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Changing China

Christine Loh

     ... Hong Kong activist. After a successful career in the private sector, Ms. Loh was active in Hong Kong politics, helping shape the public debate as power was transferred from Great Britain to China, and having been appointed, was then elected to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. An advocate for democratic reform as well as an international voice for sustainable environmental policies, Ms. Loh left electoral politics to found and direct "Civic Exchange," an independent public policy think-tank.


Hong Kong offers the world a window on China and offers China a testing ground for ideas which can serve it and the rest of the world, according to Christine Loh. She is a former member of the Legislative Council (having been both appointed and elected), a widely recognized environmental leader, a voice for reform and the founder and head of Civic Exchange, a non-partisan think tank.

Of China’s 1.3 billion people, Hong Kong has only 7 million on a “speck” of land, she reminds us. But its potential for influence as an interpreter for Chinese civilization is enormous, Ms. Loh is convinced. She thinks it’s also a space where people can try out multiple identifications, a key characteristic of the post-modern world.

She takes the broad view of where Chinese civilization is and where it might go. For the last several thousand years, she assures us, China has been facing a fundamental issue: how to govern a very large place. She’s convinced that the areas on the fringes of Mainland China offer exciting possibilities: Hong Kong, a former British colony now integrating into Mainland China; Macao which was under the Portuguese for longer than Britain ruled Hong Kong; Taiwan, transiting from a Leninist state into a new democracy; and Singapore. Add in the entrepreneurial Chinese who left over the past 200 years and intellectuals currently studying all over the world, and the Mainland has lots from which to draw.

Ms. Loh has played a significant role in making Hong Kong a voice for alternatives. After having led the opposition party in the Legislative Council, she chose to leave the seat to which she had been elected to create a think tank intent on giving people the tools for action. Empowering them. Basic issues like the environment -- air and water -- are good practice for what she is conceptualizing as “sustainability tools” -- facilitation, group dynamics, communication, conflict transformation tools -- so that people can see different options and solutions and not feel debilitated.

With these tools, she is looking for ways to unlock knowledge that has the potential to address problems facing not only the Chinese but all the world’s people. The ideas we all need are going to come from the people, she’s convinced. Maximizing what those individuals bring will require that we understand our own biases and prejudices, that we know what our values are and how we can acknowledge people who come from a different kind of background. Yes, these things are difficult. But her political experience shows her that -- difficult as it is -- it IS possible. Ms. Loh is hard at work creating the processes by which communities and large groups can find solutions, hopefully even turning combative legislatures into deliberative bodies.

The whole debate about China’s change is about not just about China, she believes. It’s about civilization. Christine Loh and Civic Exchanges’ role? To be helpful to authority.

[This Program was recorded April 16, 2002, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.]

Conversation 1

The Right Honorable Christine Loh describes her positive approach to a vast array of challenges facing Hong Kong, China and the world for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Ms. Loh compares Hong Kong's small size to the large potential it has for influence.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:56

Conversation 2

Keenly aware that Hong Kong has always been a window for people interested in China, Ms. Loh suggests it also can serve the role of interpreter and be a space for people to have multiple identifications. She remembers how she became aware of environmental issues in the mid-1980s, confident that facing issues of the future of water and air are good ways for people inside and outside China to understand each other. She explains why she stepped down from the Legislative Council to create and lead Civic Exchange, a private sector think-tank. She compares Hong Kong to a testing ground.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:35

Conversation 3

China has been discussing "how best to govern" for several thousand years. She describes how she thinks about the complex problem. She enumerates five main, organic Chinese communities and considers the current state of the Chinese psyche, confident the debate about "how to govern" reaches far beyond China. She suggests that juxtaposing a very old country (China) with a very new one (U.S.A.) can generate the possibility of a great world dialogue. She considers the role Hong Kong has already played in China's evolution and reminds us of the staggering dimensions of social changes which have taken place in China in the recent past, using gender as an example.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:09

Conversation 4

We need to begin to think of the economy as a subset of the environment, Ms. Loh contends. She elaborates.She talks about the particular challenges China's large population poses, exemplified by waste production. We must not ask people to compromise on comfort, she says, urging instead that cities be designed to be more resource and energy efficient. She describes her search for alternative ways to develop. She heralds the entrepreneurial spirit, confident of China's eagerness to free up the private sector. She describes different home-grown alternatives.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:19

Conversation 5

Ms. Loh summarizes the objectives of Civic Exchange: to articulate current problems and present options to opinion makers and shapers. She talks about empowering people by gathering them together and giving them skills with which to return to their communities, ready to take action to influence policy. She describes how she came to understand the political landscape and how useful basic issues like air quality can be. Creating champions of change is her goal, she says, and elaborates. She poses questions for the future.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:01

Conversation 6

Ms. Loh seeks clarity in life's complexity and talks about the tools she thinks it takes attain it. She regrets legislative bodies' tendencies to be combative, not deliberative. She summarizes her eagerness to learn from current experiences so as to be helpful to authority.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:07


Christine Loh is a global hero. We are encouraged that she is working for the good of all people and for the earth on which we all depend. Her courage and positive attitude set high standards for us all and we thank her for both.

Mr. C.S. Kiang’s passion for protecting the earth is admirable. We are grateful for his lifetime of important work, around the world, and particularly appreciative that he brought us together with Ms. Loh

Related Links:

Visit Christine' Loh's Civic Exchange website for regular updates on their ground breaking work.

As has Christine Loh, many of our other guests are working to bring democracy to their countries, to other nations, or to improve its functioning.  Among them are:  Gerry Adams, Barney Pityana, Aminatta Forna's late father Mohammed Forrna, Hugh Masekela, Robert Pastor, Geneive Abdo, Angela Glover Blackwell, Bill Bolling, President Jimmy Carter, Ann Florini, John Hope Franklin, Thom Hartmann, Arianna Huffington and Cornel West.

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