The Pint and the Pub

In response to my last post, one of my facebook friends posted this to my wall:

“The pub brews revolution more than the tea house. Just a thought.” Dude, if this were true, the amerindians would’ve all joined AIM [American Indian Movement]! Grievance-sharing, sure, but grievance construction is quite another thing!! The Green Dragon Tavern where revolution was brewed in Boston still doesnt sport TVs, but that is the exception to USer bars these days. the causes and dis-causes of revolutionary activity, or even plain political involvment in general, far outstrip the pint-factor, true though it may be.

He also mentioned the use of alcohol as a tool of distraction and repression.  And I generally agree, so let me clarify myself.  Alcohol can be useful in getting people to open up and express sentiments they wouldn’t otherwise express.  But what’s more important are gathering places.  The pub is more potent than the pint.

Big Beijing knows this.  In Mainland China, gathering places, whether physical or virtual, are rare and monitored.  Pubs aren’t a major concern because Chinese people don’t drink much, and when they go to bars it’s usually more about status than sitting and talking.  In HK, foreigners sit in the bars and drink; Chinese people take pictures of each other outside the bars.  This is such a familiar scene in all the high-status nightlife areas of the city, that it makes my local pub very special to me.  It’s a rare place in HK where people gather to just have a few pints and discuss what interests them.

The Hong Kong Basic Law protects freedom of expression and assembly, and those protections are actually pretty robust, similar to the US.  What’s also similar to the US is the way the rulers use commercialism and other distractions (like beer and sports) to keep people from engaging in politics.   In both places, there is a small minority of citizens who actually use their freedoms of expression and assembly to try to gain a voice in the political process.  In both, citizens are still working to get a voice, not using that voice to effect change directly.

An example of this is the current “debate” over Hong Kong’s proposed construction of a high speed rail link with Beijing.  But what this debate is really about is democracy: the protesters want universal suffrage.  What universal suffrage means in Hong Kong (where all adult permanent residents can vote already) is the elimination of the functional constituencies which effectively give corporations and Big Beijing direct representation in the Legislative Council  (This council is appropriately called “LegCo” and the head of the executive branch is Chief Executive.  Hong Kong is basically a Chinese corporation, and the people are its consumers.) So while the government builds infrastructure that will probably benefit a majority of citizens, those citizens protest because they weren’t consulted.  In the US, the health care debate is stalled because of a corporate sponsored backlash masquerading as populism.  In the end, the people are manipulated into fighting against their own interests because they feel manipulated; the real issues are forgotten, and the protests prove paranoid.

Because Americans and HongKongers lack real power to influence policy, they rebel against “big government spending” even when that spending is arguably in their interests.  Fed up with a political system dominated by corporate interests and a government that doesn’t listen to their demands, Americans fight the government’s attempt to provide better health care and HongKongers  fight the government’s attempt to provide more efficient infrastructure.  When people are this manipulated by the media and this frustrated by their own inefficacy, no amount of conversation, no matter how honest, will do them much good.

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5 responses to “The Pint and the Pub

  1. From what you’re saying and from what little I’ve seen of HK, it seems that corporate influence is more ostensible there and the government makes little effort to pretend otherwise. In fact, it even appears that they unabashedly embrace it (e.g. LegCo). Not so in the US. This makes the manipulation harder to identify and thus more difficult to resist. Between the US and HK, where do you think corporations have more clout? My impression is that the surreptitious nature of corporate involvement in the US makes them more influential here than in HK in spite of appearances. Your thoughts?

    • The US has the most sophisticated propaganda system the world has ever known, so yes Americans are more confused than HongKongers about exactly how corporations control their political system. But I think most Americans (on the left and the right) have some vague notion that lobbyists and campaign contributions are a big part of the problem.

      Now that propaganda system, known as the mainstream media, is sneakier. Since the corporate media constantly claims that the corporate media has a liberal bias, many Americans are fooled into believing that. That’s where that freedom of speech comes in. In both HK and the US, the media is dominated by the same corporations that dominate the government, but it’s less obvious. This serves the function of limited criticism of the government to the things corporations want to change, and saying “this far and no further” when it comes to critiques from the left.

      But in general, I think the US and HK are probably two of the governments most dominated by corporate influence. The EU is working on that, as they are designing their own pseudo-democratic institutions that also create avenues for direct corporate influence.

  2. On another note, I like the new look of your blog.

  3. a teacher who has been in asia for ten years

    After ten years in Taiwan, China and Japan, I’d like to talk about how drinking, tea houses and politics interact. In Taipei, there is a tea house, whose name I dont remember but is still kept in its original state. It is the very same teahouse there the revolution against the Chinese Communists was planned by Chaing Kai Shek to raid China and start the Republic of China in Taiwan in the early 1940’s. The Cultural Museum in Taipei attests to that success with many wonderful artifacts from China making it one of the most admired museums in Asia. Taiwan does not have a high drinking culture.

    However in mainland China, the Chinese actually do alot of drinking and actively discuss politics under the influence. It is just done “under the radar”. People gather in their homes and drink “white lightening” and invite gweillos, as well as Chinese that are discouraged members of the party, as well as independents, mostly younger people that have actively protested against the government. Another avenue for gathering together are the kareoke bars that all have private rooms people can rent for up to 10 people. Alcohol flows freely there, as does political talk, along with singing silly songs. There is a ban in mainland China that you cannot have congregations of more than 10 people in a public space without a permit, so people who want to gather get around that with private home meetings, as well as the kareoke bars, and who knows how many others venues. these are just the ones I have been invited to as a foreign teacher. do not in any way think they do not discuss politics. they do. Just under more secrecy because the price is too high to risk doing it openly in western bars.

  4. It’s interesting to hear that in mainland China alcohol seems to facilitate the discussion of politics. Alcohol makes people brave and stupid; you may have to be a little of both to discuss politics in China. But there’s a lot more to complain about, politically, in China than there is here, so maybe that helps explain why there seems to be comparatively less discussion of politics in HK. Also, when the government bans something, particularly something as natural as talking about politics, it may actually make people want to do it more than if it were legal.

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