Elsie Tu

Shouting at the Mountain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 December, 2004, 12:00am


Related topics

Shouting at the Mountain

by Andrew and Elsie Tu

Chameleon Press $145

Mu Kuang English School on Kung Lok Road in Kwun Tong is a sturdy structure looking much like any other edifice to education in Hong Kong. The only significant difference is that it is in no danger of collapsing or being torn down - unlike most structures from the early 1970s, which, because of endemic corruption, were built with seawater in the concrete.

Serving 1,300 children of Hong Kong's often forgotten low-income families, the school stands as a monument to the life's work of Elsie and Andrew Tu.

Shout at the Mountain, the first chapters written by Andrew Tu before he died in 2001 and thence by Elsie Tu, is subtitled 'A Hong Kong story of love and commitment'.

It tells the story of how the school came to be built and the impact of that struggle on the lives of Elsie Hume, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and her husband Andrew Tu Hsueh-kwei, a Han Chinese from Inner Mongolia.

Along the way, it serves up reminders of what life was like in Hong Kong in the early 1950s amid the squatter camps near Kai Tak, when boom gates were lowered on Prince Edward Road whenever a plane needed the runway.

Elsie Tu's story is told from the position of school teacher and increasingly disillusioned fundamentalist missionary, Andrew's from the perspective of a Putonghua-speaking scholar simply trying to survive after slipping across the Shenzhen River in search of a better life. The love and commitment that grows between the two parallels that of this unusual pair for Hong Kong and its people.

Tu tells her story clearly and directly, without recourse to ornate language or self congratulation. She is perhaps writing this book for the children of those who came to Hong Kong in the early 1950s, or lived through the 1960s, and for their children. It would fit well in any lesson about what public service means.

Her tone is soft, even when she writes about those who regarded her as an enemy during the 1960s in her fight against the overt corruption that was crippling the colony, as well as the complicity of the British administration in its spread throughout the bureaucracy. She would later be awarded a CBE for 'great courage and achievement'.

The couple were a formidable team: he was her counsel, she was his voice.

This could have been an opportunity to settle some old scores, but though she tries to set the record straight on the inquiry into the Star Ferry riot of 1967 that sought to blacken her name, apart from recounting how she survived her enemies, Tu stops short of naming names. Her last years in public life, as a legislative councillor during preparations for the handover, were perhaps her least successful, but are dealt with briefly and without rancour.

Shouting at the Mountain is a memorial to her husband. Infused throughout the book is her respect for his courage and principles. School photographs at Mu Kuang show a stern-looking headmaster, though one more likely to hand out treats than punishment. The first building at today's Mu Kuang English School opened in 1972 after considerable delays because its owners refused to bribe bureaucrats. It still stands because it was built honestly.

Trust a teacher to hide a moral lesson inside an interesting story.