Members Area

Your FCC needs you… to drink more beer

The FCC’s F&B operation is central to the heart of the club, supporting and supplying our outlets with attractive food and drink options. Or so we hope.

Come and enjoy a pint at the FCC. Come and enjoy a pint at the FCC.

This means the kitchen, with its Chinese, Western and Indian sections, is tasked with coming up with innovative menus and promotions to get members to spend, spend, spend, every month. Apart from monthly subscriptions and joining fees, F&B and banqueting are our main revenue source and therein lies our current challenge.

The downturn in restaurant and bar business in recent years is all around Central and not unique to the FCC.

Unfortunately our kitchen was closed for renovation for several months in mid-2016 and it seems many members found alternative places to go, as revenues have yet to return to pre-kitchen closure levels. So that’s been a double-whammy.

We cannot be in denial of the fact that the FCC continues to operate at a deficit. From my calculations, we are currently running at a deficit up until November 2017 (for this financial year, i.e. since April 2017) of just over HK$1 million.

What this means is while we are going to come in for the full year at below the budgeted deficit, there will be a deficit nonetheless and this now looks like it will be a recurring deficit. We also face a huge bill for building renovations soon and the unpalatable fact is that while the FCC has reserves, these are going to be burned up at a ferocious rate.

The new minimum spend measure will help, but it can not compensate for slackening demand and increased food costs as these trends are well established.

So what are we doing to stem our losses? Good housekeeping and innovation have been our twin goals this year.

FCC bar staff are ready to serve. FCC bar staff are ready to serve.

Starting with beer. To stop the crazy wastage costing the Club HK$300-$400 per day, caused by having the beer kegs stored outside in the alley, we brought them indoors. That’s why beer kegs and a low white storage cupboard now sit near the back door. With a little reorganisation we made room for all our draught beer kegs under the main bar. Beer quality has improved markedly and we have updated our selection to reflect changing tastes. That means less lager, more draught beer. We’ve introduced beers from local breweries Gweilo and Young Master. Latest arrivals are a lighter beer, the 3.5% Another One from Young Master, and a traditional hand-pumped real ale is being installed as I write. Available in only a few Hong Kong pubs, this adds a new dimension to our beer offering. Draught Kronenbourg 1664 has also joined the stable.

Drinkers can also look forward to our own FCC label beer, coming soon. Fitting all the draught beers indoors took some juggling between Bert’s and the Main Bar, but thanks to the ingenuity and determination of Beverage sub-committee head Joel Leduc and cooperation from staff, everything has been accommodated. None of this could have been done without the years of groundwork by the late Walter Kent and Tony Beaurain on the Beer Committee. We wish you both were here to enjoy the results of your efforts.

On the wine side, we continue to offer the widest choice at best prices to members but this is increasingly hard with no dedicated wine buyer, a situation we hope to remedy soon. Wine socials continue to be a great way for members to choose the wines of the month, please continue to support these. Our current Correspondents’ Choice red, “Seduction,” is a runaway success selling more than 500 bottles a month.

Long time FCC member Simon Twiston Davies tries Bitter. “At last, a genuine draught bitter.” Long time FCC member Simon Twiston Davies tries Bitter. “At last, a genuine draught bitter.”

On the spirits side, again in line with popular tastes, we introduced a range of premium Sipsmith gins and Fever Tree tonic. Bar staff were given training in special gin cocktails, with another round soon for the many new staff. High staff turnover is an ongoing challenge.

On the food side we have trimmed costs by binning irrelevant promotions and focusing on popular and profitable items. Our Indian chefs continue to outperform and the Indian tasting menu was a resounding success, both vegetarian and meat versions. There is an ongoing mission to promote non-meat dishes because it’s healthy and the demand is there, but this is not always easy. To this end food items such as foie gras, which involve extreme cruelty, have been delisted, as have products such as Indonesian snake meat where we could not establish the snake species or even if farmed or wild caught. We uphold our commitment to sustainable farming of fish and meat. Once the holiday season is done, we plan a thorough review of all our F&B suppliers to ensure they meet our ethical and quality standards.

Efforts to reduce the still vast main bar menu to cut wastage and storage space continue. We have also made menus for speaker events more diner-friendly with meat, fish and vegetarian choices.

When it comes to Club functions, such as the recent New Year’s Eve party, F&B handled the event and catering organisation this year. After heavy losses over the previous four years, a policy of great food, fun music and keeping it simple was adopted. We cut costs with a DJ instead of a live band and Chef George devised a stunning four-course menu. Result: 160 dinners were served, admission to the main bar remained open to all throughout and we made a profit of $65,000. Well done to the staff for making it such a successful event. It shows what can be done.

Thank you to all members for your continued support. All I can add is please realise that the Club’s finances are fragile and our future in this building far from certain. By supporting F&B you keep your Club healthy. It’s simple: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Anna is the F&B committee convener.

Lord Ashdown: Mutual respect between the US and China is key to peace

British peer Lord Paddy Ashdown was the guest speaker at a club lunch on November 28, where he shared his refreshingly frank views on the US-China relationship and a wide range of other issues.

Lord Ashdown speaking at the FCC in November 2017. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Lord Ashdown speaking at the FCC in November 2017. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Ashdown, the former leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party and onetime International High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, has taken an active interest in Hong Kong’s political and social affairs throughout his long and varied career. He studied Mandarin in Hong Kong for three years in the 1960s while serving with the Royal Marines and joined Britain’s overseas Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) after leaving the military and before entering Parliament. He also took part in demonstrations in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing during 1989, and led the call for the then colony’s UK passport holders to have the Right of Abode in Britain.

Ashdown’s core message to the well-attended lunch was that peace in the future will depend on two questions: How will the US cope with its relative decline and how will China behave as a rising superpower? His view is that the world is currently transitioning from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a bipolar polity where China has an undisputed seat at the table.

The means by which new powers rise and the causes of decline among the mature nations have historically served to determine whether there is peace or conflict. China is working hard to be seen as a good “world citizen”, engaging constructively with the World Trade Organisation, participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions, helping with international disaster relief efforts and generally seeking to engage with the wider world.

Ashdown as a soldier in the Malayan Emergency in the 1960s. Ashdown as a soldier in the Malayan Emergency in the 1960s.

In contrast, US President Donald Trump’s policies that emphasise isolationism, protectionism and confrontation with China are ”foolish and dangerous”, not least because abandoning Washington’s leadership of the multi-lateral space creates a vacuum China has shown itself only too willing to fill. Ashdown believes the US should in its own interests remain engaged, form alliances and promote as the best way to avoid what a growing number of analysts consider to be the next area of confrontation – the Pacific Basin – if China’s core economic, security and diplomatic interests are needlessly and provocatively challenged.

In Ashdown’s phrase, we should remain “wary and alert” to these dangers as China seemingly reverts to the attitudes and rhetoric of the “old China” that many observers had assumed was discarded during the era of economic liberalisation. While this has manifestly not occurred, Ashdown remains optimistic, arguing that, “I know of no instance in history where the sustainable greatness of a nation has been built on a market that is free and a public voice that is suppressed.”

Ashdown as International High Representative for Bosnia. Ashdown as International High Representative for Bosnia.
Security Council Meeting: The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

His optimism also encompasses Hong Kong, noting that the world is watching how Beijing deals with the territory. “If China wants genuinely to pursue a soft power policy… it’s not going to help by taking a hard line against Hong Kong.” He added that it would be foolish for China to wreck the unique relationship it has with Hong Kong, while observing that the formula “‘One Country, Two Systems’ is far easier as a slogan than it is to put into practice”.

Ashdown’s overall message was that working as a team is far better – and safer – than going it alone. He suggested, for example, that Australia should engage more with ASEAN and Europe should remain united, scathingly commenting that Brexit “will go down in history as one of the most extraordinary examples of a country doing itself gross self-harm while in full possession of its faculties… we have one of the most dysfunctional, dystopian governments I have ever known… this government couldn’t deliver the Sunday papers without a scrap.”

An optimist to the end, however, Ashdown concluded that such political incoherence and ineptitude could ultimately lead to Brexit simply not happening in any meaningful way.

Hong Kong whistleblower

Paddy Ashdown's memoir, A Fortunate Life. Paddy Ashdown’s memoir, A Fortunate Life.

Paddy Ashdown, in Hong Kong on a fact-finding tour, said he would “favour very strongly the BNO being extended to the right of abode if it is the case that the conditions in Hong Kong are created by whatever force that enables those who hold the BNO passport to feel so vulnerable that they can’t live here any longer”.

However, the SAR passport “is probably a better travel document than the BNO”, he added.

The BNO (British Nationals Overseas) passport was created in 1987 and is issued to permanent residents of Hong Kong. Holders can visit the UK for up to six months.

Ashdown said he was in Hong Kong to set up a parliamentary system called Hong Kong Watch. He said: “It’s not just directed at one side of the joint agreement, it’s there to act as a prod for the British government too. The British government is now obsessed with Brexit (and) trying to build trade deals – it’s a huge plum for the British to have a trade deal with China.

“We must ensure that Britain fulfils its legal and duty of honour to Hong Kong and we’ll be doing that. It will look at the actions of both sides and it will act as a whistleblower.”

Ashdown criticised Britain’s handling of Hong Kong’s handover to China, saying there was a degree of hypocrisy beneath its calls for democracy.

“British rule in Hong Kong was economically successful, but politically it was shameful,” he said, adding that a promise that the city “would never have to walk alone” is not a promise that “can be broken because it proves inconvenient to a British government obsessed with finding trade deals because it wishes to be outside Europe”.

“What happens next here in Hong Kong will be judged by a watching world,” he said.

Wall exhibition: Blue House

Ernest Chang is an American-born, Hong Kong millennial artist and photographer who suffers from deuteranopia (red-green colour blindness). Despite his condition, he has shown his mixed-media artworks and photography in multiple exhibitions and venues, most notably this collection of photographs taken inside the original Blue House that won wide media acclaim in September 2017.

Blue House by Ernest Chang Blue House by Ernest Chang

The Blue House is one of the oldest Tong Lau buildings in Hong Kong and was painted blue in the 1990s because the Hong Kong Government had surplus blue paint from painting the Water Supplies Bureau offices. The Blue House Series was created in collaboration with St James Settlement, to raise awareness and support for the Blue House’s heritage and preservation.

“I shot the series on the 8th of March in 2016, right before the renovations on the 9th. I initiated the project because I wanted to do my part for the community I live in,” said Chang. “I also wanted to help preserve the authentic, local beauty that is the original Blue House because generations of Hong Kong people, originating from different places, have passed through here, and I wanted to record the evidence of these lives in a thoughtful, personal way. My series focuses on realistic details of still-life objects within the building, zooming in on the evocative stories written in the textures, patinas, colours, objects, and time.

“I am proud to say that the Blue House Clutter Project, led by the relentless efforts at St James Settlement, recently won the UNESCO Award for Highest Heritage Conservation in November 2017,” he added.

Blue House by Ernest Chang Blue House by Ernest Chang
Blue House by Ernest Chang Blue House by Ernest Chang
Blue House by Ernest Chang Blue House by Ernest Chang

Wall exhibition: Singapore Runaways

The images in the exhibition are part of a global project undertaken by Xyza Bacani to explore the intersection between migration and human rights. The project is supported by the Pulitzer Center. Bacani is a Filipino street photographer and a Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellow, known for her stunning B&W images of Hong Kong street life.

Female migrant workers waits for the train in Orchard, Singapore. Orchard is full of migrants every Sunday. Photo: Xyza Bacani Female migrant workers waits for the train in Orchard, Singapore. Orchard is full of migrants every Sunday. Photo: Xyza Bacani

Singapore is a prosperous country in Asia and migrant workers have played an important role in its success, but at what cost? Hidden behind a shelter in Singapore are hundreds of distressed migrant workers of different nationalities waiting for their cases to be heard and hoping to move on. These people are victims of human labour trafficking, emotional, psychological and physical abuses.

Women are most vulnerable to these types of abuses, but even male migrant workers are subject to exploitation. Migrant workers from China, Bangladesh, India and other Asian countries go to Singapore to work as construction workers with little protection from local labour laws.

When the article was published, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore said that ‘Singapore authorities take strong action against employers who do not comply with the law in their management of migrant workers’. She noted that nine in 10 foreign workers reported that they were satisfied with working in Singapore, according to a survey published in 2014, but for hundreds of these migrants, it’s far from reality.”

A portrait of Huang Mei Xin, 32-year-old from China. According to him, he  filed a work injury case when he broke his arm while at work. He said the alleged company misreported his case and  he was not paid for his medical certificate wages. He is still waiting for his final medical assessment and still wants to continue working in Singapore. A portrait of Huang Mei Xin, 32-year-old from China. According to him, he filed a work injury case when he broke his arm while at work. He said the alleged company misreported his case and he was not paid for his medical certificate wages. He is still waiting for his final medical assessment and still wants to continue working in Singapore. Photo: Xyza Bacani
Male migrant workers spending their day off in Little India. Most construction workers are usually from South East Asia and are paid less than locals on their work in Singapore. Photo: Xyza Bacani Male migrant workers spending their day off in Little India. Most construction workers are usually from South East Asia and are paid less than locals on their work in Singapore. Photo: Xyza Bacani
Nre Nie Win and Phoo Phoo, age 26 and 25, from Myanmar, watch a movie on a mobile phone. According to them they were not given any holiday, wages were unpaid and they're not allowed to use mobile phones. Photo: Xyza Bacani Nre Nie Win and Phoo Phoo, age 26 and 25, from Myanmar, watch a movie on a mobile phone. According to them they were not given any holiday, wages were unpaid and they’re not allowed to use mobile phones. Photo: Xyza Bacani

What next for struggling photographers? Put it in a book

Professional photographers in the past decade or so have had to struggle with declining markets for their photos as publications around the world have faded in the face of online competition. One way around this for many photographers has been to produce books, nearly always associated with an accompanying exhibition.

Hong Kong’s raging sky from “Wind Water” by Palani Mohan Hong Kong’s raging sky from “Wind Water” by Palani Mohan

This is the route Indian-born Australian Palani Mohan took when he left the Fairfax group of newspapers in the late 1990s. He has just completed his sixth book, with more to come.

“When I was 17 and just out of school I got a photography cadetship with the Sydney Morning Herald. Those times were also the generous years and they put me through university as well.”

He then spent about 17 years as a news photographer. “I enjoyed the photography world — earning money while doing something you liked to do.”

Out of the mist at the Big (Tian Tan) Buddha on Lantau. Photo: Palani Mohan Out of the mist at the Big (Tian Tan) Buddha on Lantau. Photo: Palani Mohan

Although he had been part of various books projects published by the Fairfax group, “it wasn’t until the late 1990s when I moved to Hong Kong that I approached a publisher to produce my own book”.

At the time he was regularly doing a two-page column in the Sunday Post’s “day in the life” series and decided he would compile about 20 of those stories into a book. Called “Hong Kong Lives”, it was published by Joint Publishing, which now produces mostly Chinese books.

“What attracted me about doing a book is that it is all about your idea — it’s purely the way you see the world. You also have more control of the images which are there for life,” he said.

Palani, who has always been a buyer and collector of photography books, based his second book on a collation of stories he had done for the likes of Time, Newsweek, The Observer, The New York Times and Asiaweek in the early 2000s.

“This was pretty much at the end of the golden era of good work and good money for freelance photographers — it was great while it lasted,” he said.

The book became the “Hidden Faces of India” published by an Anglo/Australian company, New Holland.

Image taken with an iPhone from Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”. Image taken with an iPhone from Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”.

“I found with my second book that thinking about doing books was liberating which allowed ideas to burst out. So I quickly became hooked on the whole idea of planning books. This was helped by working with a publisher who saw the world with my eyes.”

His third book, “Vanishing Giants: Elephants of Asia”, was published by Editions Didier Millet in Singapore in 2008.

“I was living in Bangkok at the time and looked out the window and saw Asian elephants wandering down Sukhumvit, which somehow didn’t seem to fit: but at the same time to me they seemed to be saying ‘Here I am’ and I accepted the call.

From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”. From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”.

“I was first intrigued by elephants when I was growing up in India and have always been interested in the lives of the people who exist alongside them.”

This project was spread over five years. He photographed the elephants while doing other jobs in 13 countries around South and Southeast Asia seeing how the demands of industry and agriculture, burgeoning populations and environmental degradation had reduced the wild Asian elephant’s habitats and their numbers, which now hover below 40,000.

“When I arrived in Hong Kong after the elephant book the iPhone 3S was just out and the possibilities for taking photos with the iPhone was only just starting. I thought that using the iPhone unobtrusively to take photos might make a good book.”

From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”. From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”.

He approached Asia One Books to see if they would be interested in the idea of doing a book. “Without seeing any sample photos, Asia One grabbed on to the idea and so my fourth book, ‘Vivid Hong Kong’, was born and was published in 2011.”

Palani roamed the streets in all weathers and seasons to compile his take on the city. By forgoing traditional photographic equipment in favour of an iPhone, he was able to wend his way through the crowds, seizing those everyday, fleeting moments.

“When I started out not much had been done with iPhone photography,” he said. “It turned out to be a lot of fun and the quality was much better than I thought it would be which meant I could do exhibition prints and I was able to sell big prints.”

From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”. From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”.

The striking duotone images from Palani’s fifth book, “Hunting with Eagles: In the Realm of the Mongolian Kazakhs” by Merrell Publishers, were an On the Wall exhibition at the FCC in November 2015.

Palani spent some years seeking out the Kazakh golden eagle hunters on the far-western Mongolia and China border in the Altai Mountains. He got to know the hunters, or burkitshis, well as he photographed their vanishing culture, threatened by dwindling golden eagle numbers and the hunters’ children, who forsook the brutal winters and moved to Ulan Bator for a better life.

His sixth and most recent book, “Wind Water”, is quite a departure from his previous books as it’s a visual and artistic reflection on the feng shui elements — wind, water, wood, metal, earth and fire – and “the chi that powers this great harbourside city”, he said.

From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”. From Palani’s fourth book, “Vivid Hong Kong”.

“I have used the feng shui elements to make a personal portrait of the city which I think captures the energetic spirit of Hong Kongers. Although the geomancers will tell you this is no coincidence as Hong Kong has the most powerful feng shui of any place on earth.”

As well as exploring all the coastal corners of Hong Kong, it also entailed spending many hours on his roof in Happy Valley with camera and tripod in hand to photograph the shifting patterns of clouds in relation to the water.

For this book Palani approached a German publisher, Kehrer Verlag, “who were excellent to work with on this dream-like book — it was a work of love for me and the publisher, exemplified by their efforts to get a feng-shui-correct ISBN number.

From "Wind, Water", by Palani Mohan From “Wind, Water”, by Palani Mohan

“This book was three years in the making and I don’t think I have ever worked this hard,” he said. “It’s probably the most difficult thing I have done, it demands everything of you.”

Palani will be having a major exhibition early this year at the F22 photo space. Having exhibitions is a way to encourage print sales, which is necessary as there is not a whole lot of money in books.

“You could say that doing a book elevates you as an artist, rather than your bank balance,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that in this line of work you are never rich, but have a rich life.”

Having said that, Palani says he has picked up quite a lot of commercial work as a direct result of the books.

From "Wind, Water", by Palani Mohan From “Wind, Water”, by Palani Mohan

For Joshua Wong and pro-democracy activists, a rush of jail time

Student protesters were getting increasingly gun-shy as jail sentences were handed out during January. Even Joshua Wong, who was awaiting appeal for his previous conviction, was jailed for three months on a separate case.

Bailed democracy activists Joshua Wong (C) and Nathan Law (L) speak to the press after their arrival at the Court of Final Appeal for the first hearing in their bid to appeal their jail sentences in Hong Kong on November 7, 2017. Bailed democracy activists Joshua Wong (C) and Nathan Law (L) speak to the press after their arrival at the Court of Final Appeal for the first hearing in their bid to appeal their jail sentences in Hong Kong on November 7, 2017.

The judges in these cases seemed to take Henry Litton’s advice to heart when he had said that any charge that led to violence should result in jail time.

Earlier, when a still defiant Wong spoke at a press conference following his release on bail pending his appeal, he vowed to continue the “fight for greater democracy”, the SCMP reported. Last August, that meant 20,000 were out on the streets, now there are subdued handfuls.

Joshua Wong and Raphael Wong returned to prison — Raphael for four-and-a-half months — after being convicted of contempt for failing to comply with an injunction to clear the 2014 protest site in Mong Kok, HKFP reported. Another activist, Lester Shum, received a one-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, in addition to a HK$10,000 fine.

Some 17 other activists were also convicted of criminal intent. Joshua and Lester, along with nine others, pleaded guilty. Raphael Wong and eight others pleaded not guilty. The court found all 20 of them guilty in October. In December, four defendants were given 12-month suspended jail terms and fined HK$10,000 each. The other 13 defendants all received suspended jail sentences on January 17.

And there is more to come: Chief prosecutor David Leung has said additional legal action against more than 700 is being considered.

Separately, the VOA reported that the chairmen of the US Congressional Executive Commission on China said they planned to nominate Wong and the Umbrella Movement for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Censorship in China: Now academics face the music

China has moved from censoring domestic and foreign news media to cracking down on academic publications as well.

Journal of Chinese History Journal of Chinese History

Right from the start of Xi Jinping’s tenure in 2012, the authorities have been exerting control over what is said not only on domestic media websites but also on foreign media organisations’ websites.

One of the first foreign media to run afoul of China’s tougher censorship stance was The New York Times’s English and Chinese-language websites which have been blocked since October 2012 over a story about then prime minister Wen Jiabao’s family.

In fact, there aren’t many foreign news organisations’ websites that haven’t been blocked at some time or another, including the Wall Street Journal, SCMP, BBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Independent, The Economist, Le Monde, Time, Radio Australia and SBS radio. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, most Google services and certain search engine terms are blocked as well.

If you Google “NYT and China censorship” you can see how relentless NYT has been in covering every aspect of China’s censorship drive since 2012. At the time of the People’s Congress in October NYT’s Paul Mozur wrote about the composition of the new Politburo Standing Committee, identifying Wang Huning, who had previously been the man behind the throne for the past three leaders, as the architect of China’s authoritarian drive for “security and order on the Internet”.

NYT Chinese NYT Chinese

Of course there have been some major beneficiaries of the squeezing of Western technology giants like Google. Chinese businesses such as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, some of the world’s largest Internet enterprises, benefited from the way China has blocked international rivals from the market, according to the BBC.

Not content to simply harass news organisations, the authorities (General Administration of Press and Publications) have now turned their attention to foreign academic journal websites. As a result academic publishers are deeply divided over how to respond between the resist or cave-in camps.

The FT revealed that the publisher in response to the authorities had blocked access to at least 1,000 academic articles in China that mention subjects deemed sensitive by Beijing, including Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong.

Of course, academic publishers have been dealing with censorship for centuries, although many now see that China’s censorship is an unprecedented assault in “Xi’s efforts to export the Chinese Communist party’s heavily circumscribed view of intellectual debate as part of his push to promote Chinese soft power”, the FT reported.

The latest publisher to feel the pinch is Springer Nature, a German group that publishes among others Nature and Scientific American. The FT revealed that the publisher in response to the authorities had blocked access to at least 1,000 academic articles in China that mention subjects deemed sensitive by Beijing, including Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong.

Springer Nature has been very defensive, saying in a statement that it was obliged to comply with “local distribution laws” and was trying to avoid its content being banned outright.

Earlier in August Cambridge University Press, under an order from its Chinese importer, reluctantly decided to block within China some 315 articles in its publication The China Quarterly. This was later reversed under pressure from academic staff, with the publisher pledging to “uphold the principle of academic freedom on which the university’s work is founded”.

NYT English NYT English

University of Chicago Press (CUP), which publishes the highly regarded China Journal, said in the FT it had not yet blocked content in China but, if asked, would cut off access to institutions overseen by the government. Similarly, Lord Patten, chancellor of Oxford University, said that even though China was a “hugely important income stream” for the institution, Oxford University Press had not and would not block content.

The Association for Asian Studies said in a statement it was “extremely concerned about this violation of academic freedom, and the AAS is in ongoing discussions with CUP about how it will respond to the Chinese government. We oppose censorship in any form and continue to promote a free exchange of academic research among scholars around the world.”

Another CUP publication that was in line for censorship was the Journal of Asian Studies, edited by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, who is also professor of Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine.

Wasserstrom noted that some academics whose articles were not proscribed feel a bit left out, as if they need to try harder to get banned.

When CUP first announced it was going to pull articles from its website in China, said Wasserstrom at the FCC in November, “it was often said that people could not access those articles in China anyway. This is true, but what is worse is that when you searched the journal site for articles about Tiananmen or Tibet or the Cultural Revolution it made it seem that those articles did not exist.”

Wasserstrom said he was given a list of 100 or so articles the authorities “wanted to have disappear from our site, but fortunately nothing happened because of the blow-back from The China Quarterly situation.

“In fact one of the journal articles which wasn’t listed was about Tiananmen, but we had it under the title ‘Acting out democracy’, and somehow it slipped right through.” Wasserstrom noted that some academics whose articles were not proscribed feel a bit left out, as if they need to try harder to get banned.

Wasserstrom said he also had an upcoming article in the Journal of Chinese History “which I am sure will be on the taboo list as it’s titled ‘The Red Guard generation revisited’”.

Wasserstrom said that academic publishers need to have some kind of coordinated strategy, “but at a certain point you have to be prepared to walk away from the Chinese market no matter how lucrative”.

Hong Kong’s creeping censorship

Hong Kong is feeling the creeping hand of censorship from Xi as he exercises a tightening of control over the city and mainland China, says Wasserstrom.

The disappearance of the Hong Kong booksellers, the silencing of previously vocal critics of China, and the flooding of pro-China posters around the city during the 20th anniversary of the handover celebrations are all signs of tightening control, said Wasserstrom.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom revealed to FCC Club Lunch attendees that he had been given a list of 100 or so articles Chinese authorities “wanted to have disappear". Jeffrey Wasserstrom revealed to FCC Club Lunch attendees that he had been given a list of 100 or so articles Chinese authorities “wanted to have disappear”.

And he warned that a general concept that, until now, applied a different set of rules to Hong Kong was coming to an end. Wasserstrom described how, rather than One Country, Two Systems – the framework around which Hong Kong was to be reintegrated with the mainland – there had been One Country, Three Systems. He explained this as one set of rules applied in Tibet and Xinjiang; a second set of rules applying to the mainland; and a third set of rules that allowed Hong Kong media to freely report on issues including the pro-democracy movement. But the case of the missing booksellers, along with a push for a China-approved national curriculum, was a sign that this third rule no longer applied to Hong Kong.

He said the increase in China-centric posters around Hong Kong suggested that efforts to spread propaganda had become more obvious, and said future signs to look out for would be banks in the city using the Belt and Road Initiative to promote themselves.

Referring to Hong Kong and the silencing of some well-known anti-establishment figures, Wasserstrom used the metaphor of the canary in the mineshaft: “One other thing that can happen to a canary is it can find it possible to keep breathing but is unable to sing,” he said, before adding: “We need not just to keep watching the dramatic moments when the canaries disappear and die, but when they stop singing.”

 

A river runs through it: Why we must save the Ganges

Pollution and over-use of the Ganges is seeing one of the world’s great rivers heading in the direction of other East Asian rivers that have been made unusable at a time when water quality and shortages are becoming critical — unless something is done about it.

A Hindu devotee takes a holy dip in the polluted river Ganga (Ganges) in Allahabad. A Hindu devotee takes a holy dip in the polluted river Ganga (Ganges) in Allahabad.

The Indian government is aware of the Ganges pollution problem and wants to do something about it, but the impetus to do so is not there yet. In the meantime, “Indians are killing the Ganges and, in turn, the Ganges is killing Indians,” said journalist and author Victor Mallet during a Club lunch to talk about his new book, “River of Life, River of Death: The Ganges and India’s Future”.

“The Ganges, I argue in the book, is the world’s most important river,” said Mallet, who is the FT’s Asia News Editor. “We all know that rivers are crucial for life and civilisation and almost all the great cities of the world are built at river mouths, river confluences or river banks.

“Fresh water and the fate of the world’s rivers are really among the most important issues of the day.”

Mallet said although the book is a celebration of the Ganges, it is also a lament. “I think the Ganges is the most important as it has a place in culture and history — from the great works of literature to Bollywood movies, but also in Western literature.

Indian scavengers look for coins and other valuable items from among the offerings of devotees in the Ganges at Varanasi Indian scavengers look for coins and other valuable items from among the offerings of devotees in the Ganges at Varanasi.

“So while the book is a celebration it is also a plea for help and a call to save the river and to stop the Ganges — or the Ganga as it is called in India — from suffering the same fate as the Thames in London did or the Chicago River in the US or the countless rivers in East Asia and the great rivers in China.”

The Ganges is the most important because of two main intertwined reasons: the spiritual and the practical. “The Ganges is holy to more than a billion Hindus in India and around the world,” he said. “Ganga is a goddess, she purifies the waters so that as a Hindu you want your ashes scattered on the river — particularly at Varanasi. The word India itself derives from the Sanskrit for a large river and to be an Indian is to be a river person.

“The other reason is that hundreds of millions of people live along it or on the floodplains, they are nourished by the waters and the rich silt the river brings down from the Himalaya foothills.”

Mallet said this was why India has been one of the most populous places in the world and one of the richest. That wealth — and pre-historic wealth — attracted the Moghul and British empires. And, if you look back at the statistical calculations, India once accounted for a quarter of the world’s GDP, a larger share even than China a thousand years ago.

“Even Hong Kong is connected to the Ganges, the river that transported the opium from northern India for the East India Company to China, which contributed to the establishment of Hong Kong.”

Flowing from the eastern Himalayas, through the Plain of North India and into Bangladesh, the river is now under serious threat from human sewage, toxic waste, antibiotics, fertiliser and pesticides, he said. A series of dams along its course means that, in places, it can sometimes run dry outside of monsoon season. And a lack of accountability within successive Indian governments has played a large part in the decline of the river, Mallet added.

However, Mallet is optimistic that the river can be saved. He draws comparisons with other rivers such as the Thames and the Rhine, once both heavily polluted but now home to thriving ecosystems. He was also hopeful that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, would deliver on his promise of cleaning up the river.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre L) and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre R) take part in the evening ‘Aarti’ ritual on the banks of the River Ganges at Varanasi Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre L) and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre R) take part in the evening ‘Aarti’ ritual on the banks of the River Ganges at Varanasi.

“He’s very much committed verbally to doing this,” Mallet said, “but there’s a debate as to whether he could have done more.”

Mallet noted a further problem: that the campaigners he had spoken to in India during his extensive research for the book had turned out to be the same people who had spoken to writers decades before – indicating that “a lot of young Indians are not really engaged in what should be an important mission”.

He concluded: “There are small signs of progress but the biggest push has not started yet.”

Mallet said he didn’t want to be pessimistic. “You can save rivers. When I was growing up in London my mother said don’t fall into the Thames you will go to hospital and have your stomach pumped because the water is poisonous.

“These days from the FT headquarters on the banks of the Thames — you can see a clean river with fish and cormorants and even wayward whales sometimes.

“The Chicago River used to be disgusting. When President Obama met with Modi in 2014 when discussing environmental issues, Obama mentioned you can now fish in the river and even eat them. And Modi said that was what he wanted for the Ganga.

“You can hope something can be done when you look at how some of the states stage those massive religious festivals. In 2013 I went to a festival in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, probably the world’s largest gathering of human beings — some 70 million gathered over a two-month period, although some 10 million bathed in the river on the first day. The point of this is that the state authorities actually build a temporary city for two million people on the sandbanks in the middle of the Ganges with roads, electricity, toilets, law and order, clean water and everything works… and it’s not very expensive. So it can be done.

“On the negative side Indians will say, ‘Oh, that’s the Indian wedding syndrome’, which means that when you want to really pull together for one event you can do it, ‘but for everyday life we just cannot do it’.” That attitude needs to be changed, he said.

“When I was doing my research a lot of Indians I met told me that ‘pollution is no problem for the Ganga because the Ganga is very pure, she’s a holy goddess and nothing we do makes any difference at all’ — as he threw a plastic bag of garbage into the river.

“And of course I say, environmentalists say, and smart holy men will say that this is nonsense because the very spiritual strength of a river — in this case the Ganges — derives not from some sort of remote, weird spiritual thing but from its very physical properties. The reason we worship rivers — as we did in Britain centuries ago — is that they are life givers, they provide life through water and fertility. And once you take that away when you poison the river, it is no longer a life giver and therefore the reason for the spiritual strength disappears.”

If most of the great cities of the world were built on rivers, why have the people who depend on those rivers so often poisoned their own water sources? How much pollution is enough to kill a river? And what is needed to bring one back to life?

“As I grew up and began to travel, I saw, sailed on, walked along, and read about many more waterways, from streams and canals to the great rivers of the world. Some – the Nile, the Zambezi, the Essequibo, the Mekong – were remarkably clean, because of the absence of large cities along most of their lengths. Others, like the Rhine and the Seine, were so-so. And still others, particularly the waterways of densely populated Asian cities undergoing their high-speed industrial revolutions, were filthy. The Malaysian writer Rehman Rashid’s description of the Sungai Segget as a ‘rank, black, stagnant, noisome ditch, filling the town centre of Johor Baru with the aroma of raw sewage and rotting carcasses’ reminded me of Charles Dickens’s description in ‘Hard Times’ of a fictional town in the north of England that was probably Preston: ‘Down upon the river that was black and thick with dye, some Coketown boys who were at large – a rare sight there – rowed a crazy boat, which made a spumous track upon the water as it jogged along, while every dip of an oar stirred up vile smells’.

Indian Hindu devotees perform rituals after taking a holy bath in the Bay of Bengal at the mouth of the river Ganges in Sagar Island, around 150 km south of Kolkata Indian Hindu devotees perform rituals after taking a holy bath in the Bay of Bengal at the mouth of the river Ganges in Sagar Island, around 150 km south of Kolkata.

“Spumous? If you’re looking for spumous, I can recommend the Yamuna River below the Okhla barrage in Delhi, after the city and the farmers around it have taken most of the clean water for irrigation and drinking and replaced it with a mixture of industrial waste and the untreated sewage of one of the world’s largest cities.

“At dawn, the great mounds of white foam thrown up by the barrage are tinged with pink as they float gently across the oily, black surface of a holy river once celebrated in ancient Indian literature as a paradise of turtles, birds, fish, deer and the gopis or female cowherds who tended to the playful god Krishna. So disgusting is this water that the latest official measurements I could find from Okhla show it to contain half a million times the number of faecal bacteria allowed under the Indian standard for bathing.

“The abuse of the Yamuna, and the Ganges or Ganga of which it is a major tributary, is particularly puzzling because both rivers are worshipped as goddesses by hundreds of millions of Hindus, and because they are so important as sources of water and fertile silt to the vast populations of north India, from the lower slopes of the western Himalayas all the way to Calcutta and Dhaka and the Bay of Bengal in the east.”

The Yamuna just below Delhi is already dead, but the Ganges itself, while gravely threatened by pollution and over-extraction of water, is very much alive… you can see fresh-water dolphins far up the river in Allahabad, Varanasi, and Patna.

“While Modi has made saving the Ganges one of his policy priorities, he does seem to have the political will to save the Yamuna and the Ganges, and he would certainly win the backing of the majority of Indians for the improved sanitation and pollution control that will be necessary. There is money there too, including US$1 billion from the World Bank in what would be among its largest ever projects.

“Three years into Modi’s five-year mandate, however, surprisingly little has been achieved to restore India’s rivers. It looks as if I’ll have a long wait before I can jump into the Yamuna at Okhla and go for a swim without needing my stomach pumped afterwards.”

Ganges clean-up lost in politics

Ed Gargan, also a river writer, on Victor Mallet’s catalogue of environmental horror

Unfortunately for Victor Mallet, the distinguished correspondent and now Asia news editor for the Financial Times, Hinduism’s greatest religious festival, the Kumbh Mela, during which as many as 100 million people gather to wade into India’s holiest river, occurred on his watch. The river, known by many names but most commonly as the Ganges, is no pristine water course. Instead, it is a creeping cesspool of human waste, chemical and industrial effluents, plastic and styrofoam rubbish, human remains both ash and not, animal carcasses, household garbage, and poisonous run-off from fertilised fields. But, it is sacred in Hindu tradition and immersion in its waters during the Kumbh Mela spiritually redeeming. On the river bank, notebook and pen in hand, Mallet, the most meticulous of reporters, knew there was no choice. In he jumped.

That he survived his plunge into these stygian waters is in itself miraculous. But he emerged to write a wide-ranging and thoughtful account of India’s most important river. Its importance, however, stems not from its riverine qualities, but from its environmental degradation on the one hand and its hot button religious symbolism on the other; indeed, what other river in the world lures hundreds of thousands of naked sadhus to its banks as an exercise fraught with religious as well as political fervour.

For Hindus the sacred nature of the Ganges is a bedrock belief. “We do believe that anyone who takes a dip in this water, he becomes pure also, because it is always pure, though it looks like it is impure,” an elderly pilgrim told Mallet. It is the centrality of that belief and the rituals that surround it that have fuelled the rise, and now the dominance, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. With a deftness that some might describe as shameless, the party’s leader, Narendra Modi, the virulently anti-Muslim chief minister of Gujarat, steamrolled the Congress Party by accusing it of doing nothing to clean up the sacred Ganges. The BJP, Modi thundered, was the only party capable of restoring the river to its historic purity.

Wielding religious symbols as political cudgels is hardly confined to India, but in a nation sharply divided on sectarian grounds, and where religious passion can, and often has, ignited waves of bloody violence, these symbols become culturally defining. For the BJP, the rise to power began 25 years ago with the destruction of a disused 16th-century mosque by mobs of Hindu zealots whipped to a frenzy by BJP politicians screaming that Hinduism was under attack.

While the BJP hesitated then in its pursuit of power, in 2014 Modi swept to power and the Ganges and everything it symbolised was at the centre of his victory. “Ma Ganga has decided some responsibilities for me,” Modi declared. Among them, cleaning up the river. Two years and a few cosmetic projects later, the Ganges remained unchanged. Now ensconced as prime minister, Modi’s attention had shifted.

As thoroughly as Mallet describes the interweaving of religious belief and political practice, he is alarmed by the critical state of the river itself. But so degraded is the Ganges by pollution, damming, and draining by upstream agriculture that it is difficult to catalogue the full extent of this cataclysm. For Mallet it is a catalogue of horror, and it starts in the foothills of the Himalayas, in a major tributary, the Ramganga. At first there are just discarded cigarette packs and a scattering of plastic bags. As he moves on, the river becomes edged with paper mills, sugar plants, brass foundries and plastics factories, all disgorging waste into the waters. “Downstream,” he writes, “the sandy banks and the exposed riverbed present an apocalyptic scene of filth and garbage, of dead dogs, plastic bags, nullahs (drains) spewing pink dye, and pigs rootling through the muck.” Toxic chemicals, including heavy metals mercury and arsenic, pour out of thousands of home business “e-waste” recycling work sites. Even the oxygen level of the water has decreased so much that fish cannot survive in sections of the river.

The impact of this destruction of the river on people’s health is unsurprising. Skin disease is widespread and cancer rates seem correlated to the increase in heavy metals in the water. But even more alarming, Mallet points out, are “bacterial genes exposing water-users to the risk of infections that resist modern antibiotics…superbugs.” Every day, 1,200 to 1,500 children die of cholera, hepatitis or other waterborne diseases.

Mallet’s enormously wide-ranging curiosity about the river leads him to an extended essay on India’s relentlessly growing population – soon to surpass China’s – and its impact on the country’s diminishing water resources, some of which, of course, include the Ganges. He rummages through old Bollywood films that mention the Ganges. As in all Bollywood productions, song and dance try to pump energy into lacklustre melodramas, including such box office flops as Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi, which ends with the lead character crooning, “Ganga will carry away Saraswathi in his arms.”

An accomplished sailor, Mallet writes as well of boats on the Ganges but is reduced to historical accounts of river navigation. “You could spend days on the Ganges,” he writes, “without seeing a single vessel of any sort under sail.” Where in the 1970s some 5,000 large commercial vessels travelled inland waterways, at best 150 do today.

In the end, of course, what matters is the fate of the Ganges itself. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated by successive governments to clean up the Ganges, most of it squandered, misallocated, or simply stolen. Even so, Mallet contends, what happens to the Ganges after all Modi’s promises to clean up the river will be the most fundamental measure of the government’s performance. If it fails, not only will the BJP fail but India itself will stumble. Just before leaving his assignment in India Mallet visited a revered swami who daily leads prayers on the Ganges shoreline. “If Ganga dies, India dies,” he told Mallet. “If Ganga thrives, India thrives. The lives of 500 million people is no small thing.”

Ed Gargan, former New York Times Hong Kong bureau chief and Beijing correspondent, is another FCC member who has written about a river. His river is the Mekong, and the book: “The River’s Tale: A Year on the Mekong”.

Ed spent a year travelling along the Mekong from Tibet to the delta in Vietnam, exploring the many cultures along it as well as fulfilling a need to “weave together my passion for Asia with a longing to travel at my own speed, to wander as I wished, to find a river that would pull me through Asia… That river is the Mekong.’’

 

The Correspondent Jan/Feb 2018

Atlantic rowing challenge inspired by Hong Kong quadriplegics

A Hong Kong lad and his mates have put their bodies and minds to the ultimate test and completed one of the world’s great physical challenges: rowing unaided for 3,000 miles across the Atlantic inspired by two FCC families.

Peter Robinson, George Biggar, Dicky Taylor and Stuart Watts raised money for Spinal Research. Peter Robinson, George Biggar, Dicky Taylor and Stuart Watts raised money for Spinal Research.

Despite all being amateur rowers, not only did Peter Robinson, George Biggar, Dicky Taylor and Stuart Watts win the race, smashing the previous world record for a four-man team by over five days, but they are also looking to reach their target of raising £150,000 for Spinal Research.

This epic challenge came from team member Peter’s friend, Ben Kende. A rising rugby star, he sustained a spinal cord injury while playing rugby for Hong Kong in 2010, causing paralysis. Ben Kende and David Wishart have had to overcome enormous challenges from quadriplegia. Both the Wishart and Kende families are active members of the FCC.

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