Writer wielded pen of change

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am


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Wu Tai-chow was a passionate Hongkonger whose dedication to China changed the course of history for the city and the mainland.

The journalist turned businessman died on September 13 from the effects of motor neuron disease and pneumonia at the age of 76.

He first rose to prominence when he and four other people were arrested in August 1967 for publishing and printing 'seditious articles' in three left-leaning newspapers.

The colonial government was irritated by his commentaries in the Hong Kong Evening News and the New Afternoon News, of which Wu was president, calling on Hongkongers to 'topple the evil British imperialism and bury its reactionary and corrupt rule'. The authorities ordered his arrest in an attempt to rein in other left-wing newspapers.

The arrests, at the height of the 1967 riots, prompted Red Guards to burn down the British embassy in Beijing on August 22 and assault its staff. The attack was the most serious incident since 1949 in Beijing's dealings with foreign countries.

The 1967 riots, which claimed 51 lives, were a spillover from the Cultural Revolution that had erupted on the mainland a year earlier.

Wu and the other four were charged under the Sedition Ordinance and sentenced to three years in jail. They were the first people jailed in Hong Kong for breaching the ordinance, which was revoked before the handover.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post in 2002, Wu admitted that his articles did constitute sedition during Hong Kong's worst political upheaval. However, he said his commentaries and reports at that time were no more seditious and radical than those published in the pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao.

Wu said he became a scapegoat in the political struggle between the colonial government and the leftist camp. In 1974, Wu became a businessman, but his political commitment did not end there.

Since the early 1980s, he acted on Beijing's orders to cultivate ties with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. Wu's wife, Wong Yin-to, said her husband travelled four times to the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, where the exiled Tibetan government is based, to meet the Dalai Lama.

After each meeting, Wu submitted a report to senior officials at the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua News Agency - which served as Beijing's de facto embassy in Hong Kong at the time. He also helped to build the mainland's nuclear power business, beginning in the early 1980s. He took part in the feasibility study for the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant and became a major figure in its establishment.

In 1978, he used his mainland connections to help American writer and humorist S.J. Perelman recreate a 1930s' car race from Paris to Beijing. Wu was a co-founder of global conservation group WWF Hong Kong and had served on its executive committee since 1981.

His daughter, Karmen Wu, said: 'We are honoured to hear praises for my father's contribution to Hong Kong-China development, and his role as a peacemaker.' He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, and four grandchildren. Wu's family will hold a vigil on Sunday at the Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point. His funeral is on Monday.