He says these western cultural products encouraged him to question his life. He began to publish political magazines at school, get involved in political activism and ended up getting expelled. Later, he joined the radical group Avant Guard Bookshop and urged the public not to pay their rent, water bills, electricity bills and phone bills in protest against the government’s increase in public housing rent despite the economic downturn caused by the oil crisis. The activists also went to industrial areas like San Po Kong to ask the workers there to occupy the factories.
One time, Yuen bumped into his father – who was a garment worker in the area – while he was distributing leaflets. His father did not know Yuen was involved in the protests, but he did not get angry at his son. Instead, he raised concerns from the practical perspective of a worker. They already worked more than 10 hours a day, said Yuen’s father. If they occupied factories, they would spend 24 hours there. It would be hard to get workers’ support for the action. Yuen could not hide his disappointment. Still, the older Yuen promised to discuss the idea with his colleagues.
In the end, Yuen was arrested during the protest and his father attended the court hearing. The magistrate ordered him to be bound over. But Yuen’s father never wavered in his support or stopped his son from doing anything. “My dad encouraged me a lot,” Yuen recalls. “In fact I am hesitant to make any decisions. Yet I at last persuaded people to occupy factories despite the risk of being kicked out from school.”
After that, he threw himself into a “people’s theatre” group, acting in street dramas to spread political messages. Yuen longs for an anarchist society governed by the people. “I am not fighting for rights but the decentralization of rights,” Yuen says of his ideal political world. But soon he figured out that he was not suited to the role. “The louder I shout a slogan, the more powerless I feel,” he says.
Yuen went through a dark period in his 30s when he suffered ill health and felt lost and depressed. He says the power of stories and the wisdom of children helped to heal him. That, and the constant support of his father.
Yuen is now the father of an 18-year-old son. When his son was young, bedtimes were special times for stories. It was through these stories that the grandson became familiar with the grandfather he never really knew in person because he passed away when the boy was very young. Yuen told his son about how his own father had taken him to the LaiChiKokAmusement Park. How he stood facing the merry-go-round, and waved whenever the boy made eye-contact as he went round.
As a storyteller, Yuen highlights the relationship between imagination and society. He tries hard to explore the space for interpersonal interaction. For him, the Umbrella Movement, in which protesters have been occupying areas of Admiralty, Mong Kok and CausewayBay to fight for genuine universal suffrage, has succeeded in opening such a space.