Szeto Wah

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Szeto Wah
Szeto Wah at 21st anniversary candlelight vigil.jpg
Szeto Wah at the 21st anniversary candlelight vigil in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Chairman of Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union
In office
Preceded by New title
Succeeded by Cheung Man-kwong
Chairman of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China
In office
21 May 1989 – 2 January 2011
Preceded by New title
Succeeded by Lee Cheuk Yan
Member of the Legislative Council
In office
26 September 1985 – 12 September 1991
Preceded by New title
Succeeded by Cheung Man-kwong
Constituency Teaching
Majority 68.64% (1985)
Unopposed (1988)
In office
12 September 1991 – 30 September 2004
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Albert Cheng
Constituency Kowloon East
Majority 37.83% (1991)
55.40% (1995)
33.33% (1998)
25.00% (2000)
Personal details
Born (1931-02-28)28 February 1931[1]
Hong Kong
Died 2 January 2011(2011-01-02) (aged 79)
Hong Kong
Nationality Chinese
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) singled; not married
Alma mater Queen's College, Hong Kong
Grantham College of Education
Profession Teacher
Religion Christianity
Szeto Wah
Traditional Chinese 司徒華
Simplified Chinese 司徒华

Szeto Wah (Chinese: 司徒華; 28 February 1931 – 2 January 2011)[2] was a politician of the pan-democracy camp of Hong Kong. He was formerly the chairman of The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and a member of the Legislative Council from 1985 to 1997 and 1998 to 2004.

Although the Hong Kong government prior to as well as after the British handover shunned him for his opposition to their policies, Szeto was admired in Hong Kong politics for his strong principles, for eschewing personal gain, and for his rare political acumen. According to commentator Stephen Vines, the Chinese central government appointed Szeto to the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Committee because they appreciated his political significance, even though they disliked his ideas.[3]

Aside from his political career, Szeto was also well known for his Chinese calligraphy skills.[4] He was referred to as "Uncle Wah" (華叔) by Hong Kong people.


Szeto Wah was born in Hong Kong in 1931 with ancestry from Kaiping, Guangdong.[1] Ten years later his poor family fled to their ancestral home from Hong Kong due to the Japanese bombing in the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong.[5] He enrolled in Queen's college and graduated from Grantham College of Education.[5] He entered the teaching profession in 1952,[5] and became headmaster of the GCEPSA Kwun Tong Primary School in 1961.[6]

He became a baptized Christian in 1974.[5]

Political career


Szeto was a core member of the pro-communist Hok Yau Dancing Club, of which he remained a member until 1958.[5]


In 1973 he led the Hong Kong teacher's strike protest when the government proposed to cut teachers' salaries by 15%.[5] He then founded the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in 1974.[5] Under his leadership, the HKPTU expanded rapidly and eventually became the most powerful pressure group in the late 70s to 80s.[7] Szeto stepped down from the union president in 1990.[6]

In 1978 he led the first "Chinese- language movement" in Hong Kong to get mother-tongue classes introduced in secondary schools.[5] That same year he played a leading role in solving the Precious Blood Golden Jubilee Secondary School (寶血會金禧中學) issue involving the "Golden Jubilee school corruption incident" (金禧事件).[1] Louise do Rosario, writing in The Standard, called him the doyen of the Hong Kong pressure groups and "one of the most influential persons in Hong Kong's political scene since mid-70s.[8] He led a second Chinese language movement in 1979 when the University of Hong Kong said receiving new students do not need a passing grade in Chinese language courses.


In 1982 Szeto led an anti-Japanese protest to denounce official Japanese whitewashing of atrocities during the 1930s and 40s in China in history textbooks (such as Nanking Massacre).[5] Szeto was elected in 1985 and in 1988 to the Legislative Council through the functional constituency of the education sector.[5][6]

In 1985 Szeto, along with Martin Lee, was appointed to the Drafting Committee for the Basic Law.[5] Stephen Vines suggested Szeto was appointed because the central government appreciated his political significance, notwithstanding their dislike for his ideas.[3] He opposed the decriminalization of homosexuality in Hong Kong, arguing that "it will encourage more people to take up such abnormal behavior."[9]

In 1989, following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, his relation with the Communist Party of China became strained.,[5] Szeto established the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China which advocates an end to the single-party ruling of China,[5] and which the Beijing leadership regards as subversive. He remained the organisation's chairman for 21 years, until his death in early 2011.[6] During 1989, he and Martin Lee organised protests against Beijing and withdrew from the Drafting Committee of Hong Kong Basic Law after the incident. Both were banned from visiting mainland China.[5]

Szeto was a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate since 1983, but boycotted its meetings after June 1989.[10]


In 1990 Szeto would help form the United Democrats of Hong Kong,[5] considered the territory's first political party.[4] He returned to Kowloon East in 1991 and in the redrawn constituency in 1995.[1] After the Handover of Hong Kong, Szeto refused to be a councilor of the Provisional Legislative Council, whose members were elected by an electoral college hand-picked by the Communist Party of China.[11] In the 1998 and 2000 elections, he was returned through the multi-member constituency in the same area. During his tenure in the Legislative Council, the group would evolve into the Democratic Party.[2] Time once described him as "democracy's foot soldier", and named him one of the 25 most influential people in Hong Kong.[4] In 1997, he was awarded the Homo Homini Award for human rights activism by the Czech group People in Need.[12]


Szeto Wah with a faichun showing "Vindicate June 4th", at the 2010 Chinese New Year Fair in the Victoria Park

On 25 May 2007 Szeto Wah was speaking at a radio show broadcast from Mong Kok street hosted by Citizen's radio. The topic of the program involved the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Eight people including Szeto were charged.[13] Critics have argued that the Hong Kong government has selectively persecuted Szeto for using unlicensed equipment when delivering the political message as other members have spoken on the radio and were not charged.[13] In a democratic conference in 2007, Szeto publicly stated that the People's Liberation Army is controlled by the Communist Party of China and not the country. He reiterated that the army is a tool to ensure the party's authoritarian rule.[14]

In 2008 he transferred more than $781,000 in donation collected by the alliance to the Hong Kong Red Cross as relief for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.[5]

Szeto has long supported the commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen protest victims and his group organizes annual candlelight vigils every 4 June. The 20th anniversary vigil drew a crowd of 150,000, making it the largest vigil since the first in 1990.[2] Although Szeto has mainly been critical of mainland authorities, he made a controversial surprising move in May 2010 in support of the Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the LegCo in 2012 after the central government had endorsed the Democratic Party's proposal to revise it.[5] Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho said that Szeto Wah played an influential role in the decision-making process, but was not the one to make the final decision.[15]

Death and funeral

Szeto Wah's memorial service in front of the Legislative Council Building

In 2010 Szeto announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, for which he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment.[16] He dismissed as "crocodile tears" Regina Ip's urging of Beijing to allow him to return to the mainland. He also ruled out seeking medical attention there, saying he would seek to visit Tan Zuoren and Liu Xiaobo.[17]

Szeto died at the Prince of Wales Hospital on 2 January 2011, aged 79.[2][18] In a service at St Andrew's Church in Tsim Sha Tsui, bells tolled six long and four short times, representing the victims of the Tiananmen Square protests.[19] In accordance with his wishes, Szeto's body was cremated; half the ashes to be scattered in HK waters, the other half scattered in a garden at Cape Collinson Crematorium.[18]

Exiled mainland dissidents Wang Dan and Wu'erkaixi had expressed their strong desire to attend the funeral. Pan-democrats petitioned the Hong Kong Government to allow them to enter Hong Kong to attend Szeto's funeral on compassionate grounds under the One country, two systems principle,[20] although Rita Fan said the request represented a huge dilemma for the government as it would set a precedent.[21] On 10 January, Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, declared that decision on whether to allow dissidents to enter was in the hands of the Hong Kong government; he expressed confidence that they would "handle it well".[22] On 26 January, the government announced that the application of Wang Dan to enter Hong Kong had been declined by after "careful consideration"; spokesman said the decision was made based on the potential "consequences" of allowing him in. The decision was denounced by Wang, Wu'er Kaixi, and democratic legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, saying that the government had surrendered the principle of "One country, two systems".[23]

Outgoing RTHK Director of Broadcasting Franklin Wong was criticised by his staff and others for not holding a live webcast of the funeral.[24]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "司徒華生平任立法會議員19年." Ming Pao Daily, Retrieved on 8 January 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 ""Szeto Wah, political activist in Hong Kong, dies at 79". New York Times Retrieved on 8 January 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Vines, Stephen (8 January 2011), "Struggles with activism" South China Morning Post
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Democracy's foot soldier' fought hard for Tiananmen victims" The Standard Retrieved on 8 January 2010.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 South China Morning Post. "[1]." Szeto Wah: staunch democrat and patriot. Retrieved on 16 January 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Cheung, Gary (3 January 2011) "Szeto Wah: staunch democrat and patriot", South China Morning Post
  7. Ma Mary (11 February 2010), The fight never ends for Szeto, The Standard
  8. do Rosario, Louise. “Szeto Wah, doyen of HK pressure groups,” The Standard, 23 March 1981.
  9. Zhou, Huashan (72). Tongzhi: Politics of Same-sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies. Psychology Press. Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Cheung, Gary (3 January 2011) "Friends recall the passionate man who remained true to his ideals", South China Morning Post Retrieved on 8 January 2010.
  11. HKPTU (8 January 2011). "Tribute to Mr. Szeto Wah" (PDF). PTU News. Retrieved 11 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Previous Recipients of the Homo Homini Award". People in Need. Retrieved 17 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 "" Szeto Wah under Prosecution. Retrieved on 29 Dec. 2007.
  14. Szeto on democracy part 1 in Cantonese with English translations by James Lin on YouTube.
  15. The Standard (HK). "The" Ho reveals Szeto role in reform vote. Retrieved on 8 January 2010.
  16. Szeto Wah confirms he has lung cancer, RTHK News, 6 Feb 2010
  17. Lee, Diana (11 February 2010), "Szeto sticks to guns despite illness", The Standard
  18. 18.0 18.1 ""Keep up the June 4 struggle – last words of Uncle wah.", South China Morning Post, Retrieved on 8 January 2010.
  19. Ho, Serinah (27 January 2011). "Wang denied entry for funeral". The Standard
  20. Leung, Regina (7 Jan 2011). "Democrats push for decision on funeral" South China Morning Post
  21. Chong, Tanna & So, Peter (8 Jan 2011). "Wang Dan's entry for Szeto funeral in HK's hands, Beijing official saysl", South China Morning Post
  22. Cheung, Gary and Ng, Tze-wei (11 Jan 2011). "Dissident vows not to stay on after funeral", South China Morning Post
  23. Ho, Serinah (27 January 2011). "Surrender sign seen in Wang Dan block". The Standard
  24. Former RTHK head dismisses concerns , RTHK, 9 Feb 2011

External links


Legislative Council of Hong Kong
New constituency Member of Legislative Council
Representative for Teaching
Succeeded by
Cheung Man-kwong
Member of Legislative Council
Representative for Kowloon East
With: Fred Li (1991–1995)
Replaced by
Provisional Legislative Council
New parliament Member of Legislative Council
Representative for Kowloon East
With: Fred Li, Chan Yuen Han (1998–2004)
Chan Kam-lam (2000–2004)
Succeeded by
Albert Cheng
Assembly seats
Preceded by
Elsie Tu
Member of Urban Council
Representative for Kwun Tong North
Educational offices
New creation Chairman of Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union
Succeeded by
Cheung Man-kwong
Non-profit organization positions
New creation Chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China
Succeeded by
Lee Cheuk-yan