Occupy Central

Jaded professor ready for handcuffs

Lady Youde once told Chan Kin-man democracy in HK wasn't far off, but that was 26 years ago and the Occupy Central figure is losing patience

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Chan Kin-man is no stranger to the delays and unfulfilled promises that define the city's long fight for a fully democratic system of government.

In 1987, Chan was talking with Lady Youde, wife of the late colonial governor Edward Youde, at a scholarship awards ceremony. Chan had been chosen for a postgraduate studies grant set up to honour the governor, who had died the previous year.

Lady Youde asked Chan whether he supported introducing direct election for the Legislative Council in 1988, a hotly debated issue at the time. Without hesitation, Chan, whose topic for his master's degree at Chinese University was democratic development in Hong Kong, said "yes".

"Lady Youde told me the business sector in Hong Kong was not ready for direct election and it may be introduced later," Chan recalled. The colonial government decided not to introduce direct election in 1988, and three years later, 18 directly elected seats of the legislature were returned by "one man, one vote" for the first time in the history of the colony.

Twenty-six years later, Chan, now an associate professor of sociology at Chinese University, said he was saddened that the prospect for universal suffrage in Hong Kong remained uncertain and that the business sector continued to resist its implementation.

For many years, Chan advocated engaging in dialogue with Beijing over Hong Kong's political reform. Whether certain outspoken critics liked it or not, communicating with the central government was necessary for reaching a solution, he said.

Chan was convenor of a scholars group under the Democratic Development Network led by veteran pro-democracy activist Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. Chan and fellow academics in the group were frustrated after Beijing rejected electing the chief executive in 2007 by universal suffrage.

Chan persevered and became a core member of the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, a coalition of moderate pan-democratic group founded in January 2010.

In May 2010, he was one of seven alliance members who discussed the electoral reform package for 2012 with Li Gang , a deputy director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong.

In a dramatic U-turn, Beijing gave the green light to the Democratic Party's "one man, two votes" proposal, under which candidates for five new seats would be nominated by elected district councillors. The winners would be decided by the city's 3.2 million voters.

But since that small victory, Chan's frustration has grown over Beijing's lack of commitment in preparing for universal suffrage.

"The central government has not been making a serious effort in communicating with moderate pan-democrats to pave the way for attaining universal suffrage in 2017," he said.

Chan was further alarmed by recent remarks by chairman of the National People Congress Law Committee Qiao Xiaoyang . The top official said on March 24 in Shenzhen that those "who confront the central government" would be ineligible to become chief executive. Qiao's remarks sparked fears among pan-democrats that their candidates would be screened out of the 2017 election.

"It sounds terrible that Beijing does not bother about international democratic standards when it talks about implementing universal suffrage. My bottom line is that pan-democratic candidates should be allowed to enter the chief executive race because the camp enjoys the support of a substantial proportion of voters in Hong Kong," he said.

Frustrated with Beijing's stance, the academic made a surprising move when he joined hands with University of Hong Kong law Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chu to spearhead the Occupy Central movement.

The civil disobedience plan aims at blocking traffic in the heart of Central to force Beijing to follow through on its universal suffrage promises. They will launch the action in July next year if the Hong Kong government fails to deliver a proposal for universal suffrage in line with international democratic standards.

"I was very down and sad when I attended the press conference on March 27. I have advocated dialogue with the central government for many years, but now I will take part in the civil disobedience movement," he said.

"But I believe that Beijing won't take political reform in Hong Kong seriously unless it faces tremendous pressure from Hong Kong people. The central government should understand that there is an urgent need to introduce genuine universal suffrage to resolve the city's governance crisis," he said.

Chan said he was ready to be arrested for taking part in the movement, even if it costs him his teaching post.

"Benny and I want to trigger a debate in the community whether our universities would be justified in sacking academics who engage in non-violent civil disobedience campaign to fight for social justice."

"If we face a trial in court, we won't dispute that we broke the law and we will make a political statement in the courtroom to spell out our vision," Chan said.



Age 53


1983: Bachelor of Social Science, Chinese University.

1995: Doctorate in sociology, Yale University.


1993 to present: Teaching at department of sociology, Chinese University.

Director, Centre for Civil Society Studies, Chinese University.

Director of Universities Service Centre for China Studies, Chinese University.