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Who can occupy Central?

Comments coming out of the China Liaison Office naming love of Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China as not-negotiable assets for passing muster as a candidate for chief executive may seem harmless on the surface, but the makeup of the judging panel could provide the menace.

Coupled with misinformation coming from professed Beijing supporters that the United Nations Universal Declaration on Democracy does not advocate the freedom to stand for office, the patriotism issue has taken on a confrontational visage.

In the midst of this confrontation, a professor of constitutional law, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, backed by some religious leaders in the city, has announced bold plans to occupy the Central Business District in the summer of next year, with the hope of putting at least 10,000 people into the streets.

While critics accuse him of threatening the welfare of people, Tai himself likens it more to preaching rather than a disruption of the daily routine of people and business life.

He stresses that true preaching has much more to do with action than with words and is calling on volunteers to submit themselves peacefully to whatever the law throws at them, as the exercise is about self-sacrifice, not causing harm to others.

What he is proposing is an interesting test of patriotic love, which can only be refined in the furnace of self-sacrifice, rather than a love that could be professed within the parametres of self-interest.

A quick read of the biblical parable of the man who asked his two sons to work in the fields reveals one who quickly agreed, but did nothing; while the other refused point blank, but in the wash up, put his back into it.

Jesus question was, “Which one truly loved his father?”

True love for country is reflected more in action than platitude.

However, Hong Kong has one evergreen mantra, “It is bad for business!” It has been resurrected to throw against Tai and his group’s plan to occupy the city’s financial centre.

The first democratically elected position in Hong Kong was held by a lawyer, John Joseph Francis. In 1883, he was elected to the Sanitary Board. One of the biggest hurdles he faced came from the colony’s burgeoning business community, claiming that the disruption caused by the laying of sewerage pipes would be bad for business!

History remembers few patriotic leaders for sustaining the status quo, but it does glorify those who suffered for what they believed, whether they succeeded or not.

Tai is calling for self-sacrifice. “We may be afraid,” he was quoted as saying. “However, we will decide not to escape, but to recover the dignity of life.”

The search is for true love, which only grows in an environment that allows people the freedom to love. It cannot be dictated.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio said in 2010, “True patriotism is a gift, true nationhood something that deserves a different civil and spiritual climate… that enables us to overcome our permanent state of confrontation.”

Sewerage may have been bad for business, but succeeding generations have given thanks to those who fought against the politics of self-interest and personal profit to get it installed.

Maybe true democracy is also a dream that requires self-sacrifice, lest it end up where it began, in the city’s sewerage system. JiM