Joshua Wong never thought he’d be jailed over Occupy – but prison will only make him stronger, father says
Roger Wong offers a glimpse into his son’s upbringing and their differences at home, from politics and religion to messy wardrobes
Student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, now in jail for storming the Hong Kong government headquarters in a protest that triggered the 2014 Occupy movement, never expected to spend time behind bars, his father has revealed.
In an interview with the Post in his home, offering a rare glimpse into the relationship between the two, Roger Wong Wai-ming said his son had miscalculated and was counting on staying on the right side of the law while advancing his cause.
The senior Wong accused the government of moving the goalposts to put his son, who turns 21 on Friday, in jail.
Joshua Wong’s mother writes letter to son blasting Hong Kong government’s pursuit of jailed pro-democracy activists
“We can’t tell him what to do and what not to do, as he is already an adult with his own independent thinking. But his mother once asked him not to get himself thrown in jail for whatever he did,” Wong said.
“As such, Joshua had carefully calculated the legal consequences of his actions. He reckoned that trespassing on the so-called Civic Square at the government headquarters would not land him in jail as no one would be hurt.
“From the case he only expected to serve a community service order.”
His son’s gamble initially paid off, with the court last year sentencing Joshua to 80 hours of community service for unlawful assembly.
But in a twist to the saga, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, a high school friend of the senior Wong, pursued a review of the sentence that eventually reversed the young activist’s fortunes.
In August, the Court of Appeal sentenced Joshua to a six-month jail term, saying his offence was serious and required a deterrent sentence.
Wong recalled how his son had been mentally prepared to go to jail on the morning of the sentencing.
“He suddenly came over and kissed us both on our cheeks and said: ‘Sorry mummy for putting you under a great deal of pressure.’ It was a rare move for him,” he said.
Lashing out at what he called the injustice of the judiciary, Wong added: “When government officials deliberately move the goalposts to your disadvantage there’s nothing you can do.
“Rimsky Yuen is no doubt a key figure who put my son in jail. As an appointee who must follow the government’s stance, he should have distanced himself from this politically sensitive case and sought an independent opinion. But he didn’t.
“But I think the biggest problem lies with the system itself due to a lack of safeguards to uphold judicial independence. I think there should be a system to ensure fair and independent handling of political cases.”
As a devout Christian, Wong, 53, has not been as concerned about Hong Kong’s politics as he was about his vision for a religious revival in the city and mainland China.
“All along we rarely talked about politics and democracy in Hong Kong. Actually I only care about the religious revival in China and my dream is to see many, many Chinese believe in God,” the retired IT professional said.
“I never expected Joshua to be involved in politics. Rather I hope that he could have dedicated himself to the work of spreading the gospel.”
His expectation for his son was reflected in Joshua’s Chinese name, according to the elder Wong – the meaning of “Chi-fung” was inspired by Psalm 45:5 in the Bible: “Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet.”
“It so happens that my surname ‘Wong’ has the same pronunciation as the word ‘king’ [in Cantonese],” the father explained. “So I named him ‘Wong Chi-fung’ in the hope that he can be God’s arrows and fulfil the mission entrusted to him.”
His son’s English name “Joshua” was drawn from the famous biblical figure appointed by God to succeed Moses as leader of the Israelites along with a blessing of invincibility in his lifetime.
During his teenage years, Joshua – influenced by his father – was enthusiastic and active in preaching the gospel to his classmates and even strangers on the streets.
In hindsight this served as a training ground for the boy to hone his talent for persuasion despite being diagnosed with dyslexia in early childhood.
Joshua’s social awareness and sense of justice may have stemmed from his father during those early years. Roger Wong often took his son to visit the underprivileged.
“He has always been very eloquent. I think he is a gifted speaker despite suffering from dyslexia. Once, when he preached the gospel, he was able to persuade three mainland youths on the street to believe in God. This was really something,” Wong recalled.
“All along I’ve been trying to instil in him a sense of fearless perseverance – even if you are bound by many constraints you need to find ways to transcend or overcome them.”
To overcome dyslexia, Joshua threw himself into reading and writing more so he could express himself better, with the help of his parents.
According to his father, he has already finished reading more than 20 books within a month in jail.
Wong said his son had natural charisma to influence others, adding: “Actually he is very bold and aggressive in advocating his own beliefs.”
In 2011, when Joshua was 15, his interest in social affairs led to him setting up Scholarism with schoolmates. The group protested against the newly announced moral and national education plan, which they said was a government bid to brainwash the city’s youth.
In 2012, the group organised a political rally on the matter attended by more than 100,000 people, eventually forcing then chief executive Leung Chun-ying to shelve the subject’s curriculum guide in October that year.
Since then Joshua has stepped up his campaign, taking on a bigger issue – universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
But there have been times father and son did not see eye to eye with each other.
One example was on the pro-democracy Occupy protests in late September 2014, where Joshua was one of the key figures.
Wong admitted he had “reservations” about the highly controversial movement that brought parts of the city to a standstill with protesters blocking main roads in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.
“If you just occupy the area surrounding the government headquarters or half of the main road to express your discontent about the government, I think this is OK. But when it came to occupying a big area and several main roads, I honestly had some reservations,” he said.
One time Wong did not hold back from expressing his concern to his son, saying: “It was during the later stage of the movement. I told him: ‘Hey it’s not so good blocking the Admiralty district.”
Wong said Joshua was apologetic but argued that the government also had a role to play in causing the civil disobedience movement to escalate.
“In the run-up to Occupy, police had arrested and detained Joshua for 46 hours for storming Civic Square. This unusual move by authorities caused simmering tensions to blow up,” he said.
“Also the use of tear gas provoked more people to come forward.”
On his own campaign against the gay rights movement, Wong insisted that only Demosisto, his son’s political party, had opposed his stance – but Joshua himself never openly turned against him.
“We never had a chance to really discuss this issue. If one day he says he opposes me, I will have a long debate with him,” he said.
At home, father and son also have their differences. Wong disapproves of the younger man’s messiness.
“He never tidies up. He treats the floor as his wardrobe with clothes flung everywhere. He just relies on the domestic helper,” Wong said, pointing to a 50 sq ft bedroom shared by Joshua and his younger brother.
An eye-catching baby blue wall poster on the side of a bookshelf greets any visitor who enters the room. It is from the election campaign of Joshua and Nathan Law Kwun-chung.
Law, who also took part in the protest at the government headquarters, was jailed for eight months.
The political paraphernalia on display however is in stark contrast to other items in the room. A stuffed toy sits on Joshua’s bed, while among the books on politics stacked on his shelf, Gundams – scale model kits of Japanese robots – stand guard.
“Actually his mental age is much older than his physical age,” Wong said with a smile.
He was mostly composed when talking about his son, saying he never violently beat or scolded the young activist.
“I never told him off in my life. But I specifically demand that he keeps his wardrobe closed as every time he leaves the house, he also leaves his wardrobe and drawers open. This is really my bottom line,” Wong said.
The love Wong and his wife have for their son is evident in family photos plastered all over shelves in the living room of their house.
Now in jail, Joshua has to learn to be disciplined, including folding his own blankets – something he did not do at home. “This is the kind of unexpected learning he will acquire in prison,” his father said.
This Friday, on his 21st birthday, Joshua will be sentenced on another charge of contempt of court for obstructing a court-ordered clearance of an Occupy site.
Even though it was a chance to see his son again, Wong said he would not show up for fear of revealing his emotions.
“Every year we will have a meal together to celebrate his birthday but this year we will miss it,” he said.
Asked if he was worried about his son’s future, now that Joshua was seen as a thorn in the side of Beijing and the local government, Wong quoted a Latin aphorism meaning to seize the day: “As long as Joshua is sticking to his own beliefs and fulfilling God’s mission, I have nothing to worry about. It’s carpe diem for Joshua.”