Hong Kong Canto-pop singer Agnes Chan, a possible education minister, no stranger to politics
From a fresh-faced 14-year-old pop idol to a Stanford graduate, working mum has history of working for children
Most people remember Agnes Chan Miling as a fresh-faced pop idol with a clear and sweet voice, who became wildly popular in the last few decades of the 20th century in both Hong Kong and Japan.
The prospect of the doe-eyed star becoming Hong Kong’s next education minister intrigues many as her persona contrasts sharply with that of the outgoing holder of the office, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, known for a long career in management positions.
But speculation that Chan is in contention for the post under chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor might not be farfetched, as the 61-year-old familiarised herself with education early on and is not a complete stranger to politics.
In April 1998, Japan’s Unicef committee appointed Chan its first goodwill ambassador, tasking her with travelling around Asia to advocate for children, raise money and write newspaper columns.
She is also a friend of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who went to university with Chan’s husband and served as best man at their wedding.
Her sister, Dr Chan Hei-ling, is the founder of health products brand Vita Green, while her sister’s husband, Dr Tse Tak-fu, is a celebrated cardiologist. Tse’s patients include some of the biggest names in the city, such as tycoons Li Ka-shing and Lee Shau-kee. Tse’s niece is former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s daughter-in-law.
“Every child I saw [as a Unicef ambassador] has a place in my heart,” Chan said in a 2006 interview. “I cannot save all the children, but it would be great if I could save even one. I believe I won’t stop [helping children] in my life.
“After I became an ambassador, I became very political at times, and I hope I can change laws and press governments of different countries to do more ... I hope I can have a bigger impact.”
Born in Hong Kong in 1955, Chan started her singing career at the age of 14 and became a household name after releasing a cover of Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game.
Chan moved to Japan in 1972 at the invitation of a Japanese record company and went on to become an idol with songs topping local pop music charts.
In the late 1970s, Chan decided to take a break from her singing career to obtain an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Toronto. She returned to the entertainment world in 1978.
After marrying her manager Tsutomu Kaneko in 1986 and giving birth to their first son, Chan continued to work, appearing frequently on TV and radio shows. To take care of her son, she brought the boy and a nanny to the studios, triggering a national debate over the role of women, dubbed the “Agnes controversy”.
It was this episode, she said, that prompted her to enter a doctoral programme in education at Stanford University. In 1994, she obtained her doctoral degree.
In the ensuing years, she gave birth to two more sons, continued releasing songs and wrote several popular books, including one published last year on how she sent her three sons to Stanford.
In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she prevailed against the disease after a five-year battle.