Student leader Alex Chow tells how he copes with parental pressure

By Joyce Ng
By Joyce Ng |

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Alex Chow Yong-kang sees the lighter side of coping with public, family and political pressures at the HKFS office.

It's not just politicians who are piling the pressure on student leader Alex Chow Yong-kang - he's also getting it in the neck from his parents.

The 24-year-old Federation of Students chief has become a household name and won a host of admirers since heading a class boycott that escalated into the start of the Occupy Central movement. But his family isn't entirely convinced, he revealed in an interview with South China Morning Post.

"I would describe my parents as pro-establishment moderates," Chow says, smiling. "They bombard me with phone messages … and send me articles that call for a halt to Occupy."

Just yesterday, his father, who works overseas, sent him an article by Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, in which the legal scholar urged the students to stop the occupation.

"I won't reply to his message. I feel so much pressure!" Chow says, noting that his parents worry about his health, as well as the risk of waning public support.

Pressure also comes from pan-democratic politicians, he says. Some counsel moderation, while others favour radicalism.

"Some think you are too mild, but others say you are too radical. You have to discuss with others before making a move, which is necessary for a united front."

Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

Chow said his group had played the radical role in the past and enjoyed more freedom. But the act that, more than anything, kicked off the protests - a move to storm Civic Square, a forecourt at government headquarters that had been sealed off after emerging as a popular protest zone - was entirely "spontaneous".

Scenes of police using pepper spray and arresting students saw crowds gather and ultimately sparked the early launch of Occupy. "It's interesting to see how history is made of spontaneous events," Chow says.

Away from the protests, the University of Hong Kong student tends to keep his head down to avoid eye contact and the rows that follow. A video of a two-minute scolding he received from a woman at a bus stop was posted on YouTube, but Chow - who studies comparative literature and sociology - is positive about the experience.

"It's actually interesting to watch the video from a third-person perspective," Chow says. "I'm also sorry for the man who backed me and also got scolded."

A typical day begins with an 8am radio talk show, followed by an afternoon meeting with the federation and evening talks with other protest leaders. The day ends with a rally in Harcourt Road, Admiralty, though Chow sometimes heads to the Mong Kok protest zone "to show we have not abandoned them".

That leaves little time for studies, and Chow has deferred two courses - one on police power, which held particular interest to him - until next semester.

Chow jokes about the need to finish his essays, adding: "When my term with the federation ends in March, it may be time to pass the baton to my successor."