Interview: 'We Have Arranged For Them to go to School Here'


2020.01.07
taiwan-pastorng.jpg An undated photo of Ng ChhunSeng, a Presbyterian pastor in Taiwan raises millions in cash donations to support of protesters fleeing arrest in Hong Kong.
Ng ChhunSeng

As the Hong Kong protest movement has escalated, Taiwan pastor Ng ChhunSeng has been quietly engaged in collecting goods and financial donations to support protesters fleeing to Taiwan for fear of arrest for "rioting," a charge that carries a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment and which has been brought against large numbers of peaceful protesters since last June. To date, he has raised some 15 million Taiwan dollars (around U.S.$500,000) at a time when donated funds in Hong Kong itself are being seized by the authorities. He spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about his reasons for getting involved:

RFA: How much have you raised so far?

Ng ChhunSeng: By about October ... we had raised about 10 million Taiwan dollars, but we received another five or six million in donations immediately after the [siege and assaults by riot police] on the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November and December. So that adds up to about 15 million Taiwan dollars.

RFA: Was all of that raised in Taiwan?

Ng ChhunSeng: About 90 percent of it was, but there were also some donations from the United States, Canada, Japan, and even two from China.

RFA: What supplies were donated from China?

Ng ChhunSeng: They were both gas masks and respirators, and they included a note saying "Go Hong Kong!"

RFA: A report in The New York Times in early December said that some protesters whose passports had been confiscated by the Hong Kong authorities were smuggled into Taiwan. Is this true?

Ng ChhunSeng: The reporter for The New York Times is a serious journalist. She spent more than two months in Hong Kong and Taiwan. She came to our church several times. At that time, I never said that we had smuggled people in, so I don't think that came from me. It probably came from interviews she got in Hong Kong. I know a lot of friends in Hong Kong who needed to find any way they can to leave, because they know they will be prosecuted for rioting. Have they succeeded? I have no information about that.

RFA: So, the Hongkongers who were helped by your church all arrived through legal channels?

Ng ChhunSeng: They all came by plane.

RFA: Is it the case that many of them have returned to Hong Kong already?

Ng ChhunSeng: Most of them have gone back now. But some people have been told by their families not to go back because the police have come knocking on their door while they were away, to arrest them. Since they are all young people, we have arranged for them to go to school here.

RFA: I heard that you also helped dissidents in mainland China before you came back here from Hong Kong. Can you tell us more?

Ng ChhunSeng: In the past few years [Chinese dissidents] in Taiwan, needed to get a United Nations refugee card, and we would help them to do that through the church system, particularly in the United States. Bob Fu and the ChinaAid group have been very helpful. They have told us about similar cases, and we help if we can.

RFA: So you and Bob Fu ...

Ng ChhunSeng: We work together.

RFA: Can you give some examples? How about Huang Yan, the Chinese activist who traveled to the U.S. after staying in Taiwan for more than eight months in 2019?

Ng ChhunSeng: Huang Yan was one of them, and her case has already been made public. But I can't talk about the others.

RFA: As a Christian pastor, why do you care so much about dissidents in China and Hong Kong?

Ng ChhunSeng: We don't just care about them in China and Hong Kong. In Taiwan, we used to care about our own victims of political persecution. Working for human rights and caring about injustice is actually a core value of [the Christian] faith. China has more than 2,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, so we have a sense of crisis here. Faith is supposed to bring hope, not to suppress it. All we can do is focus on humanitarian care. As Jesus said, to love our neighbor.

RFA: Wang Yi, a pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for inciting subversion of state power. What is your comment on this?

Ng ChhunSeng: The day he was tried was Dec. 26, which was a very politically sensitive date, as it was Mao Zedong's birthday. It seems to me intentional. Rev. Wang Yi wrote a statement beforehand saying that he had no intention of subverting the government, and that he submits to the Almighty, not to any temporal kingdom, and that he hoped to build a better future by obeying the dictates of the kingdom of Heaven. I think any government with a conscience should move in this direction. When I see the church being persecuted in China, it makes me feel that I should pray more, in the hope that China will be filled with the peace of God.

RFA: So what do you think of Taiwan's experience of democratization as a model for mainland China?

Ng ChhunSeng: Two things. During the Taiwan Wild Lily Student Movement [the 1990 pro-democracy protests], students protested against the lack of elections for the National Assembly, which they called the 10,000 year-old assembly. They wanted it returned to the people. There were only about 10,000 students protesting at the time, which is a really small number compared to the current Hong Kong movement. The student struggle lasted less than a week, during which President Lee Teng-hui invited student representatives to the presidential palace. He told them that he had heard, and agreed with, their four main demands. But he told them that they should give him time to implement them, and that they should go home and be good students in the meantime. I believe President Lee Teng-hui was able to act this way because of his Christian faith. He is a member of our church in Jinan.

RFA: Did he go on to implement the students' demands?

Ng ChhunSeng: All four major demands have been implemented. The other thing is that ... social change is usually driven by young people who have ideals and enthusiasm, and put their ideals into action. The church plays the role of companion in this process. We do not take the initiative, nor do we lead these student movements. The same is true of the role played by the church in Taiwan in the past. The Presbyterian church is always involved in social movements in Taiwan, letting them know that the love of God is with them.

RFA: But in mainland China, another mass movement is being suppressed, and the church can't even carry out basic religious activities. Do you think there is hope in mainland China?

Ng ChhunSeng: Of course there can't be hope if things carry on like this. But human history is constantly on the move. If a regime has no respect for human life and no desire for the higher values, it will eventually be consigned to the ashes of history. It may seem in a time of darkness that there is no hope, but China will change.

Reported by Shen Hua for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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