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Treading the right path: Remembering the Most Venerable Kok Kwong

The Most Venerable Kok Kwong passed away at the age of 95 in the early hours of November 16 this year. I am deeply saddened by his passing and would like to extend my deepest condolences to his relatives. He devoted his entire life to promoting Buddhism, converting hundreds of thousands of people to the religion. He was also highly respected for his tremendous contributions to charitable services and social harmony.

I had the honour of making his acquaintance in the late transition period of Hong Kong when we both worked for Hong Kong's smooth return to the motherland. In 1985, he joined the Basic Law Drafting Committee as a member, while I became a member of the Basic Law Consultative Committee, and later its Secretary-General.

There were two things about him that particularly impressed me. First, he strove hard to make Buddha's birthday a public holiday. As early as the 1960s, he began to actively propose this to the British Hong Kong Government. At that time, Hong Kong's return to the motherland was not yet on the agenda. Despite the lukewarm response, he did not give up. He even collected more than 800 000 signatures from the public to support his proposal. He persisted for 30 years and his efforts finally paid off upon Hong Kong's return to the motherland.

I still remember one day in 1996 when the Preparatory Committee for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), of which I was the Vice Chairman, held a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. When we had finished the agenda items, the Chairman, then Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, asked the committee members if they had any issues to bring up. The Most Venerable Kok Kwong rose to his feet and said, "I have something to say." He then went on to put forward his proposal for Buddha's birthday to become a public holiday after the establishment of the HKSAR. Thanks to his persistence, Buddha's birthday is now a statutory holiday in the HKSAR. It has been 15 years since Buddha's birthday became a statutory holiday in 1999. The Most Venerable Kok Kwong's perseverance and commitment to promoting Buddhism, as well as the timely, dignified and reasonable manner in which he presented his cause, set an excellent example for us.

The second thing happened when I attended a banquet to celebrate his 80th birthday. At the banquet, a house programme containing his words of wisdom was placed in front of each guest. One of the quotes struck me as being particularly meaningful and I still keep it firmly in my mind. It says that there are always criticisms when we work for the community, but we should not be afraid as long as we are treading the right path. It impressed me so much that I quoted part of it on the cover of the Chinese version of my Manifesto ("Treading the right path, and striving for change while preserving stability") when I ran for the Chief Executive election in 2011. The Most Venerable Kok Kwong's broad-mindedness, integrity and steadfastness in working for the public good are indeed admirable.

Now that he is gone, I cannot listen to his words of wisdom in person anymore. I can only express my profound sadness and memories of him with this message.

November 21, 2014