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Szeto Wah at his last June 4 vigil in Hong Kong in 2010.

I’d seen the name Szeto Wah in SCMP news reports during my time in the mainland, but never paid too much attention to domestic Hong Kong politics at the time.  It wasn’t until I picked up the book The Fall of Hong Kong – China’s Triumph and Britain’s Betrayal by Mark Roberti that I learned of Szeto’s substantial role in the establishment of the SAR and advancement of human rights and democracy.

In fact, although he was banned from the mainland from 1989 onwards, Szeto can join the likes of Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Liu Xiaobo and others in the pantheon of Chinese patriots who fought and suffered for the advancement of human rights and democracy on the mainland.

For those unaware of Szeto’s contributions, I recommend the above book and defer to a brief biography in today’s South China Morning Post (behind a paywal):

Szeto had once harboured high hopes for the country’s future after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “I thought my hope for a prosperous, democratic and free China had been realised at that time,” he wrote in July 1997.

Those hopes faded, but his idealism never did. In 1973 Szeto spearheaded Hong Kong’s first territory-wide teachers strike in protest at a government decision to cut teachers’ salaries by 15 percent. The next year, he founded the Professional Teachers’ Union, which subsequently blossomed into one of the city’s biggest trade unions, now with 82,000 members.

In 1978, he led the “Chinese-language movement” in Hong Kong to get mother-tongue classes introduced in secondary schools.

In 1982, he led anti-Japanese protests after Tokyo amended Japanese history textbooks to allegedly whitewash war atrocities against China in the 1930s and ’40s.

Later he helped found the United Democrats of Hong Kong and its successor, the Democratic Party.

The article continues to note that Szeto Wah and fellow democracy scion Martin Lee worked together on drafting Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs the territory, until the June 4 incident. Following the massacre, Szeto founded the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which Beijing has since named a subversive organization. To the very end, he maintained that the June 4 movement must be vindicated.

Szeto’s outspoken nature left him at odds with China’s ruling elite, much like Liu Xiaobo is today. But his contributions to Hong Kong will be felt for generations.

Chinese people will often say they admire Zhou Enlai, or Chairman Mao, or Deng Xiaoping for their contributions towards bringing respectability to the Chinese nation. All certainly had large roles in the establishment of the PRC. Yet all three were sly politicians successful at navigating the minefield that is politics inside Zhongnanhai and pulling the levers of power. And that is no small feat. But it’s disheartening that there are no civilian heroes who are honoured for standing up for what is just and right. China needs more of those.

Liu Xiaobo is one.  Szeto Wah is another. They are both true patriots.

May Szeto Wah rest in peace.



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