A quiet patriot who paid an enormous price

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 January, 2010, 12:00am

No tycoons or top government officials will attend Lo Hoi-sing's funeral. Today, few people even know who he was. Yet, Lo, who died last week aged 61, exemplified the kind of courage and generosity that any civilised society needs in its citizens in order to flourish.

Nineteen eighty-nine was a tumultuous year in China; it also changed Lo's life forever. At the start of the year, he was chief representative of the Beijing office of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. By the year's end, he was under arrest for helping to smuggle out dissidents and intellectuals in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The underground efforts were part of what came to be known as Operation Yellow Bird. At its height, it carried out more than 100 rescues. For his activities, he was arrested in Shenzhen in October 1989 and sentenced to five years' jail in Guangdong the following year. But the massive underground rescue operation he helped put on track continued without him.

Politics ran in the family. His father, Lo Fu, was a top editor of pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong. The elder Lo was placed under house arrest in Beijing from 1982 to 1993 for spying for the United States, but was allowed to return to Hong Kong in 1993. The younger Lo started his own business specialising in China trade after he quit the TDC job in January 1989. It could have been the start of a lucrative career. However, the student protests in Tiananmen Square intervened. Lo might have lingered in a mainland jail, but his plight became known to the British government. He was released on parole in 1991 when then British prime minister John Major visited Beijing. But his health was never the same again after his release. His career suffered.

His friends and family described him as a generous man. He believed in the democratic movement and cared about the nation. Reasonable people may disagree on the rightness of the student protests. Some may even argue the student leaders were reckless. But in helping them escape, Lo acted out of deep conviction as a citizen and patriot - and paid an enormous price.