Family, friends and pan-democrats yesterday paid their last tributes to a left-leaning publisher who, in later life, realised being patriotic did not mean blind support of the Communist Party.
"I didn't know him in person, but I knew he was a righteous man," said veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming after Chak Nuen-fai's funeral yesterday. Chak died of heart disease on January 9, aged 93.
"He loved his country, but he did not necessarily love the Communist Party. He was a reasonable man," Lee told the South China Morning Post.
Chak, who in 1956 co-founded Nan Cheung Printing Company, was one of the city's first people jailed for breaching the now-defunct sedition law.
He was hailed as a patriot after being sentenced to three years' jail during the 1967 leftist riots for printing the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Evening News, New Afternoon News and Tin Fung Daily, which carried seditious articles.
But Chak, who once worshipped Mao Zedong and the Communist Party, became a critic of the mainland authorities in the past decade, rejecting the idea that those calling for democratisation across the border were unpatriotic.
"He did not fear power. He was not seduced by any vested interests. He was upright," said Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu, one of the coffin bearers at the Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point.
"I admire his patriotism. He was a newspaperman and a man of rich knowledge who loved his country," said Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, who was among those at the Catholic funeral.
Chak's younger daughter, Winnie Loke, described her father in the funeral's memorial catalogue as "a patriot" who "telegraphed to the mainland government as a local delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown to show his opposition to suppressing the student activists".
Chak - a long-time friend of late democracy stalwart Szeto Wah - stopped attending the CPPCC's meetings in Beijing after the crackdown because he disagreed with the mainland authorities' suppression of the pro-democracy movement.
"Father accepted many interviews on historical issues in recent years," Loke wrote. "He thought that the truth of some incidents should prevail and truth had to be spoken out."
"What's wrong with people calling for democratisation in China, or even appealing for an end to the one-party dictatorship on the mainland?" Chak had once asked during an interview with the Post in 2004.
Asked if he felt it was a pity that Chak died before vindication of the June 4 crackdown, Lee responded: "It's just a matter of time [to the vindication]."