Earlier today none of the leaders of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement were found guilty of inciting unrest and other offences.
The #UmbrellaMovement9 charges are complex & numerous. ‘Incitement to incite’ is completely newfangled. No one can remember anyone in Hong Kong ever being charged with ‘public nuisance conspiracy’ either. All are common law, not statutory, giving the judge greater leeway in sentencing.
Each of the defendants could be sentence to up to seven years in jail.
The eldest of the defendants is 74 year old Umbrella Movement convenor Reverend Chu Yiu Ming.
Rev. Chu was also one of the leaders of Operation Yellowbird helping Chinese dissidents escape arrest after the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square.
Rev Chu deserves universal respect and thanks – not jail.
Each of the defendants was allowed to make a mitigating speech ahead of sentencing.
This brilliant letter from Rev Chu is humane, heartfelt and a plea for Hong Kong.
Confessions of a Bell Toller －a statement from the Defendant’s Dock, by Reverend Chu Yiu-ming
“I am a Christian minister committed to the service of God. I have resolved to live a life of friendship with the weak and the poor, praying that God’s justice be manifested on earth as it is in heaven, and that the gospel of love and peace be proclaimed among the people. But today, old and grey, I find myself in the Defendant’s dock, making a final plea as a convict. It looks so absurd, if not outright shameful for a person holding holy office.
And yet, at this very moment, my heart tells me that with this defendant’s dock, I have found the most honourable pulpit of my ministerial career. The valley of the shadow of death leads to spiritual heights.
For decades, I have preached numerous sermons. Little could I anticipate that the one message which preparation took me the longest time and the most heartfelt prayer, and which probably would reach the largest audience, is precisely this one delivered from the Defendant’s dock. In this message I tell the story of my childhood, of the Umbrella Movement, a story of heaven and earth.
In days of old, Jewish people longed for the coming of the Redeemer when
there would be no more pain and tears. Then Christ, Incarnate, took on human flesh and lived among us, sharing in our suffering and pain. And the world has since learned that “where there is suffering and tears, there is the Redeemer.”
Ours is an age of absurdity. Living in a society on the brink of authoritarianism and of arbitrary rule, let me be a brave bell toller, ringing, waking up sleepy souls.
All these began with the story of my childhood.
My childhood story
I was destitute when young. There was no one to depend on. I was sent to live with my grandmother in a mainland village.
At primary age, I witnessed the brutality of the land reform movement. Many ‘land owners’ were brought before raging public trials, some summarily executed on the spot. Some committed suicide after suffering unbearable acts of humiliation.
Government often incited people to engage in political struggles. Fields were left untended, food production neglected. Hunger struck. People survived on tree leaves and wild fruits. There were nothing but lambs on the altar of sacrifice.
I completed primary schooling under the banner of “Down with American Imperialism.” Became a hired hand in working in the fields, herding buffalo. With my grandmother, I survived. She survived. A case of sharing in destitution.
Grandmother died. I was all alone. But at her sickbed, she asked a neighbour to help me apply for return to Hong Kong. Bag in hand, I walked an entire day to reach Taishing bus station.
Day One, I got myself taken in as an apprentice. But the job called for nothing but cooking meals and washing clothes. I walked out, joined the street-sleepers crowd, and became a shoe-shine boy. I was looked down upon and constantly beaten by triads.
One day, I found myself running a fever. It turned out to be some kind of rheumatic heart disease. I was hospitalised for two months.
Bed-ridden in a crowded ward, I saw patients struggling with death and others being visited by relatives and friends. I was all by myself. Nothing hurts more than that.
I began asking myself: does life have any meaning? To me personally, life seems like a burden; and death a thorough liberation.
As I was struggling with the thoughts of death and liberation, a gentle old woman offered me a job as school janitor. There on the campus, a senior teacher, a devout Christian, invited me to go to church.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. (John 14/6) The light at the end of suffering brightens up my life.
Gradually I came to appreciate that I simply could not give up. Life is hard and brutal, yet as long as there are signs of love, righteousness, truthfulness, I am resolved to follow the higher way.
By the grace of God, with faith, I managed to overcome my educational and financial difficulties. Armed with $130, my last month’s wage, I began my part-time work-study journey : 3 years of high school, 4 of post-secondary college, and 3 years of theological seminary. My resolve: to proclaim the Word, to serve the grassroots of society, and to walk with the weak and the poor.
I know that for the way ahead, I am no longer alone, because my Lord walks with me.
My parish story
In 1974, I was commissioned to serve Chai Wan Baptist Church.
For years, Chai Wan had often been considered a ‘red neck’ district. It was crowded, the population poor, education level low, public health facilities inadequate and few employment opportunities.
Public schooling was available, but family support often fell short. An entire family lived in a cubicle built for a bed plus a cabinet. Life was hard, the environment miserable. Drug and crime problems prevalent among the young.
Many families still lived in shanties, risking typhoons in summer and fire in winter. When disasters struck, I found myself at the scene, supporting, embracing, comforting the people. I felt their pain and powerlessness. The church would offer some help from its charity fund.
A Christian man once told me he had been unfairly treated by Urban Services. He could no longer operate his hawker stall. His pastor said, “I would pray for you. Then you go and see Rev. Chu Yiu Ming.”
So this brother came to me. I said I would also do the praying, but I would take a further step. I would accompany you to the UMELCO Complaint Office. There, the issue was later resolved.
To those who are naked or hungry, the Christian minister has no business responding with greetings of Peace, Peace. I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs. What good are such greetings? So ask the Bible. (James 2:16)
Take a further step. The church should be a community which grows hope. Take a further step. A community which embraces suffering and pain. Take a further step. This is the true meaning of being church.
My resolve: to walk with people. Take a further step. Improve the quality of life. Build the Eastern Corridor, the Eastern Hospital. Public Housing for Squatters. Improve Workers’ Livelihood.
Hope. Nurture hope in the midst of people’s struggles.
The church, however, tends to be conservative. It worries about church ministers getting involved in social movements.
I recall in the year of us advocating for the building of the Eastern Hospital, my congregation was applying to the authorities for land. I was doing a tv interview. I found myself restless for fear that government might consider us ‘a pressure group’ and reject our church’s application. I worried that my colleagues and church members might no longer be able to identify with our mission out of fear.
But the Bible provides me with courage and power.
There, in the scriptures, it is announced that Jesus, God Incarnate, lived among us, full of grace and truth. Bring good news to the poor. And it is proclaimed that the imprisoned shall be free and the blind see, and the oppressed liberated. Isn’t this the good news of salvation for the people?
At some point, Jesus was taken by certain powerful and influential people up a tall precipice. They threatened to kill him. Unafraid, Jesus walked passed the crowd on to safety.
Living in this world of ours today, let us take heed of Paul‘s word: To me, to live is Christ.(Phil.1:21)
Christ has no body
Christ sees you as his body,
Your two hands as his hands to finish his work.
With your feet, He travels the whole world.
Through your two eyes,
He casts his sight of compassion upon the earth
— Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582
I have been called as a servant of the Lord. In imitation of Christ. Following his steps. Taking up his mission. Making known his concerns for the world. Unafraid of political pressure or how others see his work.
Take a further step. Walk with the people. Following Christ each step of the way.
My Hong Kong Story
My generation has lived through war and chaos. We fled to Hong Kong, rootless and destitute.
In 1984, the Chinese and British Governments came to agreement and a Joint Declaration was signed. Hong Kong would return to China, and ‘One Country Two Systems’ , ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’ , ‘a high degree of autonomy’ and ‘No change for 50 years’ would be introduced. But public confidence remained fragile.
At one point during this period, Christian churches launched a ‘Hong Kong, My Home’ campaign to encourage people not to leave.
September 1984, 89 groups and organisations came together in Ko Shan Theatre, Tokwawan, calling for ‘Power to the People’. To build confidence among the people, Christian Churches proclaimed a set of basic convictions in the same year.
Post 1997 Hong Kong must enjoy a high degree of autonomy. God-given human rights and liberty, including freedom of the press and of publication, of association, of assembly. Citizens must be given the right to travel and to enter or leave the city. The freedom of religious belief and freedom to preach must be safeguarded.
Government should be directly accountable to the people. Effort must be placed not only on Hong Kong’s economic development. Of equal importance is the interests of the silent majority. The city’s legislative, judicial and executive branches of governance should remain independent of each other.
This is our conviction based on the faith we hold: Every person is created according to God’s image.
As such, every person should be respected and safeguarded. We strive for democracy, because democracy strives for freedom, equality and universal love. Political freedom is more than loyalty to the state. It professes human dignity. Every single person living in a community possesses unique potentials and powers, capable of making a contribution to society. Human right is a God-given gift, never to be arbitrarily taken away by any political regime.
By 1989, the democratic movement in Beijing ended sadly in brutal massacre. As eye witnesses, our hearts turned cold. Our democratic aspirations burned all the more fierce.
During this period, there were cries for British passports for Hong Kong people, and demands for direct elections for the 1991 legislature. After the 1989 democratic uprising, my principal involvement was the ministry of caring for democratic activists in exile, being with them in their suffering.
By 1991, some legislative seats were open for direct election. A few more by 1995. In 1991, Governor Wilson signed into law . As such, provisions in the and which contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would be abolished.
With the promise of universal franchise for the legislature in place, and the enactment of the law on human rights, I reduced my participation in issues of political structure, and gave more attention to livelihood issues such as medical and health, palliative care, and retirement protection.
I fondly cherished the hope that democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law would find fertile soil in this city. That things would become better every day.
My story on democracy
As it happened, all these wishes of goodwill turned sour. Once again, I found myself embark on yet another journey for democracy. Once again, there is another mountain to climb.
Amos, a biblical prophet with a deep concern for justice and fairness, was confronted with the situation of wealth and prosperity going only to the benefit of the rich and the powerful. He thundered at them, ‘Woe to you who turn justice into bitterness, and cast righteousness to the ground.’
Hong Kong boasts a population of 7 million plus, everyone born equal. Yet, for the election of the Chief Executive, the right to make nominations and the right to be nominated have been taken away. The first Chief Executive of the post-1997 era was elected by a body of 400 people. No links exist between the people and the government. As of the day, the Chief Executive is elected by a small circle of 1200 electors.
For the government, the people are not necessary. Neither does the people trust the government. For the hundreds and thousands of grievances, the Chief Executive simply brushes them aside with a Good Morning.
2003, the SARS epidemic launched an assault on the city. Government threw up both hands. 299 people died. 1755 infected. While people fended for themselves in solidarity and sympathy, Tung Che-haw, the then Chief Executive, chose such a moment to legislate on Article 23 of the Basic Law. 500,000 took to the street. Tung stepped down, on the ground of pain on the leg.
The legislative council retains the functional constituencies and deprives law-makers of the right to introduce private members’ bills. As long as there is functional constituency and pro-establishment party support, government bills enjoy easy passage. This brews authoritarianism and disadvantages efforts to improve the quality of life for the people. Relative to pre-1997 days, life has become harder, people helpless and hurting.
We can no longer stay silent. For equality in human rights, Democracy has to take a further step.
We had not forgotten our first love. In 2002, Hong Kong Development Network came into being. Led by Professor Chan Kinman, over 30 professors came together to develop a political structure consistent with the requirements of the Basic Law.
April 2004, Hong Kong Development Network had completed drawing up its proposal on Political Structure, ready for submission to the government, and for release for public discussion.
6 April, Central Government announced an interpretation of the Basic Law. The interpretation rejected universal franchise for the 2007, 2008 elections. Sad. All the participating academics expressed their anger wearing black in a press conference in May. There, they announced Democracy in Hong Kong is Dead.
Since then, I devoted myself to civic education and to the social service ministry of the church.
My story of the last mile
2008. An imaging screening of Barium Enema found me on the brink of death. I was rushed for emergency surgery. Doctors gave me a 50 percent chance of survival.
Hanging by a thin thread between life and death, I called to my son, ‘Child, take good care of your mother.’
By the grace of God and the doctors’ meticulous caring, I was saved.
When this was all over, three wishes remained in my heart: do a good job for the church and find a successor; time with my wife and family, my two grand children in particular, I love to fool around with them at the beach; and write a book on the history of the people’s movement. If I manage these, I would count myself a happy man.
2010. I retired. Many of my friends and parishioners who worried about my health said to me, “Pastor, you have done your utmost for church and society. Enough is enough. Stay put. Spend time with your family.”
January 2013. Professor Tai Yiuting published his newspaper article on ‘Civil Disobedience – weapon of great potency for Hong Kong’s Democratic Movement’. I didn’t pay much attention to it.
February 2013. Professor Tai raised the desire of inviting me and Professor Chan Kinman to join him in a Civil disobedience campaign. I was taken aback, stone shocked.
I have come into old age. My body inflicted with sickness. How could I possibly make it? I called up my good friend for advice. To my surprise, Professor Chan responded with, ‘I am in Paris right now. You go ahead and say Yes. We’ll talk when I am back.’
At a time when government misgoverned, abandoned ethical norms, threw credibility to the wind and used confrontation tactics to divide and rule, it seemed there would be little chance for universal franchise for the chief executive election in 2017 to which the two professors were committed. For this just cause, Tai and Chan were prepared to pay the price. I was already 70, often sick, physically unfit. But I could not ignore the cry of conscience. I could never allow my brothers to go it alone.
I recall the days of my youth. Christ taught me what is true. I was no longer alone. In church, Christ told me to embrace the poor, so that they too would not be alone. Today, the trumpet call for democracy is heard once more. How can I leave these good men to themselves?
My eyes saw the light. By my conscience, I was going to take a further step. Walk the extra mile along side the people.
The bible instructs me “to arouse the love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience and a genuine faith.”(I Timothy 1:5)
So I resolved to follow with purity, simplicity and sanctity of spirit. No self-interest, No desire for power, No hidden agenda. My last oz of strength for Hong Kong.
March 27, 2013. By the cross in a church, we read out a statement ‘Occupy Central with Love And Peace’, declaring our commitment to non-violent civil disobedience.
My prayer on that day:
We come before You and before the world with reverence, humility and a prayerful heart. There is no hatred. There is love. We are not here to knock down anyone, nor to oppose any political regime. On the contrary, we uphold the law, and with our body, would deliberately break the law, in order to highlight the injustice of the present political structure. By so doing, and if we hereby suffer the loss of personal freedom, and yet manage to secure greater freedom for the next generation, then, we would count our loss insignificant and our suffering worthy.
We have opted for a peaceful, non-violent way. Although the power of injustice before us is immense and those holding power capricious, we are not afraid, nor will we run away. We stand by the dignity of the human person and resort to peaceful and non-violent means of struggle. Our way is to expose the injustice of unjust laws, making it impossible for evil to hide behind legitimate fronts.
‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ operates by citizens deliberation, authorisation, and dialogue. It’s goal is election by universal franchise. Civil Disobedience would be acts of final resort.
June 2014. Central Government published a white paper on ‘The Practice of One Country Two Systems in the HKSAR, with an emphasis on Beijing’s ‘comprehensive rule’ over Hong Kong. As it is, we venture to ask, ‘what about references in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to ‘one country two systems’, ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’? The reply from a central government official: ‘With the resumption of sovereignty, the Joint Declaration is no longer effective.’
Little could we imagine that the Joint Declaration is nothing more than a sheet of paper.
2012. Central Government made the promise of universal franchise for the 2017 chief executive’s election.
31 August, 2014. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress closed all such possibilities. No universal franchise. No further discussion.
My story of the umbrella movement
The road of dialogue came to a dead end. The beginning of peaceful Occupy Central.
Occupy Central with Love and Peace was set to commence on 1 October. For that we submitted an application to the police for a ‘No Objection Notice’. Discussions with police on operational details were scheduled for 25 September.
22 September, the Federation of Post-Secondary Students called for a week-long class against the 831 decision. Students congregated outside Government Headquarters.
26 September, students on strike rushed into CitizensSquare. Leaders were arrested. Members of the public gathered in support of the students in large numbers, blocking the roads in the vicinity.
The rallying cry: Stand Guard Over Our Students. There were calls for the immediate occupation of Central.
27 September. We met with student representatives on the spot and reached consensus. Professor Tai would announce the commencement of ‘Occupy’ action as of 0140 hr 28 September. But no sooner, the crowd began to disperse. And Federation leaders declared that this was student’s movement, not ‘Occupy Central’.
28 September morning. Police blockade of access to Government Main Complex, with the intention to isolate students and members of the public on the scene.
28 September. News had it that CY Leung would be calling a press conference at 3.30 pm. At the same time, while we were doing a round table on the theme of ‘Self-Determination’, we noticed signs of probable clearance action by police.
By now, and given that this piece of action was no longer ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’, I right away asked our volunteers and pickets to leave the scene, and not be arrested. We had scheduled our big day for October 1 and must make sure someone would be available then to lead the action. So initially the three of us decided I should leave with the volunteers. However, as it turned out, I finally stayed and waited for police clearance. Our decision was the three of us would stay, holding hands and be arrested together.
With that, I returned to the Roundtable Platform. There, student leaders, Pan-Democrat legislative councillors and Cardinal Joseph Zen sat, holding hands, waiting to be arrested. 5.58pm. Bursts of gun shots were heard. Masses of smoke began to encase Harcourt Road. People on the frontline cried, ‘Tear Gas. Police Firing Tear Gas.’
By our plan, had police resorted to force, we would advise retreat in order to protect the protesters. By then, police was holding up the warning banner ‘Disperse or Police Open Fire’.
Cardinal Joseph Zen instantly cried out, “No pointless sacrifice. Retreat. Quick. We will not sacrifice for this irrational government.” “Now is not the time for sacrifice. Retreat. Quick.”
At this point, the image of Tienaman Square in Beijing took hold of my mind. My heart kept telling me, “Must protect the students. Must keep the people from harm.”
3 October. We began discussion on turning ourselves in to the authorities. We couldn’t bear to see students continuing to suffer and fight their lonely fight. So we stayed.
4 October. We knew the police stationed there had run out of food. Given our respect for the principle of the dignity of every person under any circumstances, we agreed and vehicular access and a pedestrian overpass north of Admiralty Centre linking up Tamar were made available.
I began to devote more effort facilitating student-Government dialogue. I believed, without dialogue, the safety of participants could not be assured. In addition, the umbrella movement would benefit from an ongoing and rational conversation between Hong Kong and Beijing authorities. Arrangements were made for a meeting on 10 October. But it was not to be. Earlier, protesters in Mongkok had been beaten up by triad elements. I refused to give up, still striving for dialogue.
With much persuasion and hard work, 21 October was agreed as the day for a public conversation between the Chief Secretary for Administration and the students. But the students felt they had had enough. No more talk. Our well wishes fell through. Darkness engulfed me. I couldn’t sleep. There were days when Cardinal Joseph Zen, Mr. Martin Lee and the three of us got together in prayer. We prayed for protection for students and protesters. We prayed that God would show the way out.
On the streets, the people were without fear. They were unafraid. There was to be no retreat. 87 rounds of tear gas propelled 100,000 people to take to the streets. Thus the beginning of the epic, iconic, exhilarating Umbrella Movement.
An umbrella is there for shelter from the sun and from the rain. During the Movement days, it was protection from police pepper gas. It all began with a student class boycott. Most participants were young people.
For a long time, young people have been made powerless, helpless, and indeed, hopeless before the reality of the city’s political structure. They longed for self-determination for their destiny.
79 days of occupation with 1.2 million people participating demonstrate the high quality of Hong Kong people’s capacity for peaceful and non-violent change. During the period, no buildings were damaged, and no property set on fire.
Business in the occupied areas suffered no loss. In fact, small shops were helped and encouraged by protesters. And shopkeepers and residents offered food, clothing and tents to participants. Often, it was a community of mutual caring.
There were instances of violence by triad gangs. And of police beating up protesters . Yet participants remained true to the codes of peace and non-violence. And refused to back down.
The seeds of peaceful non-violent civil disobedience action have been planted deep in the heart of Hong Kong people.
This movement is an awakening of the civil spirit. Citizens offer what they can, with conviction, expecting to call the conscience of politicians and bureaucrats to account.
Wellbeing, decency and peace constitute our common dream. It is also the will of God. Let us strive to make it real for our city.
There can be no peace without justice, because ‘The fruit of justice will be peace, the effect of justice will be quietness and confidence forever. (Isaiah 32:17) ‘Love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace.’ (Psalm 25:10)
No society can do without law and order. When law is used only to safeguard the benefit of the vested interests, it would provide institutional approval to acts of illegality and domination. Thus the basis of social morality would varnish, and those without power become sacrificial lambs on the altar of the Rule of Law.
In the name of state security, a so-called “peace” is maintained by persecution, exile, arbitrary arrest, adduction and assassination. （C. René Padilla）
Perhaps, you might want to blame all these on ‘Civil Disobedience’.
These our problems come with ‘Civil Obedience’.
With such obedience, countless men and women kneel before dictatorial political powers, sucked into wars which kill and maimed hundreds of thousands.
With such obedience, countless men and women turn a blind eye to poverty, hunger, ignorance, war and brutality.
With such obedience, petty thieves and petty criminals pack the world’s prisons, while perpetrators of the truly evil are honoured as heads of state.
-Howard Zinn, historian
This is 9th of April, 2019. 51 years ago, on the 4th of this month, a man of peace, an advocate of non-violent action for social change, was gunned down. The words of this great man, Dr Martin Luther King still speak to us today.
“Resist, we must. Freedom never comes as a gift. The powerful oppressor would never offer freedom to the oppressed with both hands. Rights and opportunities have to be secured with the sacrifice and suffering of some.”
“Hatred bleeds hatred. Violence begets violence. We must use love to deal with the powers of hate. Our goal is never the defeat or humiliation of white people. On the contrary, ours is to win their friendship and understanding.”
Rev. Martin Luther King once said that without justice, there can be no true harmony. I urge you, who find their home in this city, have compassion on the victims of unjust systems. They include the protesters, also police officers. I pray that compassion would generate courage in us to fight the evil of this unjust system.
In the Umbrella Movement, I am just a bell toller. I ring the bell. And the bell tolls. It gives out a warning sound, that something bad and disastrous is happening. So doing, I hope that consciences may wake up, and together we work together to save the day.
Should I still manage to find some strength in my ageing body, I shall continue to be a bell toller, in church, in the world and in each human heart.
He has made clear to you, O man, what is good; and what is desired from you by the Lord; only doing what is right, and loving mercy, and walking without pride before your God. (Micah6:8)
I, Chu Yiu Ming, Tai Yiu Ting and Chan Kin Man, from the Defendant’s Dock, now wish to declare
We have no regrets,
We hold no grudges,
We do not give up.
In the words of Jesus, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; The Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!”(Matthew 5:10)
Oh Lord, who is merciful and just – to you I entrust my life, may your will be done!