Hong Kong has lost a good friend in Zhang Junsheng
Former deputy at Xinhua office gave as good as he got from Chris Patten in run-up to the handover, and he always had the best interests of the city at heart
Whoever lived during the days leading to Hong Kong’s reunification with China must have heard of Zhang Junsheng. The former deputy at the local office of New China News Agency, or Xinhua, may not have had as strong an image as other mainland officials, but he was no less pivotal in shaping the future of Hong Kong beyond 1997. In recognition of his leadership, he was appointed to oversee the restructuring of Zhejiang University after his retirement. The tributes that have flowed in following his death on Monday underline his contribution to the country and city.
Zhang was one of the few figures that could rival last governor Chris Patten in terms of media coverage in those days. As Beijing’s de facto spokesman in the then colony, he always made use of the earliest opportunity to hit back whenever Patten gave a sound bite. During the height of the Sino-British wrangling, Zhang lashed out at Patten for his political reform. He branded him “a prostitute who wanted an arch erected in her honour as a chaste woman”, saying one could not pay lip service to maintaining a good relationship with Beijing while pushing reforms that were deemed inconsistent with the post-handover constitutional framework of the city.
His remarks were no doubt controversial and may not have been widely accepted by the public. He once urged the colonial administration to “discipline” the government broadcaster RTHK, and mocked young advocates of localism and independence for their lack of understanding of the constitutional order. Hawkish as he might seem, he appeared to be sympathetic towards youth. He said those in the Occupy protests had been led astray and called for better national education. There was also a suggestion that in 1989, he had approved a local newspaper editorial not unsympathetic to the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, although he later denied this.
Zhang spent 13 years in Hong Kong before retiring from politics. He always had the city’s best interests at heart and continued to speak his mind on local affairs. He enjoyed a close relationship with both politicians and journalists, and, as some veterans recall, he was always open to the ideas of others even if he did not agree with them. Such an attitude is perhaps much needed in the Hong Kong of today.