Law Association, HKUSU
High Table Speech, 12 April 2001
The organizers want me to speak about how to
uphold personal values and integrity in time of change. In giving
me this question to address, they cannot be thinking about changing
from Cafe de Coral to Maxim¡¦s Fast Food for meals
or changing from Lui Che Wo Law Library to the Main Library as
the place to study for your examinations.
The question presupposes the change being talked
about here forces one to adopt values that are inconsistent with
long-held values. And, it further assumes that if one sails with
the wind by adopting the new values, one will necessarily be sacrificing
one¡¦s integrity. Fortunately, not every change challenges
long-held values and puts one¡¦s integrity to the
I don¡¦t know whether changing your
boy friend qualifies. I suppose it doesn¡¦t. The
classic setting for discussion of the question posed for me tonight
will be something like this:
||You were brought up to believe in certain
moral or professional standards of behaviour, legal values
and values of justice and democracy and the inherent and inalienable
rights of man. There is a recent change in the governance
of the place and the new regime harbours values and ideologies
very different from those you have learnt to believe in and
treasure in the past. Do you then abandon the values and ideologies
you hold dear to your heart and quickly adapt to those of
the new regime? Or, do you want to continue to defend the
principles you believe in; even those may not be favoured
by the ones who are in power?
Different people will react differently in the
But, before I go on to discuss what the different
reactions can be, I must warn you to be more alert to changes
taking place around you. If you are slow to even realize that
changes are happening, then you may be depriving yourself of a
conscious choice of how to react.
Change is not always sudden and dramatic, and
the changes that can do the most harm are those that we don¡¦t
see coming. Consider the story of the frog that was dropped into
a pan of hot water. The frog immediately reacted to the heat by
jumping out of the pen. Another frog was put into a pan of cold
water on a stove. The burner beneath the pan was turned on low,
and then the heat was gradually increased so that temperature
of the water rose only a degree at a time. Change was occurring,
but because it was gradual the frog accepted it and stayed in
the pan and was boiled. In a way, we are all in the same pan.
We react immediately to dramatic changes, but we run the risk
of getting cooked if we fail to notice the little, slow changes
occurring around us.
Now, I shall come back to the different reactions,
if I may. Discounting the majority who are indifferent, people
fall largely into three categories.
Some adapt to the new values and ideologies at
once. They all of a sudden realize now that they have been wrong
in the past in holding the values and ideologies they did. Of
course, such realizations may represent genuine dawning to past
errors by some or simply hypnotism practised on themselves by
Some cannot live with things in the new order
and choose to leave the scene all together.
Others persist in what they believe to be the
right thing to do and contribute to upholding the values and ideologies
they have always treasured and believed to be for the good of
the people with whom and the place in which they have been brought
I think the organizers want me to make a few
observations on what one can do if one finds oneself fall into
the last category of beings. I shall be too happy to oblige.
If you find yourself in this last category, the
first thing I would advise you do is to satisfy yourself that
your insistence on adhering to the old values stands to reason.
It is not because of your being one of those people who hate any
change that doesn¡¦t jingle in their pockets. It
is not because of any selfish consideration that you are resisting
changes for the better.
Having satisfied yourself that you have good
reason to be insistent, you need then to find mutual support in
friends and others who think like you. To be able to feel that
you are not alone is the consolation you need from time to time.
Even with the support of people who share the
same values, you cannot help to feel lonely at times when the
majority of the people around you continue to bury themselves
in their own work and apparently care about nothing but themselves.
You doubt whether your time could have been better spent. It may
help at such times for you to remind yourself that the Chinese
expects highly of scholars. Scholars are well educated people
who have the vision of what is good for his fellowmen and possess
the sense of mission to implement what they think is right. As
scholars, we should have that scholarly personality. You do not
want to look back after 10 years and regret over the prospects
of things that may have been different had you acted in time.
It is always better to make timely efforts and fail than regretting
in the future over things that could have been done but undone.
And, you will be surprised that people constituting
the apparently indifferent majority are not without views. They
simply refuse to speak up for one reason or another. If you have
spoken their minds, they are never shy to express their gratitude
for your having done so.
Mind you, if yours is a principled approach and
you have demonstrated that you can argue in support of what you
believe to be right with good reasons and logic, even people who
have to be perceived to take a view different from yours because
of their political affiliation or office will respect you in their
hearts, even if they cannot do so with their mouths.
As I am talking to law students, I think I shall
conclude on what you can do for Hong Kong in this time of change.
"One Country, Two Systems" is a novel idea and many
uncharted territories will have to be visited during the course
of its implementation. Hong Kong has benefited from the rule of
law and the proper administration of justice in the past over
100 years. But, the irony is the rule of law as an institution
imported from England has not really taken root in Hong Kong.
After HKSAR has rejoined the motherland in 1997, some leftist
sectors of our society have brought immense pressure to bear on
the system that most of us have taken for granted. They start
to query whether there has been "judicial activism"
being practised in our courts. They begin to openly bring our
judges into public scandal, odium and contempt. In short, they
do not want the Rule of Law as an institution that we know of
Legal values, moral standards of behaviour and
inherent and inalienable human rights are constantly under threat.
We cannot just count on the Department of Justice or the Judiciary
to defend those values. We all have our parts to play. Law students
of today are tomorrow¡¦s leaders of the profession
to whom the baton will be passed on. You should never be slow
to take on the responsibilities.
The Mainland has had only just over 20 years
since 1979 to rebuild her legal system and I certainly commend
her for what has so far been accomplished. With her accession
to WTO and becoming part of the international business community,
I think the rule of law may eventually prevail over the Mainland
after 2 to 3 generations of lawyers.
Ladies and Gentlemen: It will be farcical for
the Mainland to have the Rule of Law after three decades while
the same institution has dwindled in the HKSAR. Please remember:
you have your part to play.
I think I have earned my dinner.
Before I sit down, may I wish you all a happy
Easter Season. Thank you.