The Oxford Union debate on the motion This House Believes that the 21st Century Belongs to China took place in November 2012. We have already heard from Lord Powell, Stefan Halper, and Lord Wei. Today it is the turn of Sir David Tang who spoke against the motion.
Sir David begins by going straight for Lord Powell’s jugular (metaphorically, you understand). He has evidently been sitting seething since Lord Powell made some assertions during his speech. Lord Powell in his turn leaps up to defend himself, but Sir David refuses to relinquish the floor till he has finished making both his points. Eventually Lord Powell is able to refute or clarify, and an uneasy peace resumes.
What we have witnessed in this episode is a battle of cultures, and I do not mean East versus West. I mean magnate versus mandarin. Now that I write it I immediately see that I am still ambiguous given the Chinese origins of the term ‘mandarin’, so let me make completely clear what I mean. Sir David is a very successful businessman who has thrived and developed his communication skills in the sometimes brutally tough market place. He is the magnate. Lord Powell by contrast has thrived and developed his communication skills in the equally brutal, but outwardly silky, corridors of the civil service mandarinate. Bruiser versus fencer! I know which I favour, but anyway I find those two and a half minutes fascinating to watch.
The opening episode concluded, we have seen the last of Sir David’s ability to do without his script. Regular readers will sigh and prepare to move on, because of the wearisome repetition of this theme in my blog; but in this case we are looking at something subtly different. Usually I look to highlight occasions when the speaker’s eyes lift from the paper and a heightened coherence manifests itself for a few seconds. Sir David is an extremely rare example of one who actually gets bogged down and tongue-tied when not reading. During that opening exchange his eloquence was driven by passion, so he shot very effectively from the hip. Now that his ire has cooled he absolutely needs his script.
Lest anyone be rash enough to suggest that therefore all he has to do is get angry, I hasten to quote Ambrose Bierce –
Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
He is not a very young man, though younger than I, so I suspect that it is frequent practice that has made him so much more comfortable with a script than without. If he came to me could I sever that dependency? Ye-e-e-e-s, but it would be much more difficult than usual – usually it is easy. And why should he bother when he has learnt to handle paper so well? I don’t merely refer to his delivery: the idiomatic syntax with which his script is written lends itself to very expressive speaking. He really is the exception that proves my no-paper rule.
He delivers humour dead-pan and well. He harvests a few well-deserved and well-timed laughs, but you actually find yourself wondering whether he meant to be funny. It is not till he sits down and shares broad, relaxed smiles with his confederates, that you are permitted a glimpse of his own humour.
In conclusion, though I would enjoy tinkering here and there, I rather think I prefer just to sit and listen to him.