Confucianist Sze Chi-ching seeks one harmonious China
Hong Kong businessman uses his impressive connections with mainland officials to push his dream of creating a harmonious society
Well-known calligrapher Sze Chi-ching, 73, is an old friend of the nation's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping.
The Hong Kong businessman, originally from Fujian, is also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and a keen political observer.
As a Confucianist, he would like to see a balanced and peaceful political culture in Hong Kong and on the mainland, with listening and negotiating being the key to creating a harmonious society.
Sze, a founder of leftist Chinese schools for new immigrant children from his hometown in Fujian during the 1960s, was a political activist before the handover.
Unlike other patriots, he didn't encourage the Hong Kong government to promote national education after the handover, instead urging his friends working for the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po newspapers not to publish so many long-winded political commentaries.
Why did you urge the leftist newspapers not to print so many political commentaries?
Actually, I found that only a few Hongkongers are willing to read those harangues, and those articles only escalate tensions between people from different political backgrounds.
You didn't support public debates over political views. But what did you do when you had some political ideas of your own?
I would use the platform of the CPPCC and my personal connections with the central leadership. I've got used to writing proposals to express my personal opinions. My topics cover political and economic issues in Hong Kong and cross-strait relations.
Have your proposals received any responses from the central leadership?
Yes. It was because all the proposals I wrote were not only my personal opinions but also contained different studies from relevant scholars from different professions. In recent years I discovered that many reports I sent to Premier Wen Jiabao about economic and political reforms were passed to the National Development and Reform Commission for further study, according to some of my friends in the NDRC.
Earlier reports said you and your sons have maintained good relations with Xi Jinping, who went to your home at Jardine's Lookout for a meal when he visited Hong Kong in 2002. Is that true?
Yes he did. We are good friends. At that time I invited Xi to enjoy my wife's best cooking - abalone. Actually, besides Xi, many other top leaders such as CPPCC chairman Jia Qinglin have also visited my home. Xi accepted my invitation not because of the cuisine but because he wanted to tell me that he cares about our friendship. He is nostalgic as he still stays in touch with old friends like me, even though he has been marked as our top leader.
How did you make friends with Xi and other national leaders?
When China opened up in mid-1980s I went to Xiamen , which is close to my hometown of Jinjiang , to seek business opportunities, and Xi was then vice-mayor of Xiamen. He received us personally and earnestly and didn't put on official airs, making an impression on me. So I got used to calling him "Xi Laodi" (little brother Xi) since then.
You were a principal of a leftist, patriotic, overseas-Chinese school in Hong Kong for children who migrated from Fujian in 1960, but you shut down it in 1967. Why did you do that?
I founded the school with a friend who ran an English evening school for new immigrants from Fujian. We found that many Fujian children couldn't integrate into the local community due to their poor English and Cantonese. So we designed a tailor-made course for them, founding a special school, because almost all our teachers were graduates of Fujian's teaching-training colleges. We copied the teaching style of our hometown, as we raised the Chinese national flag and spoke Minnanhua at school. Our students increased from only 19 in 1960 to nearly 800 at the peak. However, I found that just two of our 29 teachers were capable of passing the assessment test offered by the Hong Kong educational authorities. Many of our staff were labelled as so-called "black market teachers", so we couldn't receive any government subsidies. It was hard to sustain. Since many of our students started to integrate into Hong Kong society after years of learning, I thought it was time to close down.
What did you do after you closed the school in 1967?
I am a person who has never stopped learning. The reason I moved to Hong Kong in 1957 was to wait for a visa to go to the Philippines, where I was going to inherit a business left by my father. But my visa was not approved. I was forced to stay in Hong Kong. I then worked as an evening school teacher and spent the daytime studying at the United College of Hong Kong, one of the institutions that became part of Chinese University. I achieved a degree and another diploma in Chinese traditional medicine, so I ran a pharmacy after shutting down the patriot school. The pharmacy experience helped me to develop my other businesses, which have covered daily supplies, clothes and even chemical products.
Besides your businesses, why did you also spare no efforts to push the cross-strait unification work?
When I set up my business in Hong Kong I also went to Taiwan for investment in the 1980s and made a lot of heavyweight friends in Taiwan political and economic circles, including Wang Yung-Ching (founder of Taiwan Plastics Group), Koo Chen-fu (former chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation) and others. Before the historical talks in Singapore between Koo and his mainland counterpart Wang Daohan in 1992, I arranged for a secret KMT envoy to meet with then Communist Party head Jiang Zemin at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. It was a historic meeting, too. I remember that when Jiang and the secret KMT envoy were talking, they suddenly stood up and started quarrelling about whether the "People's Republic of China" or the "Republic of China" was the real bloodline of Chinese. That made me nervous, but fortunately they finally calmed down and continued their talks. I have spared no efforts to promote cross-strait relations because I don't want to see any families separated for political reasons. I was born into an overseas Philippine Chinese family. My father left our motherland in Fujian to go to Manila to seek a livelihood when I was very young. He returned home after the defeat of the Japanese in 1945 but died three years later. My family is not a single case. I witnessed many left-behind women in Fujian suffering a lot of pain, even much more than their husbands, especially during the anti-Japanese war, the spread of plague in the 1940s and the three-year famine in the 1950s, with all overseas connections being cut. All the left-behind women had to overcome countless difficulties to take care of the elderly and children. My mother, who had bound feet, had to look after me, a newborn baby, my two aunties and my grandmother, who lost her sight through weeping as all her three sons lost contact with her after the start of the second world war. My mother sold old clothes on the street to make a living for us. Such a story is very common in my home village, where up to 90 per cent of the women were grass widows. The phenomenon got worse after the civil war between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. I don't want those sad stories to be repeated again. I hope families on both sides of the strait can reunite and exchange freely with each other.
What do you think about the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan and former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian? Are the party and Chen the main obstacles to the mainland's reunification work?
I can understand the hostility of Chen, his predecessor Lee Teng-hui and other pro-independence politicians as misunderstandings and a lack of communication can be blamed for today's disagreements. That's why I hope Beijing will pay more attention to building communication channels with members of the pan-green camp, no matter if they are ruffians or successful entrepreneurs.