September 21, 2019

A Hong Kong ‘Troublemaker’ With a Clean Conscience

A Hong Kong ‘Troublemaker’ With a Clean Conscience

This is a common view, too, among Chinese dissidents on the mainland, who see Mr. Trump, despite his describing Mr. Xi as “my good friend,” as the first United States leader to see China clearly since President Nixon visited Beijing in 1972 and began what they see as decades of weak-kneed policy.

Mr. Lai’s keen interest in China, however, is one area in which his views diverge sharply from those of Hong Kong’s mostly youthful protesters, who often want nothing to do with the country that took back control of their city from British colonial rule in 1997.

“I always feel Chinese because I belong to the older generation,” he said. Each year he takes part in a candlelight vigil held on June 4 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Most Hong Kong student groups view Hong Kong as a place apart from China, and stay away from the event.

Born across the border in Canton, the capital of Guangdong, Mr. Lai fled to Hong Kong in a boat as a boy and, until the Tiananmen killings, was a typical success story in the then British-ruled city. He stayed away from politics and diligently worked his way up from lowly jobs as a knitter and clerk to become the main owner of Giordano, a successful chain of clothing stores.

The 1989 Tiananmen bloodshed, he said, made him start thinking about politics and led to his setting up Next Magazine the following year, a move that quickly hurt his clothing business once he started writing insulting articles about leaders in Beijing, particularly China’s then prime minister, Li Peng, widely known as the “Butcher of Beijing,” who died last month at 90.

“I had always hoped that China was changing and would become a democracy. I was wrong. It was wishful thinking,” he said.

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