Flame of freedom burns in former right of abode activist

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2012, 12:00am


When mainlander Ada Fu Kahui first visited Hong Kong in 1999 she immediately relished the freedom to speak out and protest. Within a few months she was in the streets campaigning for right-of-abode seekers, her long hair becoming a familiar sight on TV news reports.

Thirteen years later, the veteran campaigner estimates she supported more than 10,000 mainlanders seeking abode. Now she is a permanent resident, the wife of a Hongkonger and mother of a five-year-old.

'Freedom of speech has become more restricted than I expected,' she says. 'Mainland China is imposing its rules forcibly on Hong Kong people. But this will not succeed. Hong Kongers are different from native mainlanders; they grew up in the British colony.'

Fu was born and raised on the mainland by parents who later gained permanent residency in Hong Kong. In February 1999, when she was 29, she left her home in Fujian to join her parents in the city.

Fu thought she would automatically be granted residency, having heard of the landmark decision by Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal in January 1999. It gave permanent residency to mainlanders like her whose parents already had the right.

Instead, Fu got caught up in one of the city's great legal battles, and it would take her six more years to win a permanent ID card. The court's verdict was widely criticised, and in June of that year key parts of it were overturned by the National People's Congress Standing Committee at the request of the Hong Kong government.

The Standing Committee crushed the hopes of more than 1.4 million mainlanders like Fu by ruling that right of abode applicants required permission from mainland authorities before coming to the city.

Fu reacted by stepping up her protests, lodging appeals and negotiating with immigration officials to help out scores of claimants like herself. She was among more than 50 mainlanders who shaved their heads to protest against the immigration department's forceful expulsion of some mainland activists in 2002.

She returned to the mainland that year after failing to gain right of abode - even though she had been married to a Hongkonger since 2000. Finally, in 2005, Fu was granted her long-sought one-way permit by the mainland, and moved back to the city once and for all.

Today, at 41, she has not lost her activist's instincts. She campaigns for pan-democrats in every district council and Legco election and takes part in the annual June 4 candle-light vigil and July 1 march.

Fu has clearly embraced the liberal values that many Hong Kong people share, through her years of social activism. But she finds it hard to accept what she sees as Beijing exerting its political influence and trying to integrate the former British colony into its culture - even though she acknowledges the mainland gives Hong Kong a huge economic lift.

'Hongkongers' thinking is far in front of mainlanders',' she says. 'Now even the mainland has opened up a little, and people have begun to know what democracy is. But they still interfere in Hong Kong elections.'

Fu was referring to last year's district council elections, marred by vote-rigging that was widely attributed to the mainland's political influence. She says a similar approach was used on right-of-abode claimants a decade ago: their Hong Kong-resident parents were asked to vote for pro-Beijing candidates in elections, and in return their children would get identity cards.

'If they dare to, pro-Beijing candidates should run for election explicitly under the Chinese Communist Party's name,' she says.

Fu has noted the recent concerns about pregnant mainland women overcrowding Hong Kong hospitals and the torrent of mainland tourists. She says these conflicts have been created by the government through its short-sighted policy-making.

'There is a cultural difference between Hong Kong people and mainlanders,' Fu says. 'But one thing I do not understand: Hongkongers like travelling to the mainland but they do not like mainlanders coming to Hong Kong.' It was a pity that many Hongkongers were haughty towards mainlanders, in ignorance of the fact that the city was losing its competitive edge. 'You can look down on others, but you should increase your own value. If you don't, you will have to depend on mainland China economically and politically even if you don't want to,' she says.

Although she still has a mainland accent, Fu has regarded herself as a Hongkonger from the day she arrived. She does not regret settling in the city, though it meant missing out on opportunities in the rapidly growing mainland economy.

She is the wife of a Hongkonger who runs a business selling surveillance monitors and owns a flat in Tin Hau - near the commercial hustle of Causeway Bay.

Despite all the changes in the city and her hair style - which she cuts short now - she remains as outspoken as she was 13 years ago.