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Seeking refuge in Taiwan

A former Hong Kong pastor explains his decision to leave his homeland

Wong Siu-Yung Illustration by Jeffrey Smith

Seeking refuge in Taiwan
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Last year I interviewed Hong Kong Pastor Wong Siu-yung after he had immigrated to Taiwan. He left his homeland stealthily in July 2020 after Chinese state-owned media accused him of breaking the newly imposed national security law for his role in creating the 2020 Hong Kong Gospel Declaration. He has since co-founded Tamsui Hong Kong Church in New Taipei City, the first independent Hong Kong church in Taiwan. Here is our interview edited and shortened.

What were your thoughts when you first heard in 2020 that Beijing would impose a national security law in Hong Kong?

In Cantonese we have a phrase dai wok, which means a big mess. Why is it a mess? Because the entire society’s atmosphere was already different by then. Police used harsher methods to clamp down. Before, all we needed was enough people peacefully protesting on the streets, but by 2019 that no longer worked. So by 2020, we felt there was nothing we could do.

But you didn’t feel this way in 2003 when half a million people protested an earlier version of the national security law, which led to the law being shelved. Why is that?

I was younger then. Also it wasn’t long after the handover [from the United Kingdom in 1997]. We felt that when Chinese President Deng Xiaoping promised a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years and the “one country, two systems” policy, even if they didn’t keep their promise 100 percent, they’d still fulfill it 80 percent. I never thought that by now it’d be meaningless.

What was the purpose of writing the 2020 Hong Kong Gospel Declaration?

We wanted to create a declaration like the Barmen Declaration, which was written during the time of the Nazis. We didn’t want to touch on the political, so we kept it more general. But if you know the context, you know it’s directed at current events. We hoped that the Hong Kong Church—not just one denomination—could make a declaration at this time. We want people to know the Church was not absent from the public sphere: We had our voices and our thoughts. Also history can look back and see there was a struggle within the Church.

Ever since I was little, I knew the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and I never trusted the CCP.

What about the declaration, which is religious in content, caught the eye of the government?

We had one group focused on circulating the declaration, so they created a video. It included a lot of images from the 2019 anti-extradition law protests, including young people holding up a flag that read “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times.” There were also some historical clips from old Nazi newsreels. They had an issue with this video, so they claimed the entire declaration was problematic.

You were one of the public signatories of the declaration. State-run Ta Kung Pao ran a piece in early July 2020, claiming you and the other initiators had violated the national security law. Is that when you decided to leave Hong Kong?

Actually before that, I was already thinking about leaving Hong Kong for two reasons. First, ever since I was little, I knew the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and I never trusted the CCP. I knew they wouldn’t just arrest me, but they would also go after my family. They would monitor my wife and mother and brother. They might hire an officer to stand in front of their apartment. And they could freeze our bank accounts. If I am taken, what will happen to my wife?

What was the second reason?

My church. Some congregants said, “Pastor Wong is making our church more dangerous.” And I felt that if I kept pastoring, I would bring problems to the church. Some other congregants said, “No matter what happens, we will stand by you. You just preach what God wants you to preach, what you think is right. If police come, no worries, we will just go to another church.” So there were people on both sides. But my view was the church has already been around for 50 years.

What were you feeling when you left Hong Kong on July 12, 2020?

I’ll describe two scenes from that day. It was a Sunday. I told my mom not to see me off at the airport, so I called her in the morning. When she picked up the phone, she cried. Even when my father died, she didn’t cry. She had no clue why I was leaving. She thought it was something for missions. In order to ease my mind, she said, “If you go over there and things go well, you don’t need to come back.” I was already crying hard as well. My father died four years ago. I felt like there was so much I still wanted to do for her, so my heart felt reluctant to go. My brother wouldn’t send me to the airport because he was afraid he’d cry too hard. I said I understand.

And the second scene?

Right before I left there was a news story about a young Hong Kong protester who knifed a police officer and wanted to escape to the United Kingdom. But police arrested him as he was boarding his flight. He made some unwise decisions. First he took Cathay Pacific [an airline with close ties to the government]. Secondly, he didn’t bring any luggage. Third, he bought a one-way ticket. These three things made it easy for the police to find him.

So I brought enough luggage to look like I was traveling, I bought a round-trip ticket, and I took [Taiwan-owned] China Airlines. Going through security, sitting at the gate, waiting for the departure, my heart was pounding. When I got on the plane and sat at my seat, it was like “Wooaah” I could finally release a breath of air. Of course, looking back now, I know it wasn’t so urgent, but at that time, I didn’t know. So those two scenes from that day made a deep impression. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.

If you ask me, Taiwan is next. I think it will happen while Xi is still in power because he’s tasted success. he’s oppressed Hong Kong, and no country in the world is doing anything because they all care about the China market.

With the Hong Kong government tightening control, what opportunities do you see for online churches?

People stayed for many different reasons. Some can’t leave, others don’t want to leave. We still need to care for them. If Hong Kong loses its religious freedoms, say churches become state-sanctioned like in China or completely closed, then online church is vital. Even if the government censors the internet, people will find ways to get over the firewall. So we need to be doing online church.

I think that when laypeople need to hold their own worship gatherings at home, the hardest part to do is the sermon. They can fellowship, pray, read books, study the Bible, it’s not hard. But there’s no way to have a traveling evangelist visiting different homes each week. Online churches can fix this ­problem.

What about now, with religious freedoms still intact?

Christians can’t hear true facts from the pulpit because the preacher is afraid to say it. I completely understand that: If they speak out, they’ll be arrested. The congregants understand that, but they want to hear it. And the pastors want to be pastored themselves. Where do they hear God’s Word? Online church. People can go to one church in person but also hear the Word online.

How about for the Hong Kong diaspora?

Online church is also important for Hong Kongers spread out in cities and countries all over the world, some of which don’t have Cantonese churches, or don’t have Cantonese churches that are yellow [pro-democracy]. They can also have fellowship in person but watch church online.

Do you have any hope left for Hong Kong?

From a political viewpoint, I have no hope. You can see President Xi Jinping already has shown in front of the whole world that he doesn’t respect “one country, two systems.” And now he is completely controlling Hong Kong. He thinks he’s succeeded. If you ask me, Taiwan is next. I think it will happen while Xi is still in power because he’s tasted success. He’s oppressed Hong Kong, and no country in the world is doing anything because they all care about the China market.

But I’m not hopeless. The fact that I still have the motivation to act comes completely from my faith. My inspiration comes from Revelation. Every generation has its Babylon: For a time it was the Roman Empire, during the WWII era it was Japan, Italy, and Germany. But now it’s China.

In Revelation it says in the end, Christians will witness with only their blood. So trusting in man is hopeless. In the end, God has victory, this is based on the Lamb who was slain. So all power, all principalities can’t exceed Jesus. President Xi says he’ll be president for life, maybe he lives for 100 years, but eventually he will also meet God. I believe the CCP will collapse. Maybe not in my lifetime, but I believe it will happen. I believe it purely by faith.

—June Cheng is a former WORLD correspondent

June Cheng

June is a reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and covers East Asia, including China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.



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