.

  16. For Prince Roy Says:


  17. wangbo Says:

    Aha! And I hope Prince Roy comes back and sees that link.