Mr Szeto Wah passed away yesterday. On my Facebook homepage, I wrote:
My tribute to 司徒華先生, an educator who taught by example, a fighter for democracy who walked the talk, and a humble human being who lived with integrity.
Those of us who are teachers have a special reason to be grateful to Mr Szeto. The younger teachers may not have any idea of this, but almost forty years ago (1973), when the Government attempted to cut teachers’ salaries, it was Mr Szeto who saved the days. In those highly colonial years, when any expatriate inspector from the UK could draw his truncheon at will and bash at any protester who took part in a peaceful rally, when protests and marches against Government policies were unheard of, Mr Szeto had the courage to bring teachers together and organise rallies and even strikes to oppose the Government’s discriminatory measures against teachers. These actions succeeded in halting the Government’s plan to cut teachers’ salaries.
These early campaigns brought about much solidarity among teachers, so that the repeated attempts, in different guises, in subsequent years by the Government to lower teachers’ remuneration packages continued to meet with strong opposition by teachers. In the early seventies, teachers and social workers were entitled to similar salary structures and retirement benefits. Today you only have to look at the social workers’ situation and you will realise the enormous contribution Mr Szeto had made for teachers.
Of course, it is not just teachers who mourn the passing away of Mr Szeto. In fact, the intense feeling of grief shown by the community has revived my faith in Hong Kong people’s insistence on some basic human values. Mr Szeto’s actions have embodied many important basic moral and humanitarian values. By paying tribute to him, the people are also upholding these fundamental values and principles. These include living with integrity, and being true and committed to one’s mission.
I need to highlight this because I am concerned that in recent years, there have been political campaigners who act in the name of fighting for democracy, but their words and deeds have led me to wonder whether they are only after their own fame, and their personal egoistical satisfaction. They have no tolerance for people who hold a different view. They create enemies and insult them. They attempt to get what they want with hostile acts, rather than through persuasion and walking the talk.
In my last post, I talked about why we must uphold non-violence and non-hatred. Mr Szeto had never resorted to violence. He was totally outspoken and could be very spiteful with his criticisms of unjust acts by uncaring Governments both in Hong Kong and in China. But he never whipped up hatred towards anybody, not even those whom he criticised most severely. He was fighting for a more humane society, and out of his love for humankind, not for his own fame, or to satisfy his own obsession. He was a true humanitarian activist.