From her student days as a Maoist firebrand to more recent roles covering politics, Diana Lin has been a recognizable figure in local news for more than 30 years. Now presenter and senior executive producer at TVB Pearl, she describes her colorful career to Dan Creffield.
I attended Diocesan Girls’ School from kindergarten to Form 5, where I quickly realized I had an interest in creative writing.
The school didn’t have a newspaper then, so I took over a noticeboard where I posted short stories, poetry and news items. It was not the pressure cooker it is now!
My father had his own garment business, and I had an upper middle class upbringing in Kowloon. I have happy memories of riding my bike and playing with my dog.
Myself and my siblings—a brother and three sisters—all went to the US for university. After Form 5, I was accepted by an experimental college in Michigan.
In 1968 there were radical groups and riots on campuses everywhere in the US. Ivy League dropouts took over our college and it eventually folded.
After I got a degree, I was planning to head back to Hong Kong but an opportunity came up to do a fine arts degree at the San Francisco Art Institute. I thought ‘Why not?’
The 70s was a very unconventional time in the Bay Area and I was quite influenced by that. While studying, I worked with a local leftist newspaper.
I also joined a Maoist group called I Wor Kuen, Chinatown’s answer to the Black Panthers. We tried to emulate Beijing’s political system and ideology.
Ironically the founders were the children of Taiwanese generals!
We read Mao’s Little Red Book and sang patriotic songs like “The East is Red.”
One of Mao’s quotes was “Political power comes out the barrel of a gun,” so some I Wor Kuen members packed guns. But in reality, we used them mainly as props in the plays we used to put on!
I always felt motivated politically, wanting to change the world. That’s why I became a journalist, hoping to make a difference.
It was a pretty wild and very creative period in San Francisco. The government launched an affirmative action program for Third World artists and hired me as a muralist. I painted exterior walls and interior hallways.
Around that time, I married a black lawyer and applied for a green card. But the authorities rejected my application. My student visa had expired and I was deported.
Back in Hong Kong, I got a job with a women’s fashion magazine. I traveled to Paris and London to interview fashion icons such as Karl Lagerfeld and Bernard Lanvin.
This gave me a taste for journalism but the magazine wasn’t really my thing.
After a couple of years I switched to newspapers and worked as feature writer and columnist with The Star, Hong Kong’s first tabloid newspaper, and The Standard.
A former colleague then asked me to join RTV, which was eventually sold to Deacon Chiu, who turned it into ATV. I was chief reporter and anchor.
The early 80s were very exciting times. Margaret Thatcher visited Beijing and the Sino-British talks on Hong Kong’s future were launched.
Because they were confidential, you had to cultivate sources in order to learn anything.
The common refrain through official channels was that the discussions were “useful and constructive.”
I moved to Tokyo and Beijing, spending two years in each place as a freelancer.
In Beijing I learned Putonghua and the workings of China’s politics.
Beijing was a quieter place in those days. I saw the first supermarket open there. And it was quite easy to approach officials for interviews.
Then ATV asked me to come back to Hong Kong to head up its current affairs and documentary shows.
In Beijing, I stumbled upon a demonstration that mushroomed into a massive pro-democracy movement, paralyzing Beijing and culminating in June 4.
I joined TVB in 1991, anchoring and overseeing English daily news reporting. Later I switched to documentaries and current affairs programs.
I have voted in every direct election in Hong Kong since the early 80s, for the Urban Council, District Council and Legislative Council and always for pro-democracy candidates.
I always advise my team that they have to dig up the dirt and make a difference.
My daughter studied biology. She abhors politics!
I love Hong Kong because it is my home. It is where most of the people I love best in the world are, and where I can do whatever I want, except genuinely elect the Chief Executive.
Need to Know…
A prominent network news journalist in Hong Kong for many years, Diana Lin is a former presenter of TVB Pearl’s flagship evening news program, and currently host and senior executive producer of The Pearl Report, Money Magazine and Pearl Finance.