In the past two weeks I have been writing in this column about lawmakers with interesting or little-known overseas experiences and backgrounds.
I’ve got a lot of positive feedback from readers, but I know I can’t go on and on writing about this topic. Still, at the request of readers, let me write just one more piece on this subject – for the last time.
There are quite a number of incumbent or former lawmakers who are descendants of overseas Chinese from Southeast Asia.
Wong Kwok-hing, who represented the leftist Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) in the last Legislative Council, was born in Haiphong, Vietnam to a Chinese immigrant family in 1949.
Shortly after his birth, his family fled the country amid the Vietnamese war of independence against the French, and arrived in Hong Kong in the early ’50s.
With no money, no relatives and nowhere to stay, Wong’s family was in desperation when they arrived in the city, and might not have made it through without the help of the FTU.
Not every Hong Kong politician of Chinese descent from Southeast Asia came from a humble background.
Former lawmaker and Executive Councillor Bernard Chan, who is also known by the name of Charnwut Sophonpanich, was born to a very wealthy Chinese family in Thailand.
His family founded Bangkok Bank, one of the largest private commercial banks in Southeast Asia.
Some of our lawmakers were born to families with close ties with the Kuomintang in Taiwan.
Ann Chiang Lai-wan, who represents the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), is the eldest daughter of Chiang Chun (蔣震), a prominent industrial tycoon in Hong Kong.
Intriguingly, while the DAB heavyweight is pro-Beijing, her father is a seasoned member of the Kuomintang who as a young soldier fought in the civil war against the Chinese Communist Party between 1946 and 1949.
After fleeing to Hong Kong in 1949, Chiang Chun joined the Free China Movement, a secret subversive operation funded by the Central Intelligence Agency to sponsor anti-communist insurgent forces in the mainland, and underwent US military training on the island of Saipan.
Another former lawmaker whose parents were also closely associated with the Kuomintang is Wong Yuk-man. His father was a seasoned Kuomintang member, and fled to Hong Kong with his family in 1949.
As a former professor in journalism at the pro-Kuomintang Chu Hai College, Wong has been widely acknowledged as one of Hong Kong’s leading authorities on Taiwanese politics.
On the other hand, quite a number of incumbent lawmakers, such as the independent Joseph Lee Kok-long, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party and Abraham Shek Lai-him of the Business and Professionals Alliance were all born in Macau.
In fact, all of them had been eligible for Portuguese citizenship before the tiny city was returned to China in 1999.
If they had applied back then, they would have been both Portuguese and EU citizens by now.
Contrary to popular impression, many prominent and old-time leftist politicians actually studied abroad.
Former DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung pursued higher education in Australia while former FTU leader Chan Yuen-han studied in the United Kingdom.
Another DAB heavyweight, Chan Kam-lam, worked as a sailor in Australia when he was young, only to find himself constantly bullied by his white colleagues.
It is said that his unpleasant experience prompted him to join the “patriotic” DAB in 1992.
These days the percentage of pro-establishment lawmakers who have degrees from western universities could even be higher than that of the pro-democracy camp.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 7.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
Related story: Lawmakers with interesting overseas experience or background
– Contact us at [email protected]