Carrie Lam’s value as cautionary tale

“Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” – so muttered Lady Macbeth as she sleepwalks at night, her feelings of guilt over the King’s murder coming to the fore uninvited when her defenses are down.

I doubt if Carrie Lam – her recent insistence to the SCMP that she feels no guilt over last year’s protests notwithstanding – can manage to do what even Lady Macbeth has failed at: keeping her conscience at bay in the nocturnal hours. After all, not too long ago, in the middle of a private meeting with a group of business leaders, Lam was suddenly so dismayed by the gravity of what she had done to Hong Kong that she choked up as she confessed “for a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable. It’s just unforgivable…I make a plea to you for your forgiveness.”

If Lam’s most recent stance is she isn’t the cause of last year’s protests, then what is? In the same interview, Lam blamed Hong Kong people for clinging onto a negative perception of mainland: “anything that has anything to do with the mainland of China (has) become a pretext for” political discontent in Hong Kong.

The irony seems to have been lost on Lam that of all people, she’s likely the one who has gone furthest in worsening Hong Kong people’s perception of the CCP. My impression of the CCP – never positive to begin with – took a deep dive over the past few years, as I witnessed Lam’s downward spiral from British-trained civil servant to CCP pawn saddled with a guilty conscience. If anything, Lam is a walking demonstration of the perils of being part of the CCP machinery; because of her, more than ever I recoil from calls to integrate with mainland (which, in my case, would probably have worked out as me being an English copywriter for a propaganda unit).

For one thing, one must feel comfortable about being a puppet, and even Lam had difficulty with this at the beginning: just before assuming office, she vowed to the BBC that she was “no puppet of Beijing.” Granted, Lam had to claim she had free will in order to prop up the illusion that One-Country-Two-System was functioning. Yet having her own say must have also been a matter of pride to her too.

Lam might have thought that in becoming Chief Executive, she became part of the CCP elite. A look at the fate that eventually befell other puppets, however, would have alerted her to the potential pitfalls of this path. At the start of the Cultural Revolution, by all appearances, Chen Boda (陳伯達), as the head of the Cultural Revolution Group(中央文革小组), was vested with vast powers. In reality, though, he was the puppet of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing (江青); in private, Jiang was often heard mocking Chen by name-calling him “Li Yuanhong” (黎元洪), a military officer who got defeated by an army of rebels and dived for a hiding spot under a bed, only to be dragged out by them and forced to act as the figurehead of their uprising. Chen’s brush with high office was brief, as he was soon denounced by Mao; after Mao’s death, he was hauled out and denounced as a member of Jiang’s camp. Considering the random manner in which a puppet can suddenly become a so-called important person – even a body dragged from under a bed would do – is it any surprise that higher-ups would treat this type so shabbily?

Now, think back to the time when Basic Law Consultative Committee member Lau Nai-keung (劉迺強) publicly put down Lam by declaring without the help of Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong, Lam would never have gotten the 777 votes she needed to be Chief Executive.. I don’t believe for a moment that this is the only occasion when people with deep ties with the CCP relished in humiliating Lam. They saw her in the right light: a body lower down the pecking order willing to do dirty work for the CCP, to be disposed of without a thought after she has outlived her usefulness.

Hong Kong commentator Lau Sai-Leung likens flipping to the CCP side to submitting to castration out of expectation that one can find work as a palace eunuch, but waking up from the operation to discover that the monarchy has collapsed. – both are a one-way route with uncertain prospects that carries a stigma for life. Given the way Lam’s puppet-hood has morphed into a misadventure of global notoriety, her pleadings to young people – that they should look to work in the Greater Bay Area and hitch their wagon to the star that is CCP – carries a comical twist that’s obvious to everyone but her. As long as she still manages to live in denial, that is.

I'm Michelle Ng (吳若琦), an Oxford-educated bilingual political writer and English writing coach based in Hong Kong. I'm currently an English columnist for Apple Daily and Ming Pao, and a Chinese columnist for 眾新聞. I have written for Hong Kong Free Press, The Wall Street Journal and The Vancouver Sun. 

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