Hong Kong colonial officer and democracy advocate John Walden dies in England at age 88

John Walden pushed for democracy and official transparency after he retired in 1980

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 4:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

John Walden

John Walden was a faceless official when he joined the colonial government in 1951, but went on to become an outspoken crusader for democracy and public accountability, ruffling a few feathers along the way.

The former director of home affairs died recently at the age of 88 at a care home in the village of Sturminster Newton in the English county of Dorset.

Walden joined the Hong Kong government a year after graduating from Merton College, Oxford. He served in the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs, the nowdefunct Urban Services Department, the Housing Department and in the Colonial Secretariat.

He went on to become director of home affairs, a position he held from 1976 until his retirement in 1980.

His son Robin said: "As far as I know my father could have continued to work after 1980, his technical retirement age. However my father certainly upset some in the government by using his position as director of home affairs to push for more elections and democracy.

"He chose to leave, I believe, because he felt that with such opposition to his initiatives from a Hong Kong-United Kingdom government more intent on protecting UK business interests in China rather than the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens, he would be more effective outside of government. Whether or not he was told that he must change his politics to remain beyond technical retirement age I do not know, but I am sure it was at least implied."

After leaving the civil service, he continued to push for democracy and greater transparency in government.

Veteran journalist and political commentator Frank Ching, who first met Walden in the 1970s, said he had dedicated his life to serving Hong Kong.

"He had an analytical mind and applied it to correcting what he thought was wrong in Hong Kong. While serving as director of home affairs, he argued the case within the government for greater accountability and openness," Ching said.

"After his retirement, he used the knowledge he had acquired during his decades of experience in the civil service to expose what he considered to have been mistakes made by the British colonial government and became a committed advocate for democracy. There was no one like him."

Walden, who was an honorary research fellow at the Centre of Asian Studies of the University of Hong Kong, published two books: Excellency, Your Gap is Showing: Six Critiques on British Colonial Government in Hong Kong in the year 1983; and Excellency, Your Gap is Growing: Six Talks on a Chinese Takeaway in 1987.

In the second book, he used a quote from mainland dissident and pro-democracy campaigner Wei Jingsheng on the first page: "People entrusted with government positions … must be controlled by the people and be responsible to the people."

Robin Walden said his father returned to England in 2010 because his wife, Beryl, who died the following year, wanted to be close to their four children.

"But I am sure he would have stayed [otherwise]. Hong Kong was close to his heart until his death," Robin said.