An outspoken son leaves behind a dream of prosperity and peace

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Lyrics to the song I am the Son of the Motherland, written by Xu Simin, vividly reflected the veteran mainland adviser's feelings towards China. 'I love my motherland although it has brought me lots of pain, but I love my motherland,' he wrote. 'I always pin hope on the motherland, although it has let me down at times, just because I am her son.'

Despite the divided opinions over Xu's views, which have sparked controversy in the past decade, people across the political spectrum agree that a desire to see the mainland prosper was the hallmark of his 93-year life.

Xu, a former member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's Standing Committee, died at Queen Mary Hospital on Monday. He had been in hospital since early July. His death was from organ failure caused by pneumonia.

Born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1914, Xu was an anti-Japanese activist from the early 1930s and spearheaded the country's campaign to boycott Japanese products during the second world war. He began his journalistic career in 1945 when he founded the Chinese-language New Rangoon Daily.

A critic of Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek, he was appointed a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in 1949. Xu attended the first meeting of the mainland's top advisory body in Beijing in September 1949 and the ceremony on October 1 marking the founding of the People's Republic. He was one of the longest-serving deputies when he stepped down in 2003. He was elected a deputy to the first plenum of the National People's Congress in 1954.

He was forced to migrate to the mainland when the military junta in Myanmar nationalised his assets in 1964. He expressed great despair and frustration when he witnessed the lawlessness during the Cultural Revolution which erupted on the mainland in 1966. In an interview in 1999, Xu said he was distressed to see many mainland leaders who were his long-time friends become the targets of the political struggle.

He was allowed to migrate to Hong Kong in 1976 where he founded the Mirror Monthly Magazine the following year. His outspoken and no-nonsense opinions earned him the nickname 'Big Cannon Xu'. In the 1980s, he called for democratic reform and press freedom on the mainland. During the pro-democracy movements on the mainland in 1989, some Beijing students openly called on Xu to run an independent publication.

Xu said his heart was broken when the central government suppressed the pro-democracy movement. 'I have been distressed and grieved about the development of our country but I never give up hope on it. China is always our motherland and I always hope to see its betterment,' he said. In a written speech distributed to delegates at the plenary meeting of the CPPCC in 1990, a year after the bloody crackdown, he called on the mainland authorities to introduce democratic reform as a recipe for long-term political stability. But he was not allowed to distribute a speech at the CPPCC meeting in 1991 because his views were seen as too sensitive.

While he was an outspoken critic on mainland affairs, Xu was seen as a conservative on Hong Kong affairs because of his controversial views. In 1998, he caused a stir when he attacked RTHK as a 'remnant of British rule' and accused the government-funded broadcaster of attacking the government under the pretext of editorial independence. He also urged the then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, to exercise greater control over RTHK.

Many pro-democracy politicians were the target of his tirades because of their 'pro-western stances'. He never hid his pro-Beijing stand.

'I am 100 per cent pro-China because I am a Chinese,' he said.

Xu, also a member of the Preparatory Committee which oversaw China's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, was a key supporter of former chief justice Sir Ti-liang Yang's bid for the first chief executive election in 1996.

Despite his conservative political views and history as a Beijing loyalist, Xu is also remembered for his concern over the plight of Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, who was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for spying for Taiwan.

In March last year, Xu urged the mainland authorities to speed up consideration of Ching's case: the journalist had been detained on the mainland since April 2005.

His appeal was contained in letters to Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang and Procurator-General Jia Chunwang . Xu said in the letters that it would damage the reputation of the country's rule of law if the authorities took too long to decide on the case. After a Beijing court handed down the verdict on Ching, Xu said the sentence was too heavy considering the lack of solid evidence produced.

Mary Lau Man-yee, Ching's journalist wife, said she appreciated Xu's help in her husband's case. 'He wrote the letters to Mr Xiao and Mr Jia on his own initiative,' she said. 'He offered to help Ching even though there was a bust-up between him and Ching after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.'

A month after the crackdown, Ching, then deputy chief editor of Wen Wei Po, resigned in protest, along with 39 colleagues. They founded Contemporary magazine in October 1989 which was critical of the mainland authorities. The magazine folded in 1995.

Lau described Xu as the kind of traditional patriot who always had the betterment of the country on his mind. 'He was unhappy with people who blindly criticised China and he believed that any criticism should be made out of goodwill.'