Hong Kong – Mourning Sickness

9 days later, and the the front page of the SCMP has still not changed its tune. Below is a preview of my upcoming column for Time Out.

Mourning Sickness

In conclusion, Manila police lacked gear and training during August’s hostage crisis. Any further media commentary or sensational analysis which went beyond this simple statement was redundant, unnecessary and arguably dangerous.

Voyeuristic tabloids splashing a bloody corpse on their cover, cynical companies advertising their ‘condolences’ (complete with prominent logos) and opportunistic, diversion-hungry politicians were all beneficiaries of the media circus surrounding the bus hijacking. This hyper-attentive, intrusive press coverage – often dubbed ‘grief porn’ – was also seen during events such as Princess Diana’s death, Madeleine McCann’s disappearance and the murder of Anna Svidersky in Vancouver.

Prompted by similar gratuitous and emotive reporting, HK subsequently experienced a phenomenon known as ‘mourning sickness’ where readers became actors and the entire populace indulged in mass grief and mourning. But this unified outpouring of sorrow and anger was mostly related to our own emotional needs rather than any real empathy with the victims, whom most of us had never met.

Were Hong Kongers really so inexorably compassionate, we would have seen similar reactions to the ongoing suffering in Pakistan or drought-hit Niger. Few protested in the streets when numerous Chinese children were tragically hacked to death in no less than 7 separate incidents in the mainland this year – yet the murderous perpetrators were all lone, hell-bent madmen just like Rolando Mendoza.

As the days wore on, the eagerness of strangers to be associated with the victim’s misfortune reached a frightening nadir as a minority – such as political candidate Lam Yi Lai – attacked Filipinos in general and even sacked their Filipino workers.

Manila’s police are right to conduct an internal investigation, but HK must also conduct an internal review of its reaction to the crisis. The knee-jerk political response and journalistic frenzy did nothing to aid the victims, their families or multi-cultural cohesion whilst the collective public mourning it provoked, genuine or not, should never excuse outright racism.

  • Agie

    As a Filipino Hong Kong resident, the past few weeks have been the hardest time of my entire 11 year stay in Hong Kong.

    The incident brought nothing but shame on our people. Yes, Mendoza was one man — but his story is not (by any stretch) an isolated incidence. The Philippines still ranks as one of the top most corrupt countries in the world. This whole thing has only demonstrated how inept the Philippine government and police-force are; how ‘quid pro quo’ has ruined the country and perhaps worse – how easily people get divided.

    Even before the tragedy, many Filipinos were already being maltreated by their employers and we have had to bear the brunt of a stigma; looked down upon despite our skill, education and personal integrity — all because of the Filipino stereotype in HK. You can only imagine how combustive this one event has made things for us who consider Hong Kong our home.

    I’ve never had to “be careful” walking the streets. I’ve never had to watch my back. I’ve never had to stand in an MTR car feeling self-conscious — whether ‘FILIPINO’ was emblazoned on my forehead somehow. It sounds irrational because Hong Kong people are supposed to be very “passive” – but recent events have proven otherwise.

    You are totally right to call into question why this one incidence has resulted in such an emotive response among the Hong Kong people. I believe that it may be a sign of true change. For far too long they have remained ‘self-involved’ as a people, content to ‘look over’ things that do not directly concern them — it is sadly, a ‘human’ thing.

    Perhaps, this will awaken an urgency in them to the reality of things within and beyond Hong Kong — the political unrest in Burma, human trafficking in Thailand, the continued persecution of Christians in China — the list goes on…

    One can only hope that out of tragedy something new will be born.