STATE OF TURMOIL I come from a large family - I have a twin sister and six brothers. We came to Hong Kong in 1948 (from Shanghai) to escape the civil turmoil in mainland China. Two years later, my mother was widowed, in her early 30s, (Chan's father died when she was 10), and left with eight young children. My youngest brother was only three years old. For about 10 years after that, my mother was, on and off, in the UK looking after three of my brothers (who went to school there). In the mid-1970s, she came back and mostly lived in Hong Kong. During my formative years, my uncles, aunts and maternal grandmother raised us, in a very strict environment, particularly towards females. We had less freedom than the average, more enlightened family. Over summer holidays we weren't allowed out very often, so my sister and I used to spend most of our time reading. I read everything that I could lay my hands on … sometimes unsuitable material.
A MOTHER'S LOAD My greatest role model is my mother. It was no mean feat for a woman of that generation to raise eight children and carve out a career as a renowned contemporary Chinese artist. My mother was fortunate because her mother had seen the value of educating girls. She had been sent overseas, to the University of Manchester (in England), where she met my father. I admired my mother for her sense of purpose, her tenacity, her great generosity of spirit, and how nothing ever deterred her from achieving what she thought she was capable of.
TUMBLING INTO GOVERNMENT After I left the Sacred Heart Canossian College, I went to Hong Kong University, where I studied English and English literature. I joined the Hong Kong government almost straight out of university - purely by chance. I had intended to become a social worker. But I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for administrative officers, at the princely salary of HK$1,200, which was a lot of money in those days. I sat for the interview and, lo and behold, I received an offer. I have never looked back. In a way, I got what I wanted, because I became first the deputy director of social welfare, then the director. God works in very mysterious ways.
SISTERS WERE DOING IT When I joined the government, in 1962, women were paid 75 per cent of the men's pay and were not entitled to the benefits our male colleagues had, for example, housing and education allowances. The government's excuse was, "These are your husband's responsibilities." It took a trade union called the Association of Female Senior Government Officers, formed by 12 of us married women officers, to fight for equality of pay and fringe benefits. We had sympathetic bosses - particularly the then chief secretary, Sir Jack Cater, who accepted the idea of equality - but I also think the social climate was rapidly changing. Society was ready to acknowledge that women form valuable human capital. We didn't chain ourselves to a fence or burn our bras, we just used gentle persuasion and reasoning. I haven’t finally decided [on what she will talk about at TEDx Wan Chai Women] but I will talk about my entire career, including a life in politics. Not just about women in politics, I’m going to talk, for example, on my experience of running for the LegCo seat.
ONE HEAD, THREE HATS I got married in July 1963, my daughter was born in September 1964, and my son three years later. I always felt that when the children were younger they needed a lot of attention and I tried to give them as much as I could. But I was also conscious that if I'm being paid to do a job, I need to give it my very, very best. Balancing that was not easy. So you hope that you have understanding bosses and a supportive husband. I was fortunate in both areas. But there were periods when I was passed over for promotion and I remember crying on one occasion when I thought I should have been promoted but was not. I decided to take these things philosophically. Essentially, you're wearing three hats: you have a career, you're somebody's wife and you're a mother of two children. You cannot expect all three roles to be perfect every time.
1997 AND ALL THAT Few people can say they played a part in the historical transition that Hong Kong underwent from British to Chinese sovereignty. To have been involved at the highest level of government both before and after the handover was a great privilege. I also take great pride in the fact that, for the seven years I was chief secretary, I was able to lead the civil service and give it confidence, particularly in the run-up to 1997, when there was a great deal of worry among civil servants. The whole transition was peaceful and Hong Kong maintained its core values and lifestyle, and continued to play a role in international trade that is out of proportion to its small size. Unfortunately, I think Hong Kong today is going downhill.
DEAR LEADER I'd describe C.Y. Leung as a chameleon. He seems to change all the time. It's a pity that our chief executive's heart does not seem to be with the Hong Kong people. He does not appear to share our core values. He's not helping us defend "one country, two systems" and that's why we have increasing concerns over our rights and freedoms. C.Y. Leung doesn't seem to care what the public thinks of him, because he knows we have no power to boot him out of office. He knows which side his bread is buttered and is determined on going his own way.
FEMALE OF THE SPECIES Sooner rather than later I'd like to see a female chief executive, whose heart is in the right place - that is, with the Hong Kong people - a leader who has integrity and honesty, who will bring the community together, but, above all, one who realises that her main mission is to stand faithfully by "one country, two systems", restore a high autonomy for Hong Kong and morale within the civil service. But will I try running for chief executive? At my age, no.
Anson Chan Fang On-sang will speak at TEDx Wan Chai Women, at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, in Wan Chai, next Sunday.