As top mainland officials waved a final farewell to late Basic Law drafter Xu Chongde on Friday morning, one of his former students lamented the death of the “final guardian of the Basic Law” has made the understanding of legislative intent of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution more difficult.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a student of Xu between 1987 and 1990, mourned the death of the last of the four mainland academics dubbed “the guardians of the Basic Law”.
Top mainland officials and local Beijing-friendly political heavyweights gathered at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing on Friday morning to bid a final farewell to Xu, who died on Monday aged 85.
National People’s Congress Law Committee chairman Qiao Xiaoyang; chairman of the Basic Law Committee Li Fei ; former and current directors of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Liao Hui and Zhang Xiaoming were among senior Beijing officials who attended the funeral.
“He was a walking dictionary of the Basic Law,” said Leung, who studied Chinese law under Xu at Renmin University.
“A lot of details on the Basic Law’s legislative intent were not written down… Xu had good memory and was authoritative when it came to details of the drafting process,” Leung said. “He could give authoritative answers whenever I asked him anything about the Basic Law.”
The Institute of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, a high-level central government’s think-tank on Hong Kong affairs, launched a study in 2005 on the legislative intent of certain Basic Law provisions linked to the city’s political structure and the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government.
Surviving mainland drafters of the Basic Law were invited to recollect the legislative intent of those provisions. Xu was understood to be the major contributor in the exercise.
Leung, now a legislator who also teaches law at the City University of Hong Kong, praised Xu as the “first generation of China’s legal experts”.
“He had had a clear mind until the very end [of his life],” Leung recollected of his “sudden” death”. “He knew he was being admitted to hospital on Monday afternoon. He was gone peacefully at night due to heart failures.”
Li Fei said he was “saddened” by Xu’s “sudden departure”.
Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress were also among the attendees paying final tributes to Xu.
Elsie Leung Oi-sie, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, praised Xu for his “immense contribution in the making of the Basic Law”.
The funeral hall at Babaoshan was filled with wreaths from Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress , Vice-President Li Yuanchao; former vice-president Zeng Qinghong; former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and Macau’s chief executive Fernando Chui Sai-on.
Xu was a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee between 1985 and 1990. He then served in the preparatory committee that oversaw Hong Kong’s 1997 handover and the establishment of the special administrative region. He also took part in the drafting of the Macau Basic Law.
He was away from the media limelight after the handover but regained attention as the city debated political reform in 2003 again.
The legal expert, who was 25 when he helped draft the first constitution of the people’s republic in 1954, said in 2007 Hongkongers lacked a “correct understanding” of the mini-constitution, criticising pan-democrats for “stirring up troubles”.
"The Basic Law has been [in force] for nearly 10 years but some people in Hong Kong lack a correct understanding of the mini-constitution," he said.
The pan-democrats had done nothing for Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, he added. "What they have been doing over the years are attempts to stir up trouble."
Born in Jiangsu, Xu graduated from Fudan University in 1951. He was survived by his wife and three children.