How an artist became a district councilor

January 09, 2016 08:03
Clarisse Yeung, newly elected district councilor at Wan Chai’s Tai Hang constituency, aims to keep all her campaign promises, and installing more ATMs in the neighborhood will come first. Photo: HKEJ

Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying (楊雪盈) is a graduate of fine arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a holder of a master's degree in visual arts from the Hong Kong Baptist University. She is a part-time post-secondary institute lecturer specializing in arts, culture and policy research.

Lately, Yeung has picked up a new role. She is one of the new faces elected into the District Council.

Yeung is regarded as an activist for democracy, a soldier of the Umbrella Movement. However, she has long been engaged in cultural activism even before the 2014 civil disobedience campaign.

As early as in 2012, she had a taste of Hong Kong politics when she joined the campaign of local artist Chow Chun-fai, who ran in the Legislative Council election to represent the sports, performing arts, culture and publication functional constituency.

Their defeat was well expected even if Chow’s opponent did not do much to win the race. The opponent had secured enough votes from interest groups and organizations.

Despite their defeat, Yeung and other Chow campaigners pursued their fight on the cultural front.

They established the Hong Kong Culture Monitor, publishing studies and articles regarding local cultural policy and development.

This served as a cornerstone for Yeung's political career.

When the pro-democracy protests broke out, Yeung called for the setting up of the Umbrella Movement Visual Archive which aimed to gather art installations, photographs and other artworks related to the movement, hoping to preserve them for history.

“Everything that we collected was yellow in color. I couldn’t help pondering the meaning of this color in our daily lives, and whether the clash between yellow and blue carried any meaning," she said.

“Owing to their opposing points of view, both sides shut down their channels of communication and stopped listening to each other. I don’t think that's good. I want to rebuild our lines of communication.”

Yeung, along with other volunteers from the Visual Archive, formed a community platform, Good Day Wanchai, to encourage civic-mindedness and a sense of community in the district.

When applications for district council seats opened, Yeung decided to run for Wan Chai’s Tai Hang constituency, encouraged by the presence of many politically active senior citizens in the neighborhood.

In order to help craft her election platform, Yeung conducted a survey to gather the ideas of residents and gain a better understanding of their concerns and needs.

At the start of the campaign, her odds of winning as an independent candidate seemed very small as her opponent, who was also running for the first time, enjoyed the backing of the well-funded and well-connected New People's Party.

In the absence of a strong electioneering team, Yeung worked doubly hard, meeting people in the streets at least twice a day. Very often she made the rounds by herself.

Despite the long hours and the fatigue, she was very happy and grateful for the love and support extended to her by kind-hearted citizens, who offered nutritious soup and herbal drinks that kept her in good health throughout the campaign.

On election day, Yeung grabbed 1,398 votes, beating her nearest rival by 250 votes.

She aims to keep all her campaign promises, such as improving public facilities, including installing more ATMs in the neighborhood.

Yeung is also eager to meet up with young people in the community to know their expectations for her and the community.

“Some people say there is so much pessimism in Hong Kong right now. I don't believe that. For instance, my victory took many people by surprise as we were able to seize the seat from a well-funded political party. There’s still hope that we can inspire everyone in the neighborhood. Unity is strength and many small achievements, when taken together, can make a difference.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 30.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Yeung grabbed 1,398 votes, beating her nearest rival by 250 votes. She is thankful for the support of kind-hearted residents. Photo: HKEJ
Yeung (center) and like-minded friends formed the Umbrella Movement Visual Archive and Research Collective to preserve artworks from the pro-democracy campaign for history. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal