Later in life, when Jacqueline Bouvier became known by the world as Jackie Kennedy, she would accompany her husband on a now-famous official trip to Paris, where he would proudly announce himself as “the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris” – her aplomb and sophistication had so astonished the French that those haughty custodians of good taste were prepared to, if only momentarily, hold back from dismissing the US as a cultural backwater. Little known, however, was the fact that even when Bouvier was barely out of her teens, she already had the makings of a tastemaker in her. In an essay she wrote for Vogue back then, her ability to appraise herself with a cool eye was nothing short of stunning:
“I do not have a sensational figure but can look slim if I pick the right clothes. I flatter myself on being able at times to walk out of the house looking like the poor man’s Paris copy, but often my mother will run up to inform me that my left stocking seam is crooked or the right-hand topcoat button about to fall off.”
Unfortunately for Hong Kong, earlier this week, we had just the opposite of the Jackie-Kennedy-in-Paris moment: the Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng showing up for her CCP virus vaccination session in a form-fitting cheongsam that outlined in minute detail the rolls of fat that laid siege to her midsection. No doubt echoing the view of many, a netizen lamented “not only has the Secretary of Justice desecrated Hong Kong’s rule of law; she has also desecrated the cheongsam.” Once again we are reminded of how low our city has sunk. The blow is harder for those who were around when Hong Kong was still a colony: those were the days when female public figures like Lydia Dunn and Anson Chan (also a cheongsam aficionado) carried themselves with style and dignity as they hobnobbed with notable political figures from the west.
More disturbing is the possibility that choice of clothing is not the only department in which Cheng lacks self-awareness. God forbid that when she maintained, on the occasion of the release of this year’s policy report, that the national security law strengthens the foundation of “One Country, Two Systems,” her grasp on reality was so tenuous that she was not knowingly lying but making a statement she sincerely believed in.
Cheng isn’t the only senior official wanting in matters of self-presentation. Last month, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam was televised giving an oral report to Xi Jinping through video-conferencing, the lighting her staff had set up for her gave her a ghostly pallor (“looks like Lam is speaking from the depths of hell,” a netizen quipped). And when Hong Kong’s number two official Matthew Cheung wrote to The Washington Post rebutting its claim that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, his letter was so unintelligible that anyone reading it has to think if the Hong Kong government can’t even pen a letter in coherent English, then something must be seriously wrong with it:
“Those arrested on Jan. 6 are suspected to have committed the offense of subversion. They were suspected to have conspired to obtain 35 or more seats in the Legislative Council through their “35-plus” and “10-step mutual destruction plan,” and conducting “primaries” among themselves in July, with a view to recklessly and blindly vetoing the government budget and public funding applications, forcing the resignation of the chief executive. The plan aimed to paralyze the government and, coupled with massive riots and other measures, bring society to a complete standstill.”
Now, as a matter of reflex, the writing coach in me would have channeled Jackie and performed the equivalent of running up to Cheung to inform that his right-hand topcoat button is about to fall off – “surely, Mr Cheung, you couldn’t have expected international readers to understand Cantonese-derived terms like ‘10-step mutual destruction plan’?”
The truth, however, is I consider it degrading to put my skills at the service of this administration, and I’m far from the only one: since the CCP required civil servants to pledge allegiance to it, they have begun leaving in droves – “I couldn’t bring myself to sign the document because I would have been trapped in so many ways,” explained a government doctor who jumped ship. Cheng has already proved herself ready to lock up those “causing others to harbour hatred and contempt against” the government. But perhaps those most effective at causing others to be contemptuous of the puppet administration aren’t people like me, but public servants who would rather give up a stable job than be part of the CCP machinery.
Here’s my rewrite of Matthew Cheung’s Washington Post letter: