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Wu Chi-wai attends father’s funeral | Chan Kin-man

The Correctional Services Department (CSD) denied permission for Wu Chi-wai to attend his father’s funeral, which sparked public outrage and also evoked my deepest fears before going into prison.

At that time, my father was old and frail, and he did not understand Occupy Central. He would sigh in contempt because his son had gotten into trouble with the law, and lament that I had neglected my family by putting my life at risk. I didn’t know how to face him for a long time, so I simply avoided going home, but inside I was filled with many grievances. Later, when my father became gravely ill and I had to resign from my faculty position to stand trial, I decided to put aside my stubbornness and do my best to accompany him in and out of the hospital. Father and son sometimes held hands in silence. What came to mind then was my father’s furrowed brow when he was concentrating on his work and his bright smile when he was cooking for the family.

The Umbrella Movement Occupy trial began and my father, who was on his deathbed, did not know about it because our family blocked out the news and turned off the TV during all news coverage. However, you cannot hide elephants in mouseholes. I always had a feeling that I would be convicted and sentenced to prison, and I was most worried about how my father would bear such devastating news. Should my father pass away in a fit of anger, I would inevitably suffer from an overwhelming sense of guilt and have to bear the reputation of being an unfilial son. In particular, I might not be able to attend the funeral while serving my sentence, and even if permission was granted, I would still have to be bound up and escorted by CSD officers, which may cause more awkwardness and suffering for my family.

In the end, my father passed away peacefully one month before my imprisonment. Everyone at the memorial service, funeral service, and columbarium made every effort to help me walk through the last part of his journey before losing my freedom. I still remember that many friends from the democratic camp attended my father’s funeral, and Mr. Martin Lee even knelt down in front of the coffin to pray and thank my father for giving Hong Kong a son. My family seldom had contact with these political figures, but they were moved by their sincerity and even reflected on the meaning of my fight for democracy.

In fact, I have always been critical of traditional Chinese family ethic concepts, believing that the kinship interactions in Chinese families, while providing a sense of security and emotional support, impose onerous moral responsibilities. One of the reasons why civil society is difficult to sustain in China is that the incessant demands to “cultivate one’s moral character and manage one’s household” leave no time for public affairs. In traditional societies, rural affairs are handled according to an extended family ethic: those who live in the same village are like family members, offering protection to one another; and those who live outside the village are outsiders. Unless the government and squires stepped in, there would be little public ethics to promote cooperation or resolve conflicts. When Sun Yat-sen said that “China is a heap of loose sand, lacking spirit of cooperation,” he was not talking about unrelated individuals, but rather about family clans, each acting for themselves.

Like a black hole, family responsibilities have sucked up the energy of many Chinese in the name of filial piety, but left public life desolate and withered. Throughout history, those in power were well aware of this, so on the one hand, they upheld Confucian principles of morality that consumed all energy of the world in families, and on the other hand, “collective punishment” was practiced which turned the close ethical relationship into a monitoring system and the honor and shame of the family into moral shackles. Family has become a “social control system” that conspires with tyranny!

Some young people interviewed during the Umbrella Movement said that they had received dozens of relentless phone calls from their mothers in the early days of the protest, and that what they feared most was not police batons, but their mothers’ biddings. They said that their blue-tainted fathers would lash out and exert pressure, but their mothers would simply say that they were worried about their safety and personal future, breaking their will to fight in the gentlest way possible. Thousands of years of family control in the feudal society, which is at work in China’s “social credit system” today, is also being imposed on Hong Kong’s new generation through time travel.

The city’s High Court eventually granted short-term bail to Wu Chi-wai, overruling the CSD so that he could attend his father’s funeral. In media reports, he was spotted wearing a sullen face as he hurriedly said goodbye to his late father before returning to prison. It is not hard to imagine the sadness and guilt he felt in his heart. I was absent from the funeral that day because I had to meet with the family members of some of the “anti-ELAB movement” detainees to explain the situation in prison and the supportive role of family members.

Some participants spent the whole night with tears in their eyes and did not say a word. Some parents were concerned that their children had become unusually quiet during prison visits and were worried that they were being ill-treated. Some families expressed concerns that their sons would be subjected to discrimination and ridiculed as “cons” after their release from prison. The most impressive was a father whose rural accent had not yet changed, saying that his son had taken to the streets for justice, and that he hoped his son would face his imprisonment with a positive attitude and come out a better person. He said, “I will always support this son!”

Chi-wai, I believe your father would say the same thing in heaven.

(Chan Kin-man is one of the founders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace Campaign)

Click here for Chinese version

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