“Rehabilitate June Fourth, fight for democracy, continue our efforts!” were Szeto Wah’s – Uncle Wah’s – final words to his fellow fighters for democracy.
Szeto Wah devoted his life to social movements and the call for democracy. He graduated from Hong Kong’s Grantham College of Education in 1952 and began teaching. In the 1970s, he led teachers who did not have degrees on a successful strike for fair wages. Several years later, he initiated the first movement to fight for the use of the Chinese language as the official language of the Hong Kong government. In the early 1980s he organized the Mukden Incident (or “9-18” in Chinese) Public Memorial and led Hong Kong educators in protests against the Japanese revisionist history of the invasion of China. In 1985, he was appointed to the [Hong Kong] Basic Law Drafting Committee by the central government of the People’s Republic of China, but withdrew from the Committee along with another Committee member, Martin Lee, following the June 3-4 government crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement. Later, Szeto organized the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (the “Hong Kong Alliance”) and served as its first Chairman. In 1990, Szeto, Lee, and others formed the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK), which later merged with Meeting Point to become the Hong Kong Democratic Party. Szeto participated in the founding of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, was elected to its executive committee, and served as the party whip until 2008.
Szeto Wah advocated for the rehabilitation of the 1989 Democracy Movement for over twenty years. Under his leadership, the Hong Kong Alliance has held annual candlelight vigils in memory of June Fourth, to keep the spirit of June Fourth alive.
In his memoirs, Szeto Wah wrote about Operation Yellowbird, which provided assistance to many on the Chinese government’s wanted list following June Fourth. After Szeto's passing, Chen Dazheng, who directed Operation Yellowbird, disclosed to the media that Szeto Wah was also a leader of the operation. “Now that he has left us, it is time to give him credit and let the world remember him,” Chen said.
1989: Outstanding Contribution for Chinese Democracy Award (Chinese Democracy Education Foundation, USA)
1997: Homo Homini Award (People in Need Foundation, Czech Republic)
2001: Human and Trade Union Rights Award (Education International)
2002: Bayard Rustin Human Rights Award (American Federation of Teachers, USA)