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Posts Tagged ‘superstition’

I have a soft spot, I must admit, for the Hong Kong Standard. I spent many happy years working at the paper, when it was a real newspaper for which you had to pay. It still has a livelier style than its English-language rivals, and a less obsequious approach to the possessors of power, money or both. So it is with great regret that I report that on the evening preceding Thursday the staff seem to have taken leave of their senses. The front page lead on Thursday – which in practice, for there is not much room on a tabloid front page, means the only front page story – was “Get set for stocks gallop”.

This was devoted to the idea that, according to feng shui, the stock market will rise to a Hang Seng index above 28,000. We must not blame the reporter (Karen Chiu) for this. In the first sentence of the story it says the story came from brokerage CSLA in “its yearly tongue-in-cheek forecast”. A “tongue-in-cheek forecast”, gentlemen, is a joke. If it is to be reported at all the place for it is in a diary-type format. The SCMPost had the same story in its Lai See column. Readers expect the front-page lead to be about news, not superstition or spoofs.

Newspapers generally are not very picky about this sort of thing. The SCM Post still devotes a large slab of tree carcass to horoscopes. Equal opportunity superstition is ensured by devoting equal space to the Western and Chinese versions. I can recall participating in such basically meaningless rituals as the first baby of the New Year, and even the first baby of Christmas Day (“Are you going to call him Jesus?”) without a qualm. One of my minor defeats as a news executive was over the inclusion of a horoscope in the Sunday Standard. The ladies on the staff were horrified by my insistence that this was a load of superstitious nonsense so we would not have one. Under heavy fire, I retreated to the position that we could not afford it. The ladies then found someone who was willing to do it for nothing.

We are all, nowadays, expected to subscribe to the polite fiction that Chinese Medicine is in some mysterious way different from the magical cures which circulated in many places 5,000 years ago, and were rightly discarded because the scientific approach is more effective. That is not to say that the scientific approach is itself beyond reproach. Historians dispute the date at which doctors in the Western tradition began to do more good than harm. Many put it at about 1900, some put it later.

Anyway, if there is a place for superstition it should not be on the front page, especially when the superstition is offered in a jovial spirit. Thursday’s Standard had plenty of stories which could usefully have graced its front page. I was particularly taken with the one at the beginning of the property section. The dumb decision to restore motor traffic to parts of Mong Kok previously pedestrianised has already caused shop rents to fall 10 per cent. Business has declined, as was expected and predicted. Serves you whingers right.

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