Being an 81-year-old Catholic layman does not deter Benedict Ng from stoically fighting for democracy in Hong Kong in the face of mainland Communist Party political dominance. He uses an application on his smart phone to change a public digital display to 1,000-plus days, reminding people passing by how long the so-called 'Gou Wu Group' has been campaigning for universal suffrage. The Gou Wu Group was not initiated by the 2014 movement to 'occupy' central Hong Kong or the students who launched a class-boycott campaign at that time in support of greater autonomy. Rather, Ng's outfit was specifically formed by an older age group of 30 to 90-year-old ordinary citizens. "Gou Wu" is a Mandarin word for "shopping."
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Millions of visitors come from mainland China to shop in Hong Kong each year. When police drove away protesters who occupied Hong Kong's commercial and retail district of Mongkok in 2014, some Hong Kong citizens continued to stay in the area and claimed they were "shopping." Ng told ucanews.com that more than 1,000 people joined the Gou Wu Group at its height. Now it has dwindled to between 10 and 30 active members. However, he still insists on setting up his stall at a fixed location in bustling Mongkok from 7-10 pm each evening, regardless the weather. Participants chat, chant slogans or pick up a microphone to express their opinions on the current political situation. This is followed by a symbolic procession. "There is no major stage or leader," Ng says. Ng adds that everyone in what he lightheartedly refers to as his "motley crowd" is self-motivated. Some of the members of the Gou Wu Group at their protest site
. (ucanews.com photo)
He said the "Occupy Movement" continued for 79 days, but then people felt tired and had not known what to do next. Initially police had responded harshly to himself and other protesters. But as the police came to know that dissenters were peaceful, rational and non-violent, there has been less interference. However, Ng says a sense of righteousness, and a will to resist, drives himself and others to continue with the Gou Wu Group. From a Catholic family, Ng said he is motivated by his religion. He studied theology at Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy in 2003 and believes the college widened his vision. "I could understand the social teachings proclaimed by the church and have my own viewpoints," he said. "Faith teaches us that when we follow the laws and rules, we also need to be righteous and do something for justice as well. Faith also reminds us to dedicate ourselves to society." Ng and other members of the Gou Wu Group participate in their nightly procession around the commercial and retail district of Mongkok. (ucanews.com photo)
Ng says he understands the sense of helplessness among young people. Many had classes to attend or employment obligations, so it was understandable that they seldom came out to support his evening protests. However, during the Occupy Movement young people had learned more about the Communist Party of China and he believed they would again mobilize in the future. "The young people are not retreating, they are just lurking," he said. He regarded a recent protest march, which was attended by 100,000 people, against the political persecution of several young social activists as proof that not all Hong Kong people had given up on their hopes. The big turn-out also gave a morale boost to the Gou Wu Group. Ng is single and lives with his nephew. Even still, some members of his extended family question the need for him to attend the group's symbolic protest every day. Ng takes medicines to combat ailments and minor illnesses that he attributes to exposure to wind and rain. Watch this raw video footage of the Gou Wu Group's protests in Mongkok.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Ng was detained for three years and seven months, including nine months in jail, after going to Mainland China from Hong Kong to see his sick father. Outsiders, especially religious people, were seen as spies at that time. "Since I was jailed in the communists' prison, I am no longer afraid of being put in jail again," Ng says now. His "conscience" dictates that he must continue the fight for democracy.