Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Szeto Wah 

I attended the public memorial for Szeto Wah this afternoon. Although the South China Morning Post is not easy to find in China (I can only buy it at the International airport, and then only after I go through security), I do listen to Newswrap (6:00 o'clock evening news on RTHK) every evening, and I also watch The Pulse, which is a public affairs television show on RTHK, so I was aware of Szeto Wah's illness, and his recent death from cancer. I had assumed that a funeral for someone of his stature would be by invitation only, but I was planning to go to St. Andrew's church tomorrow, so I was on their website yesterday, and I discovered by coincidence that the funeral was being held there, and that there was a public memorial before the funeral, so I decided to go down there and pay my respects.

Szeto Wah was a public school teacher in Hong Kong for many years. He first came to prominence when he founded the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in 1974, in response to cuts in teachers' salaries. In anticipation of the handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China, he was appointed by the Beijing Government to the committee charged with drafting the Basic Law. Although Beijing did not really like him, they knew his influence among the democratic community in Hong Kong. I think perhaps they wanted to get on the "good side" of him. But the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown changed all that. Szeto Wah withdrew from the committee, He established the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, and was subsequently banned from entering China.

During the last months of his life, Szeto Wah surprised many of his former backers by supporting a compromise measure with Beijing regarding the eventual establishment of universal suffrage for the people of Hong Kong. This move created much disillusionment among people who had previously supported him. But I am inclined to think that their anger is misplaced. I have mixed feelings about the compromise, because, although it means giving in to Beijing's timetable, there is no question about the motives of the compromisers. They want democracy just as much as their detractors. I don't want to go into all the details of the various democratic factions in Hong Kong--you can study that on your own if you want. Suffice it to say that democracy was promised to the people of Hong Kong as part of the handover agreement between Deng Xiao-ping and Margaret Thatcher. But the Beijing government has been putting off the full implementation of that agreement.

I am not a strong believer in democracy. I think democracy is overrated. It does not work in a society that does not have a strong Judeo-Christian moral foundation. But the people of Hong Kong were promised democracy, and a promise is a promise. So while the various factions dispute about who is most invested in what is best for Hong Kong, I think their energies would be better spent on calling out the central government to keep the promised committed to in the treaty that established the S.A.R. Look at it this way: How long would it take to implement full universal suffrage for the people of Hong Kong, if the Beijing government really wanted to keep that promise? Two months? Maybe two years..but not twenty years (2017 is the new target date set by Beijing). So while we mourn the death of a long time democracy activist, we must also mourn the death of integrity. There is simply no honesty in Beijing's position. I guess we should try to see their side of it. Personally, I think Legco (the Legislative Council of Hong Kong) is a refreshing alternative to the hopelessly sterile atmosphere of the National People's Congress, but I imagine when those guys in Beijing watch the proceedings in the Legislative Council, with people yelling at the Chief Executive like a bunch of two-year-olds having a tantrum, it makes them pretty nervous about giving them too much autonomy.

I was walking back to the MTR station from the memorial service, and when I got to the intersection, the light was red, so I looked one way, until the traffic was clear, then crossed to the middle and looked the other way to check the traffic coming from that direction. Suddenly I looked up and realized that I was absolutely the only person in the middle of the road, with a crowd of people on both sides of the street waiting patiently for the light to turn green. Oops, I have to remember I'm not in Beijing. Hong Kong operates like the rest of the civilized world.

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