Wen Jiabao

Han Dongfang: the labour activist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am


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When he left the mainland in 1993, Han Dongfang wanted nothing more than to return immediately.

This was despite the four years he had spent in jail for his role in organising worker protests during the Tiananmen Square crackdown. But he knew that if he did, the authorities were likely to put him back behind bars. Sixteen years later, Mr Han has been reconciled to his life as an exile in Hong Kong.

In fact, he regards himself as lucky compared with other dissidents who settled in other countries.

'Looking back, it was the best choice,' he said. 'Nowhere else could I have achieved as much as I have in helping Chinese workers and understanding their plight as I have in Hong Kong.'

Mr Han came to the city after mainland authorities released him for health reasons. He is a permanent resident and holds a Hong Kong passport.

Mr Han is director of the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based group that exposes worker abuse. He also frequently writes articles on mainland labour rights and hosts programmes on Radio Free Asia, which are broadcast in the mainland.

Mr Han's group has also been helping mainland workers sue for better compensation.

He tended to avoid discussing the June 4 crackdown, but because of his involvement in the pro-democracy protests, his views were constantly sought, he said.

Mr Han believes the time is growing nearer when the central leadership will admit its verdict on the demonstrations was a mistake and will reverse it. 'But I don't think Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao are ready to face that. I don't think the next generation of leadership will be ready, either.'

In the meantime, Mr Han will continue to work for labour rights, such as collective bargaining, on the mainland. An empowered labour force, he says, is one of the building blocks of democracy.