Carrie Lam is no softie, but she can be sentimental at times

March 29, 2019 13:08
In his memoir, former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat reveals that he and Chief Executive Carrie Lam were student activists during their years at the University of Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ/CNSA

She has earned the reputation of being tough and a very competent leader. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has a sentimental side to her character that is rarely shown in public, former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat says in a soon-to-be-published memoir.

Lee and partymate Sin Chung-kai have known the Hong Kong leader way back in the late 1970s, when the three were student activists at the University of Hong Kong.

At the end of 1979, Lee recalls, the HKU students’ union organized an exchange trip to Tsinghua University and Peking University.

Lam, then an undergraduate student with the Faculty of Social Sciences, was vice chair of the delegation, charged with organizing the tour.

At the time, China was on the cusp of opening up to the world under the sweeping reforms being launched by then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Beijing then, to a certain extent, was tolerant of dissent.

At HKU, not a few members of the student union were hoping to meet with pro-democracy activists in the mainland in the course of the trip. Their request, however, was turned down by the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua News Agency, the predecessor of today's Beijing's Liaison Office, which was coordinating the exchange trip.

Lam was deeply frustrated by all the hassles and bickerings between Xinhua and the students. Despite her efforts to maintain her decorum and work out a compromise, Lam burst into tears several times under enormous stress and pressure.

It seems Lam, decades before she became our city's top leader, learned the hard way how stressful it could be when dealing with conflicting demands and expectations of different sides.

When Lam was running for chief executive back in 2017, she once said that she used to belong to the same gang with Lee and Sin when they were at the forefront of student activism in their college years.

She, however, never mentioned those incidents when she broke down in tears on the campus.

One should not be surprised at all by her emotional side. When she was serving as chief secretary in 2012, Lam became tearful during a television interview when the discussion about the national education controversy heated up.

Lee mentions another incident that showed Lam's sentimental side, and this was revealed by Lam herself. She told media that when she was in high school, she couldn’t stop crying when she got home after learning that she only finished fourth in a school exam. She had wanted to be first.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.