Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In Praise of Bad Men

Lots of Hong Kong bloggers, myself included, not to mention political figures, business types and even the normally thicker journalist and dim witted singers and actors have made a steady habit of criticizing Donald Tsang who is somewhat affectionally known as the Human Bow tie (THBT) on this blog.

We've called him all sorts of names, defamed his ancestry and disparaged his competence, intelligence and fitness for his job. However, I think that it is possible that I and all the others have been disappointed in THBT may have missed the point. The problem with Donald Tsang isn't that he is incompetent but that he is not mean enough. Oh he has a reputation for being petty and vindictive but those traits only rise slightly above the level of banality and give him the appearance of a bumbler making him him an easy target. THBT does not strike me as a ruthless man.

I was thinking about this because I've been thinking about the story of the prodigal son. Normally when we think of this story we think of forgiveness and the impetuousness of youth or the love of parents for their children. For some reason, I thought of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. He was a general, the adopted son of a general who was raised to the purple after one of the many civil wars that plagued Byzantium. Justinian then became the second in that dynasty after the death of his adopted father. He was also, in a very real way a returned prodigal because he wanted to give up the throne and was persuaded not to.

He was not a large man, slender and soft spoken. He married for love not politics which was rare in those days and would have been happy to remain a general. Not the image of the strong and tall emperor. He was also a blond haired, blue eyed man in a city of black haired, brown eyed Greeks and felt their dislike of him. Shortly after becoming emperor, the city of Constantinople was ravaged by riots. Justinian wanted to either abdicate or take the royal treasury and move the capital to his native Carthage. He was stopped by his wife, Theodora, who literally grabbed him by tunic and asked: "How many men would have given everything to wear the purple for only an hour? How many would have wished for the glory you have? Do you wish to be remembered as a defeated emperor, a man who gave up the throne?"

Justinian quelled the riots. This man who was described as gentle and soft spoken, who seldom raised his voice killed 40000 inhabitants of Constantinople to put down riots. He then borrowed money from the Greek Orthodox church to finance a a series of wars in an attempt to reconquer the Western part of the Roman empire. He defeated the armies of the Vandals, Berbers, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Persians. He also build huge, magnificent churches and cathedrals. Under his leadership the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest territorial size.

We remember him as Justinian the Great. He is considered a Saint and "Right Believing" emperor in the Greek Church. Yet, when he died there was rejoicing in the streets. The people he ruled did not love him. They didn't like the heavy tax burden he'd imposed or the repressive measures he used to control the empire.

The point? Simply Justinian was more concerned about Byzantium than what people thought of him personally. He pursued the goal enhancing the glory and size of Byzantium ruthlessly. All great men and women have this trait. History may call them villains or it may remember them as heroes. It appears to me that most great men are a mixture of the two. Patton slapping a soldier, Scott letting men die to reach South Pole; Columbus confronting his mutinous crew with a swivel cannon, the examples are endless. Whether the great person is remember as a hero or villain is sometimes a matter of perspective but often goes to their motives as well. It also has something to do with whether or not they knew when to stop. Patton slapped the solider but didn't have him executed.

Donald Tsang, THBT is simply not ruthless enough. He is to concerned about people thinking of him as a nice guy. He needs to have a bad streak, maybe engage some dirty pool. He needs to take some initiative to do what he feels is right even if it is unpopular.

He be a lot more effective leader if he did.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who isn't very mean either

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