No Gunboats When the Han
Are This Month's Victims
by Bernard Fong
Hong Kong Standard

You have to process every scrap of info into your palmtop nowadays to get a grip of events. More and more the public attention span is limited to the news magazine blurb or the television news flash.

To simplify things, you have to tag and chronicle them. Take man's inhumanity to man - a perennial headline item. The victims of this month are the East Timorese, about whom lights of nations are stirred, uh, emoted, a favourite intellectual verb.

The palmtop says the victims of last month were the Turks and the month before the Serbs just after it had been the Albanians' turn.

Tibetan Chinese remain victims of fashion in Hollywood and in the mansion, nay, temple of Richard Gere.

The actor preaches the Dalai Lama's banal gospel when he is not on the set romancing Julia Roberts. The Jews are the victims of the 20th century, the 19th century, and so on back into the dark ages. According to the rabbinical New York Times, they are victims of history and eternity. But the Han Chinese are never victims worthy of United Nations pity and media fixation, except when they are oppressed by their own ``Satanic'' government. There was brief interest in the outlawed mystic cult, the Falun Gong, but it waned because the sect's acolytes and apostles were weird, even by Hollywood standards. A producer is going to rustle up a script and money for a movie on the Falun Gong the way the Dalai Lama has been done to death. China is the latest media and movie villain supreme. Wait until Austin Powers, who spoofs 007 so well, does the Yellow Empire.

China is Box Office, and Hong Kong starlets are queuing for a chance to crack Hollywood on the backs, figuratively, of Michelle Yeo and Sinophobia, portraying damsels to dragon-slaying Aryan knights.

The Australians are incensed about East Timor. This selective twinge of conscience is rich. Prime Minister John Howard has found it hard to apologise to Aborigines for their losses of childhood, land and lives. But the same amnesic Aussies certainly did not promise gunboats to rescue Chinese trapped in Indonesia last year.

Even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (so aggrieved by the genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, the carnage in the Congo, the mayhem in East Timor) has never sounded the klaxon for the Hans in their diaspora. He is not alone in indifference and in the complicity of silence, even though the Indonesian Chinese community is still living under the human volcano.

Mr. Annan has in his company Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and others, who otherwise posture for universal human rights. This hardly surprises. Not many, besides the bereaved families, still remember that between 1965 and 1967 250,000 Chinese were murdered in Indonesian pogroms.

You forget not the 1998 killings if your palmtop contains a list of websites with gruesome photographs depicting the horror and an incomplete roster list of the victims. Those who did not condemn the savagery condoned it. Han lives are not cheaper than those of other races, whatever the media and the movies imply.