Tsui Hon Kwong is a retired school teacher from Hong Kong. Despite his quiet demeanor he is a passionate socialist, unionist and political activists – all rolled into one. He is a member and firm supporter of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, a member of the Professional Teacher’s Union and formerly a member of the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. Although he has since resigned from the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, he would be seeking reelection in the coming months. His socialist upbringing and his ideological support for the former strongman, Chin Peng from the now defunct Communist Party of Malaysia has provided him with a universal outlook that the common interest of the working class supersedes national or racial interest.Why the principals of socialism and upholding the rights of the working class is as relevant today as it was yesterday. Tsui Hon Kwong flips the pages of history so that readers can better prepare themselves for the lessons of tomorrow.
1. What were your university years like in NUS Singapore? Did you sense that the government was over-reactive and chose to act that way under the instruction of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew?
Certainly it was all Lee Kuan Yew’s plan. No questions about it. I certainly felt that the university years in Singapore were the best years of my life. My best friends were from that time. I felt I was most effective in my lifetime in reshaping or rather contributing to the progress of a society. As I wrote in the book, Escape from the Lion’s Paw, I was semi active in political activism before I went to Singapore. There was the riot of 1967 in HK. I took part in the demonstration which is a sensitive thing to do unlike what we do today, where we have a demonstration every week in HK. I took part in the demonstration. A school mate of mine was arrested during the demonstrations. I was at that time certainly not in the leadership or the decision making echelon of the movement against the British colonial rule of HK. When I went to Singapore, it was different, it was a student movement. It was different as I was involved in the decision making process, deciding what to do, assessing the situation, identifying problem areas and trying to solve them. It was an important part of the whole movement to have Singapore more egalitarian as against elitist. And to have more social justice especially to assist people that were detained without trial for a long time. Whenever you have such a movement, its always important to have the masses backing you up. It however did not come to me at that time, almost 40 years ago. It only came to me when I read “Escape from the Lion’s Paw” and Tan Wah Piow’s story. You see we came to the conclusion that we must have the student population firmly behind us. And when I translated the book into Chinese it’s the first time I read from Tan Wah Piow was one of his criticism of Barisan Socialist in Singapore was that they alienated themselves from the masses too soon, too much. That is by advocating a strategy more radical than the real situation at that time allowed. what was actually allowed at that time. And that was alienating many of the masses that were supporting them. And that was being played into the hands of the oppressors and dictators like Lee Kuan Yew. He actually watched alienating yourself from the masses. Having gone through 40 years I would imagine that Lee Kuan Yew must have sent someone into the Barisan Socialist to push a radical line that is alienating the understanding of the masses. That is just a natural thing to do. This is happening right now in Hong Kong.
When I was translating Tan Wah Piow’s Book from English to Mandarin last year I started to realize that Tan Wah Piow was awake enough to understand and to cultivate the support of the people and never alienating ourselves from the people. A lot of work went behind the scene to do that.
Was there any links either to you or any of the other student leaders to the former Malaysian Communist Party chief – Chin Peng? Has there ever been any truth to this allegation? Have u ever met Chin Peng personally?
That was in the early 70s. America was bombing Vietnam. The real socialist movement of the world started around that time. We were proud of being part of that movement. PAP for instance was supposed to be a socialist party but around that time the PAP was kicked out of the socialist international movement in the UK and Europe. That had to do with Tan Wah Piow’s work in UK at that time. Chin Peng’s struggle was part of that struggle and part of the world wide struggle at that time. As I wrote in my article (Escape from the Lion’s Paws), we never had any organizational contacts with Allende (Salvador Allende) of Chile. (Allende was one of the founders of Chile’s Socialist Party in 1935). Never. We were sympathetic for him and his movement. Just as we were sympathetic to the Marxist Party in Kerala. He was one of the few Communists or Marxist leaders who was elected and came into position in a democratically elected election. We thought at that time we were in the same struggle. At that time I had noconnections with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). CPM was big in Singapore. By our times it was the second generation already. And the second generation to be fair I would say had very little if any structural links. But the theoretical links were all there. I sympathized with the whole communist movement and I actually learned Marxism intensely in Singapore. There is another story afterwards, when I was kicked out of NUS and Singapore, I somehow developed channels – very indirect channels and I managed to have contacts with Chin Peng and CPM, but that was after I left Singapore. So were the allegations true? The allegations were true only in the theoretical sense. But the allegation was not true at that time. It did not say that in the future that you would be linked to Chin Peng. The truth is the allegation at that time remained an allegation only. And so it was untrue as far as I was concerned.
How often did you actually meet up with Chin Peng?
I met up with him several times, from the late 1970’s onwards both in mainland China and Hong Kong. I have not met up with him recently.
And what do you best recall about him when u met him face to face?
The way he interacted with others indicates that he was a communist with democratic and humanitarian values, i.e. a true or fundamental communist, unlike Stalin or Mao and their successors. That made a difference. If you read the memoirs of Chin Peng, anyone reading it will know that he made references to me in the book. It was already the end of the whole arms struggle. The arms struggle has stopped almost 99%. By the time I got in contact with Chin Peng it was a cultural and theoretical struggle. A few years later they formally stopped the arms struggle.
You mentioned you had met Chin Peng in China in the earlier years and exchanged some ideas What was the key message that was communicated to you while you were in China?
That our student movement was good. No directives were exchanged as some may imagine otherwise. We shared some common interests together.
Why is his role in the struggle for independence always been downplayed by the current government? What is this fear?
The British chose to help them take over power, who would maintain British interests. They had to hide the contribution of the main force against colonialism to appear legitimate. It was the international capitalists fighting the communists. They feared the communists would succeed.
With the recent death of Chin Peng on the 16th of September this year, would you be making plans to visit him for the last time to pay your respects? Or visiting his surviving family in Thailand/Malaysia?
I’ve thought of it, but no. I’ll remember him from afar.
If Chin Peng were alive today, what would be have stood for? Socialism, Communism, Equal Suffrage, Equality?
All of those qualities, I believe. And solidarity among the Malays, Chinese and Indians as well. The common interest of the working class supersedes national or racial interest.
What were some of his strong points and qualities you believe that Chin Peng had and do you see his death having any impact on socialist cause in Hong Kong, Malaysia or Singapore?
He was a great leader. He led the armed struggle against the Japanese and then the British, two of the fiercest imperialist powers in his time. And he led his army back to peace. The way he interacted with others indicate that he was a communist with democratic and humanitarian values, i.e. a true or fundamental communist, unlike Stalin or Mao and their successors. I don’t see any particular impact in HongKong. Malaysia and Singapore, I don’t know. I hope his death rekindles serious study in his beliefs and values by others.
Was writing the book Escape from the Lion’s Paw together with the other activists from Singapore, a life turning event for you personally? What motivated you to write the book?
The escape is just a natural consequence. It has the interesting element about writing in a book. If you write only about the student movement no one would read it. The struggle with the students was indeed a life turning event.
Malaysia has already repealed the ISA? Do you think that Singapore will do the same, eventually?
As long as the Lee Dynasty is in place, I don’t think they would do the same. From those years until today, I am still a student of Chinese culture. This is not racist for a Chinese to say this. The Chinese has despotism in their blood. I would say other people, Whites, Malays, Indians, Arabs, Africans they are a little ashamed to say they are undemocratic but the Chinese aren’t ashamed at all especially Chinese rulers. Somehow it might have to do how they were brought up by their father’s fathers. Lee Kuan Yew or Lee HsienLoong or whoever I would say actually got there by undemocratic means. They got to that level of control and leadership by undemocratic means. Its in their nature not to give up to democracy. All through the 3000 years of despotism and its historical perspective since the days of the Emperor of China. The Chinese are more proud of their traditions than the other races. They are more proud than the Japanese. The Japanese are prepared to learn from somebody that is better than their own. They are not ashamded. But not the Chinese. The Chinese are over proud and are conceited over their own culture. And in the late Ching dynasty they knew that China can’t go on the way as it is. It therefore opened itself up to learn from the West. However it was selective in the process and only learned more about the hardware of the West. They just learned the technical things. To be specific – guns and battleships. But not why the West was more prosperous nor as to why they were more innovative compared to themselves. There was the arms race in place. The cultural base of the Western culture is not admired in the East. Its actually laughed upon. Especially how the white people are so ridiculous and how they don’t respect their elders. Lee Kuan Yew said that same thing about the West. He called it the decadent West. In our generation they would call you communist. In the next generation they would call you Western running dogs. And that is exactly what the democratic people of Hong Kong is being cursed by Beijing. By people that are told to curse. Beijing tells them to curse us. We are still the running dogs of the West. The other reason being the ruling party in Singapore unlike Malaysia is Chinese.
Are you thinking of contributing to other books under TeoSoh Lung & Low YitLeng? Maybe a sequel to it?
Well I really don’t have much to say. You have to tell me. You can ask the publisher – Function 8. They not only publish books, but write plays and organize events etc. You can ask them. I can’t tell for the time being. I don’t know what projects they may have. I only helped them to translate the earlier book into Chinese.
Do you have any political interests in helping the opposition in Singapore to reach some form of “political maturity” so that they would be better able to tackle the PAP and its domineering policies?
Theoretically yes but practically no. There isn’t any channel to do so. Actually I believe that its up to the locals to do so. Who am I to help out? I could have helped by translations. But that’s just a very small effort. Getting them mature …well I would not say to someone that they are not mature. But having lived 60-odd years I might have some experience to share. But since I am now a persona non grata in Singapore, there is little chance I can do anything.
Did the years in Singapore shape and mold your political outlook in Hong Kong?
Yes it did. It molded me. I had my most intensive study of Marxism in Singapore. By Marxism is my understanding is far wider than what people normally understand. I learnt it myself. I went to the Soviet bookstores and buy books on it and learned it myself. I understand it to be more a philosophy and a way of analytical thinking. I would say the early founders of Marxism applied the scientific method to sociology and political economy. By applying the scientific method it’s a lot different. I was a science student and later an engineer. Nowadays I would say that any decent university course whether a master or doctorate paper has to use the scientific method to present their findings.. This is the victory of the scientific method. For instance I studied law (LLB degree) six years ago and graduated four years ago. That is my only Bachelor degree. I was kicked out. Actually I deliberately failed my fourth year to repeat my fourth year so that I can be part of the student movement. Hence I never graduated from Singapore. One of the interesting thing I studied, jurisprudence. While 12% of the syllabus was actually Marxist and Marxist legal tinking. Since Lee Kuan Yew alleged that we were communist . It was the epic of human thinking at that time which was considered revolutionary.
Can you describe the work you do with the Professional Teachers Union? You were a teacher with PuiShing Catholic Secondary? What made you decide to pursue a career in academia?
Being a secondary school teacher is not exactly academia.I am interested in the reshaping of human nature. Human nature can be reshaped. It is not something that I can do now and see any changes. Human nature can be reshaped. Many people don’t really have any aim in life. I define the good life to be a meaningful life. A life that contribute towards the transformation of society in a better way. All my friends and student activists at that time have more or less that same kind of aim in life. To be a teacher you kind of influence people from a young age. The Professional Teachers Union (PTU) is such a body and I am proud to belong to the PTU. Szeto Wah the founder of the PTU made a good impression on me. He managed to lead the union in a healthy way. And in a healthy way I mean to have to just work to be able to lead and to avoid personal grandeur, being selfish, using people for your own good and self-preservation and so on. He managed to shape the union in such a way that all these unhealthy tendencies didn’t take root. As we are talking of Chinese culture, Szeto Wah is one such person that has seen through the shortcomings of the Chinese culture and do the opposite which is to stick to a democratic process that is practiced worldwide. That is something very unusual. Szeto has died 3 years ago. I am still attached to the union and is interested in carrying out this form of unionism. This is not my own conclusion. One American teacher union official, David Dorn he surprised me by telling me something that has been confirmed by me all along. That this PTU is democratically elected. Its not easy to leave behind your Chinese culture and Chinese roots which Szeto successfully did. People (union members) are encouraged to speak their mind democratically. Szeto was known to speak his mind and conduct open debate. This by itself is a remarkable achievement. And that is the reason why I am myself with PTU.
Can you describe your current position with the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement of China? Since you left the organization have you decided to join other NGOs?
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China with me pushing it together with a few others, stressing about patriotism. But patriotism over the last 10 years in HK is becoming a dirty word. Bejing has been abusing it to mean loyalty to them. Patriotism has gradually been contaminated to mean loyalty to Beijing government. We know that the terms that support for Hong Kong would eventually mean support for the despotic Beijing government. We know that the meaning of the word has been changing in people’s mind in HK. That we should be loyal to China as understood by people’s mind. For the welfare of the 1.3 billion in China. The Alliance has an overall slogan every year. That is the main thing you can see in Victoria Park every year. Then we put in the word “love the country”. However in Hong Kong, Beijing has used someone to put on the radical mask to condemn the effective democratic fighters in order to weaken you. Knowing that the Alliance had this love the country slogan they start condemning them. Even 1% of radicals is enough to sow the seed of discord. You are said to be kowtowing to Beijing. They say you are selling out to China. So they claim that you appear to work against the pro-democratic groups. There was tension between the radicals and the Alliance. Hence some of them (radical elements) work against true democracy. Beijing has promised universal suffrage by 2017. However Beijing has unveiled some tricks which we suspect would be used against the unity of democratic voices in Hong Kong. People accuse us of selling out to Beijing when it should have been the other way round. (There are plans to take part in the HK Alliance elections for members in the fourth quarter of 2013/early 2014…Tsui indicated that there was a strong chance that he would be reelected)
What are your goals on contributing to society?
My true goals are to realize that you have contributed towards the betterment of human society. By my efforts the Alliance has helped some democratic fighters inside China. Even psychological support is important because dictators always want to isolate you. They will tell you, you are the only one that is so stupid. And you are being made use by other people for their own selfish needs. And no one is truly supporting you. Especially not your family and friends. Countering that kind of isolation is important to build up some resistance to the influence of China.
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries”………..Winston Churchill