The younger generation of Hongkongers may not find Lydia Dunn a familiar name.
Unlike the media savvy Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, who still creates ripples by descending upon this city periodically and giving interviews and making speeches, Dunn has largely been forgotten in her former place of residence.
But now the public has a chance to get reacquainted with the baroness, thanks to buzz surrounding an encounter between her and the city’s current top leader, Carrie Lam, in London this week.
On Thursday, Lam, who took over as Hong Kong’s chief executive in July, met up with Dunn at a high-table event in the British capital.
The surprising rendezvous took place as Lam undertook a three-day trip to Britain, her first official visit to the country since taking office.
The website of the Chief Executive’s Office released a photo of Lam meeting Dunn at a social event, sparking chatter and curiosity about the now-UK resident.
The 60-year-old Lam was seen slightly reserved in her prim and proper cheongsam in front of the 77-year-old Dunn, who was clad in a sleeveless evening gown paired with a striking red scarf, whose official title was Lydia Selina Dunn, Baroness Dunn of Hong Kong Island and of Knightsbridge.
Lam also met Dunn during previous visits to the UK while serving as Hong Kong’s chief secretary.
Dunn was a hot political commodity in the 1980s Hong Kong, sitting on both the Legislative Council and Executive Council. At that time, Lam was just starting her career as a frontline staff in the government secretariat, having taken a refresher course at Cambridge.
In the run-up to the 1997 handover, Dunn campaigned, without much success, for the unfettered right of Hong Kong people to live in Britain.
She hit the headlines as she made a tearful complaint to the UK parliament that “apart from lunatics, condemned prisoners, and small children, Hong Kong people must be the only people in the world who seem to have no right to decide their own fate”.
Her oratory in English, Cantonese and Mandarin as a go-between for Beijing and London, as well as her wardrobe choices, all added to her charisma.
Dunn once revealed that her family fled the famine and calamities of the mainland under a hail of bullets from the soldiers of the Red Army, smuggling themselves on makeshift sampans across the Shenzhen River to reach Hong Kong for freedom.
After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Dunn said she could never reconcile with a regime that massacred its own people, and that it became her duty to speak up for Hongkongers.
She also vowed that she won’t allow London to go lightly with a “wholesale” withdrawal from the colony.
Nonetheless, it appeared later that Dunn decided to accept London’s political perks on offer. She toned down her rhetoric against Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major.
In 1990 Dunn was made a life peer as Baroness Dunn of Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong and of Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and became a member of the House of Lords.
Dunn took a flight to the UK, as did several other rich and powerful folks, when Hong Kong was about to call time on its colonial era. Her decision to abandon her birthplace attracted much criticism and was seen by observers as her vote of no-confidence over the city’s future.
If there is a list of personalities involved in Hong Kong affairs that Beijing hates, Dunn will surely figure high up, as party cadres loathed her as much as they did Patten.
Given that Beijing still bears grudges, it’s somewhat surprising that Lam did not shy away from meeting Dunn during the latest London trip.
Some observers view this as a sign that Lam lacks political sensitivity, while some feel the informal meeting with Dunn may have been aimed at sending a signal that Lam makes her own decisions as to who she meets and what she will say.
But there are some who say that we shouldn’t read too much into the meeting. Lam may have just bumped into Dunn in a social setting, they say, also pointing out that Dunn no longer commands any heft in Hong Kong.
“As long as Lam doesn’t meet the Queen or these long-time China bashers, Beijing won’t care,” said one commentator.
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