The Riots in Hong Kong

How will Beijing deal with the indignity of continuing weekly protests in Hong Kong?

So far the central government has taken a ‘wait and see’ stance, not wanting any bloodshed and taking time to gather information on the people and issues behind the unrest.

In the meantime they depend on the Hong Kong police to keep an acceptable level of order.  

However there will be repercussions when order is completely restored. 

Questions will be asked about the breakdown of information. The Beijing leadership was caught unprepared for the seriousness of the situation. Steps will be taken to better monitor and guide public opinion. People will be quickly reminded that Beijing is still very much in charge.

Ultimately the prosperity of Hong Kong depends on the goodwill of Beijing. Thanks to its support, Hong Kong remains a key gateway for business into and out of China. However Shanghai and Singapore are beginning to take over the shipping business and stock markets on the mainland are attracting the money that used to go to Hong Kong. Without Beijing support Hong Kong will wither until it becomes just another city in China.

Despite international coverage of the riots, on the Chinese mainland there is little information on what is happening in Hong Kong.

What a story!

‘I’m an Overseas Brit and a Sichuan country girl,’ says Audrey Donnithorne, now 97, in her autobiography, ‘In Life’s Foreground’.

I got to know Audrey in Hong Kong but hundreds of other people have met her in England, Australia, China and other parts of the globe. The index of her book references 525 of them and I was not even mentioned!

Audrey was lecturing on Chinese economics in Hong Kong when China re-opened in the 1980s and, having been born there, she was immediately interested in availing of opportunities to reengage. Her parents had been Anglican missionaries in Sichuan province but when she was studying in Oxford Audrey became a Catholic and a proud one at that.

She developed her own contacts on the mainland but also encouraged a group in Hong Kong, including Columban Fr Ned Kelly, to unite in founding an organisation to send Catholic teachers and other experts to China. Thus AITECE, the Association for International Teaching and Educational Exchange, was born.

Audrey’s autobiography details her adventures in numerous countries over 93 years. They begin at the age of four when she and her family were kidnapped by Chinese bandits. The final chapter is a forthright reflection on the state of the modern world from the decline of the British Empire to Brexit, war, divorce, contraception and same-sex marriage.

She was expelled from China in 1997 but continues her efforts for China in Hong Kong.

She promises another volume of her memoirs. What a lady!

It rains in China too!

Last week south China had serious floods effecting 11 million people. The scenes in Wuhan reminded me of 1931 and 1938 when the Yangtze overflowed.  I wrote about those disasters recently in the China book —  how the Columbans played their part in relief efforts though their own compound was flooded.

When the giant Three Gorges Dam was completed on the Yangtze in 2012 it was expected to stop the annual floods but nature has proved stronger.

The continuing floods may or may not be related to climate change, no one is talking about that yet.

China uses half of the world’s coal supplies and produces a quarter of climate pollution.

The government takes the situation seriously and plans to phase out coal by 2040. China is already the largest solar technology manufacturer.

However, despite the wide ranging climate policy, emissions will increase till 2030 and by then the world will be in an even worse state, from which it will be harder to recover.

People joke about ’blue skies and cold homes’ but in Wuhan, despite the Three Gorges Dams, they  still worry more about the annual floods.  

Photo 1 is of the flooded Columban compound in 1931 and No 2 is the recent floods in the same city.

AITECE Innovator

Yesterday the Dalgan chapel was full for the funeral of Fr John McGrath.

After 30 years of educational and administrative work within the Columban Society he was appointed, at the age of 59, to Hong Kong in 1989 and began his long wished-for ‘hands–on’  involvement in mission.

For nine years he was general manager of the then newly formed AITECE organisation which sent volunteer teachers and experts to Chinese universities. He saw this as a continuation of the Columban commitment to China.

Soon AITECE was sending English-speaking teacher from Ireland , the UK, Australia, the U.S., the Philippines and a number of other countries to China to develop person-to-person relationships and show that the West was supportive of China in its efforts to modernise. In return, those who went to China with AITECE learnt from bright and friendly university students that the West too had much to learn from a tradition which had kept respectful human relations at the heart of society.

In 1998, due to health concerns he moved from AITECE to pastoral work in Hong Kong and became the chaplain of the Catholic Center in Hong Kong Central, working with both locals and ex-patriates.  He finally had to return to Ireland in 2016.

News of his death will bring back happy memories for many AITECE teachers who passed through Hong Kong during his time there and the good relationships he build up with universities in China.

The Irish and China

To celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations with China, a new edition  of ‘The Irish and China’ has been published.

In his introduction, President Higgins points out the growing presence of Irish products in China: infant milk formula, Kerrygold, Dubliner cheese, Baileys and Jameson. 

Beyond that, a surprising number of people know about literary figures such as Joyce, performances like Riverdance and singers like Enya.

In return, how much do Irish people know about China?  

President Higgins hopes that the book will help us learn from each other about how to cope better with common problems we face.  The book is an effort in that direction.

I contributed the chapter on what Irish Missionaries did and learned. In the process I discovered more about the Irish Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican missionaries whose efforts began earlier than those of the Maynooth Mission to China (Columban Fathers, one hundred years ago) to involve Irish Catholics in what was happening in China.    

Does anything happening in China have relevance for today’s Ireland?

A society likes Ireland’s that is getting narrower and more self-complacent needs to keep in touch with wider realities and China with its size, distance and differences can supply that.

The future is in China

We are used to look to China for worthwhile ideas from its long cultural experience but now we can turn to it for a glimpse of the future.

One impressive phenomena in China is the society-wide use of WeChat —  a form of Facebook Plus.

You can use it to phone or message, to pay bills, to get credit, to transfer money and to buy almost anything. It is fast leading to a world where credit cards and cash are outdated. Face recognition is beginning to replace pin numbers and passwords.

However all the information and images provided voluntary are available to the government and assist it in knowing where everyone is and what they are doing.

Of course, this has social benefits beyond convenience and seemingly low cost. It helps to prevent crime and trace criminals. 13,930 jay-walkers were identified in Fuzhou City within ten months by using the face-recognition system. Whether jay-walking is seriously criminal can be debated but the same method will be used to discover who are attending meetings not sanctioned by the government.  For example, any group of more than three people praying in a place not registered for that purpose is illegal.  The same applies to political gatherings.

In countries like Ireland, so far it is mainly big business who benefit from the voluntary offering of personal information and images but China provides an example of what the future has to offer.

Another reason for taking an interest in what is happening there!

My Korean Weekend

Last weekend was my Korean weekend. On Saturday I attended the AGM of The Korean Society of Ireland and on Sunday the monthly liturgy of the Korean Catholic Community.

While the number of Chinese in Ireland is said to be anything from 50,000 to 150,000, the number of Koreans is relatively small. According to the Census, they number less than 600 and that includes North as well as South Koreans. 

The Korean Society has 129 members and the Catholic Community has about 60 so that would account for one third of the number. However, the real number is probably greater and hundreds of Korean students come here to study English in the summer.

The Korean Society organises festivals, like the Lunar New Year’s, and offer services to Korean residents in Ireland. They also invite the homeless in Dublin to their Christmas celebration.

The Catholic community has fewer activities because most of the members live outside Dublin city. A number are married to Irishmen and live as far away as Limerick.

In comparison to the Chinese, the Koreans are financially much better off. Many work for international firms.

There are now half-a-million non-Irish, from two hundred different countries, living in Ireland. Among them the Chinese are probably the largest group. Forget the number in the census, many of them are not registered and live ‘out of sight’. 

While it’s great to see the Koreans organising themselves in the open and getting involved in Irish society, spare a thought for the Chinese.  From their homeland they brought a culture of avoiding authorities and making a living with little thought of how hard they will have to work for it.  For most, their future is not in Ireland but maybe we could do more for them while they are here. 

A Visit from the Chinese Irish

Last Saturday was windy and cold but 120 members of the Southside Chinese Community,  young and old but mostly young, visited Dalgan.

Because of the large number they were supposed to be divided into two groups , with one going to Tara first and the other proceeding to Dalgan. However windy conditions on Tara meant both groups arrived in Dalgan at about the same time and had to be divided into four groups of 30 so they could, in turn, take the tour of the chapel, Chinese Room, Exhibition Hall and audio-visual room before going outside on a Nature Walk. Keeping the four groups moving, with time for lunch in between, kept everyone busy.

Most of the children, aged 4 to 15, were  born in Ireland and attend local schools. However their parents’ English was not quite as good and for most of them the visit to Dalgan was their introduction to a church and Irish involvement in China. Fortunately we had a few Chinese speakers available to expand the explanations.  

The parents and teachers were delighted to see the collection of Chinese artefacts and signs of effort to understand the Chinese culture and situation. The younger ones were impressed that some Irish people could speak Chinese and they liked the wide corridors and open spaces. Dalgan was built to send people to China, now it becoming a bridge for Chinese people to integrate into Ireland

End of the Smiling Panda?

The sunny panda-face which China liked to show the world is beginning to lose its smile as economic and political realities catch up on the once so-positive super-nation.

In the early 2000s it began to launch exchange programs with universities around the world in order to learn from the best in other countries and extend friendly economic and cultural ties.  At first it was thinking only of links between its own top universities and those in the US, UK and Japan but in the spirit of giving weaker provinces a chance to prosper it allowed them to begin projects with lesser known universities in smaller countries, such as Ireland.

Gradually it discovered that many of those universities did not have the resources to produce the hoped-for outcome and last year it ended 234 such partnerships.

Among them were four projects with UCD and UCC. It is not that all such programs have ended – some Irish universities have recently signed new agreements. However the old days of plentiful money and lose regulation are coming to an end.  They are replaced by a more business-like attitude, more calculating than the previous affability. 

This cooling down is reflected also in other aspects of the new China such as its attitude toward religion where toleration had been increasing since the mid-1980s. Now old laws and regulations are being resurrected to strengthen control and ensure that, in a communist state, religion is tolerated only in as far as it serves the government.

In future we are likely to see less of the panda’s smile and feel more of its substantial size and considerable weight.

A Tragic Accident

The tragic accident of Mons Ante Jozic in his native Croatia shocked his many friends in Hong Kong. I had met him on numerous occasions after his arrival there over six years ago as the Vatican Representative and share their sadness.  The Vatican is not allowed an official delegate or nuncio on the mainland so since the 1950 a low-level representative (like Mons Ante) was their ‘China Watcher’ in Hong Kong.

The accident occurred shortly after Mons Ante had left Hong Kong on completing his six years stint. He had just been appointed Nuncio to the Ivory Coast and, as part of the process, was to be ordained Archbishop on 1 May.   

However on 7 April, when driving his car in a tunnel, another car drove into his. The cars burst into       flames and while both drivers were pulled out, the other driver died shortly afterwards and Mons Ante has just recently regained consciousness.

His youthful energy and warm personality sparked a bond with many people in Hong Kong. However he was not so popular among ‘Old Catholics’ on the mainland where he was blamed for the recent ‘Provisional Agreement’ between the Vatican and Beijing.

The Vatican saw it as a way of protecting the present Catholics and establishing the Church more firmly in China but many Catholics who had suffered persecution there saw it as handing over too much control to a Communist Government.

Indeed, after the Agreement was announced, pressure has increase on priests associated with the old or independent Church to join the government organised ‘Catholic Patriotic Association.’

Unfortunately, Mons Ante, who would have had little say in negotiating the agreement, received a lot of the criticism. Hopefully he himself will recover fully and will be able to resume his work in the Vatican diplomatic service but the wounds inflicted on the Chinese Church towards the end of his time as representative in Hong Kong will take longer to heal.