Tiananmen Square crackdown

The editor who stood up to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am


Lee Tze-chung

A veteran Hong Kong journalist who, with a colleague, took the decision to publish a historic editorial in a pro-Beijing newspaper criticising the imposition of martial law in Tiananmen Square ahead of the June 4, 1989, crackdown has died.

Lee Tze-chung, who was president of Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po between 1951 and 1989, died at the age of 100 on Friday. The cause of death was multiple organ failure.

Lee's decades-long career at the leftist newspaper was most notable for the decision he made with then editor-in-chief Kam Yiu-yu on May 21, 1989, to fill its editorial column with four large Chinese characters - reading 'deep grief and bitter hatred' - after Beijing ordered the People's Liberation Army to enforce martial law amid pro-democracy protests by students and political activists.

Later, he publicly condemned the central leadership and Communist Party for the bloody crackdown.

Lee was a liberal leftist who advocated reform on the mainland, veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said yesterday.

Lau, who worked for Lee from 1972 to 1989, said: 'Although he was part of the establishment, he never blindly followed instructions from the top and would insist on what he thought was correct.'

Lee was released from his duties at Wen Wei Po within months of the Tiananmen crackdown, while Kam went into exile in the United States and died in 2004.

Born in 1912 in Guangdong, Lee began his news career at 16 in Guangzhou. He worked as a proof-reader and editor for various newspapers in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, including Ta Kung Pao.

In 1951, he assumed the roles of president and editor-in-chief of Wen Wei Po in Hong Kong. Under his leadership, the paper instituted changes that included assigning correspondents overseas and setting up subsidiaries to maintain a stable source of income, making it a model for other Chinese media outlets.

'Lee believed a newspaper could have an independent character only when it had income sources independent from its proprietor,' Lau said.

After Lee left Wen Wei Po, he launched a China-watching magazine, Contemporary, with veteran journalist Ching Cheong, who was later jailed on the mainland after being convicted of spying for Taiwan. The magazine closed in 1995, citing long-term losses.

Lee never expressed regret over the controversial Tiananmen editorial, Lau said.

'He was invited to resume his position at the newspaper and to meet state leaders including Deng Xiaoping on condition that he changed his stance over the 1989 crackdown, but he declined, showing the strength of his character.'