The author of Master of None was interviewed at length by Ming Pao, the Hong Kong newspaper. The translated text is reproduced below. (To read it in the original Chinese, click the image on the right).
Freedom Behind Bars – John Hung
“Human beings created justice, as well as injustice,” he said.
A man who has been treated unfairly in this unjust place can only seek legal recourse, hoping that justice will prevail and that he would eventually regain his good name. Unfortunately, the court may not be as just as he would hope. The layer-by-layer conviction and dismissals made by the Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal and Court of Final Appeal signify the uncertainty and unpredictability of the judgment. It is dangerous to only look for justice in law or accept it as the last resort in the judgment of morality. We cannot simply measure ourselves and others by these provisions. “Where will we find true final judgment then? Perhaps it is the Almighty.”
He was a high flyer in the business world. He had been working for Wheelock & Co. and Wharf Holdings for over thirty years and everyone knew him as the group’s “Financial Strategist”. He was engaged in numerous roles in public service and had been the chairman of the Sports Development Board for seven years. He was also awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star. Although his life looked like paradise, his perfect aristocratic privilege could not stay with him forever. In 2009, he was sentenced to sixteen months in jail for corruption. One year after his release, he published the autobiography he wrote in prison: “Master of None”. He did not use his book to reverse the verdict, nor did he complain. “I don’t want to talk about the past, I have a clear conscience.”
He was a “taipan”, a supreme leader, and also a prisoner. He is — John Hung.
Text by Bai Lan, Photo by Lau Chun To
The days when social status was lost
“I don’t want people to forget that I was a prisoner. I was there, it is true and I can’t change that.”
On 25th June 2009, John Hung was sentenced to sixteen months in prison on corruption charges and was immediately taken into custody. He thought that he could escape unpunished; however, he was found guilty. After the verdict was read, he was handcuffed in the blink of an eye. His lawyers whispered to him that he should appeal. He looked at his wife, but there was not enough time to talk. His status as a commercially successful and influential man could not protect him any more. He was left in shock at the rapidity of the process as he got into the prison van. His head was still in a cloud until the van arrived in front of Stanley Prison’s gate. When he entered, the prison officers asked him to remove his clothes.
John was born into the privileged class. His grandfather was the wealthy Sir Robert Kotewall. He graduated from the Diocesan Boys’ School and Hong Kong University. Thereafter, he became well known in both the political and the business world. His reputation and success, constructed over decades, were taken away in one day. “I lost all pride in prison. They asked me to take off my clothes, I wasn’t used to it. It was a little bit debasing.”
John was over six feet tall but had to stay in a small prison cell no larger than six square metres. He spent his first night lying on the plank bed, staring at the ceiling while thinking about the next sixteen months.
He sweated like a pig during the sweltering summer and had to shower in freezing water during the winter. He finally lost over seventeen kilograms. Nevertheless, physical exhaustion was far less harsh than the mental suffering, “I didn’t care about myself, but was concerned about my wife and children. Hong Kong is so small, who doesn’t know me? How would my former acquaintances treat my wife? Would they give her a bad name?” His family could only visit him twice a month, and each visit was limited to thirty minutes. He understood his prison life was hard, but felt it was even harder for his wife to face the judgmental society around her.
He started writing in the third month. Since he was isolated from the outside world, writing about his life was the only thing he could do. He recreated himself with his pen, transcribing each decade of his life. He said his mind was quicker than his handwriting and it took only four months to finish his book. His entire life was written on those pages, word by word. He used to be a forward-looking person, but this time, he took a look back at the written account of his life and thought, “A seventy-year-old man must have made many mistakes, so even if I turn ninety I should continue to learn, and not complain.”
His friends told him that if he did not broadcast or mention his time in jail, people would someday forget that he was a prisoner. John, however, prefers to take the responsibility: “I define clearly what actually happened. I control my own destiny and would not allow it to