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Producer John Sham Kin-fun

By Yvonne Young | Feb 09, 2006

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  • Producer John Sham Kin-fun

Chances are you’ve seen John Sham’s lion-headed image on TV, singing to raise money for flood and earthquake victims in China. But he’s perhaps most famous for being the dissident whose actions against the 1989 Tiananmen massacre got him barred from entering China until 2004. Now a businessman and film producer on the mainland, he talks to Yvonne Young about movies, his wives, the Hong Kong-China relationship and democracy.

My mother was a legend. She taught us not to be a bystander when we see injustice. I remember vividly when my mom punched a bus conductor after he closed the door without letting an old woman on. Many people have asked if my mom would have stopped me from protesting in 1989 if she were alive, but I say, “No, she would’ve asked me to stand in front of the tank!”

But I’m never a political person. I don’t have the personality a politician needs. I am too spontaneous. When I see something I don’t like, I can’t shut up. When I see something that needs help, I help. It’s that simple.

The lion-head image I had in my comedy roles: I don’t miss it.

I have a creative side and a business side. My business side comes out in most of the comedies I was in. Films like “Electric Shadows,” “Autumn’s Tale,” “Passion” – those I made for creative reasons.

No one likes to be told what to do. We keep saying we don’t have enough democracy in China, we don’t have freedom of speech, blah, blah, blah. But on the other hand, we say, “You don’t tell us what to do.” When it comes to this, you’ve got to be careful. We’re not being fair.

We interfere with Chinese politics. I interfere. Are we wrong? I think we’re right. But in some aspects, we’re not in a position to judge. If we didn’t like China sending people down to work with us, we shouldn’t send people up to work with them.

If we want a friendly relationship with China, we should understand we’re both in the same boat together. If you don’t think so, don’t rock my boat and I won’t rock yours.

I successfully gained permission to enter China last year. With my background, no one dares to challenge me about democracy in the mainland. I put my life at risk. Whenever people discuss democracy with me, I simply say to them: “Cut the crap. You are verbal; I took action. Were you wanted for fifteen years? What position are you in to talk about democracy?"

Neither the pro-Chinese nor the pro-colonialists would talk to me. I was put in jail 13 times by the British, and banned from entering China for 15 years. Who are these people to talk to me now? Shut up.

When I got to China, I met a major leader and told him I would be asked about my attitude toward June 4th. I said this is a question I’ve got to answer. And the leader said, “Well, you’re free to express your own view.” That’s the simple truth right there: you can speak about whatever you want, but many people self-censor.

Of course I participated in the 12/4 march. I'm asking for universal suffrage. I'm telling them it’s our right. Some people are trying to be nice and polite to China and keep making turns about this – that’s really dumb. Why don’t you just tell them what you think? They’d respect you more.

Everyone was poor in the 60s. We struggled together. We didn’t have any class attitudes. People now poke fun at mainlanders. But who are you to say such things? I was the third generation in Hong Kong – my grandpa worked in the Hong Kong police force pre-dating the British. I don’t feel a privilege to discriminate. And most of these people immigrated here after 1949. Why laugh at someone who gets on the same bus, just at a later stop?

We had nothing to lose in the 60s. We earned what we had and we earned it back if we lost it.

The newer generations are afraid to lose what they have because it’s been given to them. But I know I can get it back if it disappears. And what the heck is “jetso” (“ill-gotten advantage”)? What an ugly word.

Now men in their 30s with a bit of wealth are so afraid of losing it. They’re pathetic. They don’t know how to get up once they fall.

Let’s be honest. A lot of Hong Kong people look down on the Chinese. How can people be so narrow-minded? Because they speak better English?

I sometimes cry when I read newspapers and watch movies. But I never cried about my own relationships. I’m just an unromantic person.

My first wife was a mess because I was so young. The later two wives – Lau Tian-lan and Tse Ling – became very close friends with me, even though we’re divorced. Tse Ling and I still live in the same house. And we see Lau Tin-lan almost everyday. I’m still in love with the two women.

They say things like, “John is a very nice guy, he is a good father, and a good husband. But is he a good lover? No.”

Tse Ling’s feelings about me: “Teacher and friend; respect and fear.” What can I say? I’ve got to accept that I can love - but not tenderly.

Will I have more relationships? Who would marry me? Imagine: two ex-wives, three daughters, five women at Lunar New Year every year. No woman would want to join that.

So I better stay as woman’s friend, rather than lover. But never say never.

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