Former Hong Kong justice chief Wong Yan-lung remembers ‘godfather of local politics’ Chung Sze-yuen as a man of integrity with the city in his heart
- Wong Yan-lung reveals details from his encounters with the late politician in article for the Post, ahead of vigil in North Point
- Tributes have come in from across the political spectrum since Chung died, aged 101, last week
Hong Kong’s former justice chief has paid tribute to the “godfather of local politics” Chung Sze-yuen as keeping the city’s interests in his heart in his final years despite ailing health, and said Chung was “saddened” by increasing polarisation in the city.
Wong Yan-lung revealed little-known details from his encounters with Chung, a good friend of his father-in-law, in an article for the Post as Chung’s vigil was held at the Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point on Thursday.
He said Chung kept abreast of important events locally and overseas, despite his declining health. He said he was worried by political division and the “hostile political environment that deterred people from taking up public office”, among other things.
“His heart was still with the well-being of Hong Kong,” Wong said, without referring to specific incidents that troubled him.
Chung, the top non-official member of the Executive Council during British rule and its first convenor after Hong Kong’s return to China, died on Wednesday last week, aged 101.
A vigil for the late politician was held on Thursday, followed by a funeral on Friday morning.
Since his death, tributes poured in from across the political spectrum for Chung, mostly lauding his striving for the city’s interests in the run-up to the handover.
Wong, who has returned to private practice as a barrister since his time in government, commended Chung for sticking to what he believed in and placing the interests of Hong Kong and its people “in the forefront of his consideration at all times”.
Recalling the Sino-British handover talks of the 80s, Wong said Chung faced immense political pressure from different sides.
“He said no, so he could say yes to the right thing according to his heart,” Wong said.
Describing Chung as “uncompromising on details”, Wong said some former government officials would attend the Exco meetings he chaired “with fear and trembling”.
“He was always the one who had the details at his fingertips and who would unreservedly cross-examine the government officials on crucial matters left out, inadvertently or deliberately, from the written briefings,” Wong wrote.
Chung made his last public appearance at a lunch for his 101st birthday at Government House, hosted by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and attended by dozens from the city’s political and business elite.
Wong was the compère at the event.
Wong and Chung’s families remained close. In recent years, Wong said he would sometimes help Chung’s children take care of their father.
“Sometimes when his children were not in Hong Kong, my wife and I would help out in whatever small ways we could, including sweetening him with his favourite coconut tarts,” he recalled.
Wong was among the hundreds of guests and friends who joined the wake to bid their last farewell to the veteran on Thursday evening at the Hong Kong Funeral Home. A portrait of Chung was placed on an altar, above which was a big banner that read: “Virtuous and Respectable.”
Guests were each given a memorial booklet that told about Chung’s successful life.
A who’s who of political figures attended, included Chung’s long-time protégé and Liberal Party founder Allen Lee Peng-fei, Chung’s former Executive Council colleague Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, Beijing liaison office deputy director Tan Tieniu, Basic Law Committee vice-chairman Maria Tam Wai-chu and Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.
Rows of wreaths from central government units and members of Hong Kong’s political and social elite lined the funeral hall.
Among the senders were Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former leaders Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Office.
The Post has learned that Lam, Tung, former leader Leung Chun-ying, Lee, Wong and Tam will be among the pall-bearers at Friday’s ceremony.
Lee at Thursday’s event praised Chung as “the son of Hong Kong”.
“During his political career, he was often misunderstood. During the transition period [to the handover], the Chinese side criticised him, some local critics also disliked him. But he had only one thing on his mind – that was, to serve the best interests of Hong Kong. I would say, he was the son of Hong Kong.”
Liberal Party honorary chairman and former lawmaker James Tien Pei-chun said: “Sir SY [Chung] was a respected politician whose contributions to the smooth transition of Hong Kong to the handover can hardly be compared.
“Although he was not connected to the Liberal Party, when our party was founded, Allen Lee incorporated many of Sir SY’s principles into our platform.”
A former member of the pre-handover Legislative Council, Hilton Cheong-leen, said: “I knew Chung for about half a century. He was a nice, no-nonsense, straightforward man. What he did and what he said were for the good of Hong Kong. His contributions should not be forgotten. ”