When news first broke of David Chan Yuk-cheung's planned mission to sail to the Diaoyu Islands, the activist was simultaneously engulfed by praise and criticism. Chan, 45, who died yesterday after diving into heavy seas surrounding the rocky outcrops, apparently wanted to beat Democrat Tsang Kin-shing's group as the first organised Hong Kong party to reach the islands. While some pundits applauded Chan's bravery and patriotism, others slammed his widely-publicised voyage on behalf of his Alliance of Worldwide Chinese for the Protection of the Diaoyu Islands as a stunt aimed at scoring political points. Tsang made a sadly prophetic statement: that those who questioned the motives of Diaoyu activists should think twice - because the trip to dismantle a lighthouse built by Japanese rightists on the disputed islands 'could be dangerous'. Yesterday, as arrangements were made to return Chan's body to his family in Hong Kong, friends, colleagues and others who knew the former student leader during his turbulent career remembered him as a man who fought for the causes he believed in. As someone who had championed the Diaoyu Islands cause since his student days, he would not, perhaps, have wanted to die in any other way. For he had shed blood over the islands before. A quarter of a century ago, when long-running agitation over the Diaoyu Islands exploded, turning Victoria Park and the streets of Causeway Bay into a battlefield with passing cars being stoned and vehicles burnt, Chan, then a Form Seven graduate and student leader, was among demonstrators who were clubbed by police. 'The police used batons to disperse the demonstration, which they said was illegal because permission to use Victoria Park was denied,' recalled a participant in the July 7, 1971 demonstration. 'Chan was one of those who sustained head injuries.' Friends say perhaps fate dictated he would eventually die over the Diaoyu Islands, a cause for which he cared passionately - some would say obsessively. Born in Shantou, Guangdong, on October 14, 1950, Chan came to the territory with his father at the age of eight. He was educated at King's College and later went to the University of Hong Kong. Chan became the chairman of the university's Students Union in 1973. He was also the head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and the vice-secretary of the Asian Students Association for several years in the 1970s. It was an exciting time for students as their 'power movement' was gathering momentum. Among their many demands were reforms in housing and education policies. Against this background, Chan had the opportunity to put his social and political thinking into practice. 'I don't know if he was born a student leader, but he has always been one,' says Tai Hay-lap, who first met Chan in the early 1970s. 'He was keen people should learn more about China and had voiced concern over a wide range of social issues. As he was involved in the Asian Students Association, it showed his concerns went beyond Hong Kong to China and other Asian countries.' In 1975, he graduated with an honours degree in Social Sciences, majoring in sociology and economics. A year later, he obtained a Diploma of Education from the same university. Chan worked as a researcher at a television station and taught (while holding a position in the Asian Students Association) before returning to studies, this time at the Chinese University. In 1980, he graduated with a Masters of Philosophy in Communication Research. Four years later, he obtained a diploma in politics at the London School of Economics. Throughout his student days, Chan was actively involved in protests big and small - from objecting to the dismissal of a Tsung Tsin college teacher to anti-corruption demonstrations and protests against the Japanese occupation of the Diaoyu Islands. So it came as a surprise to some when Chan joined the media profession after graduation. The move changed him from being an active participant in tumultuous events to a passive observer. In 1980, Chan joined the public affairs department of Government-funded Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). A year later he relocated to the BBC World Service before returning to RTHK in September 1984. While he was in England, he met his wife Lau Shun-hing, an educator, and they married in 1982. During his time at RTHK, Chan hosted a number of current affairs programmes including 80s In Perspective, Talk About and Hong Kong Beat, before moving to the television division. Lee Luen-fai, controller (Educational Television) and a former colleague says: 'Chan had a lot of ideas and was very creative. He also had great organisational skills and used to organise many talks and forums. 'As a journalist, he also spent a lot of time examining social as well as political issues. He followed closely the progress of the Sino-British talks over Hong Kong's future right up to 1991.' Chan believed his career choice would leave him room for both ideals and reality. He once said that he was very idealistic but not practical in his student days. But having graduated, he learnt to perform well in his job first before fulfilling his ideals. In 1985, Chan received the prestigious Hong Kong Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award for his achievements in the media industry. His news coverage while stationed in London included the Falkland Islands war, a miners' strike, the beginning of the Sino-British Talks and a general election in Britain. He was the host of RTHK's Chinese version of Today In Legco and was a senior executive producer before he resigned as a broadcaster in May 1991 in order to bid for a seat in Hong Kong's first Legislative Council direct election. This was also when Chan stepped from the background and into the media spotlight. After he declared himself a Legco candidate, Chan, who had taken up a senior post at The Express News, was accused of gaining free publicity by running his photograph in the newspaper. Mr Tai tried to boost Chan's chances in his ill-fated election campaign. 'The reason was . . . because I had admired him for a long time as being someone who was very consistent with his principles,' he says. 'It was only after the election that I discovered Chan did not get on well with many people. That really surprised me.' Chan was a tough man, and in many ways a hard man. Those who had crossed paths with him said he had made as many friends as enemies in his life. He could be unashamedly blunt to less articulate reporters. A friend said he would make a bad politician because he had little use for smooth-talk. School principal Yip Sau-wah, a Chan campaign aide in 1991, said some regarded him as insincere and proud. Ms Yip said she admired him because of the skill and the wit he mastered during his time as a television host. 'I told him he could not be too showy about his intelligence because that would give people the impression that he was insincere. He listened.' When he lost in Hong Kong's maiden direct elections in 1991, he lost as a man of controversy. Three days before polling day, a group of former student activists - some of whom had known Chan since his university days - organised an anti-Chan campaign. An advertisement they placed in a magazine criticised him for concealing his pro-China stand. Chan lost to Dr Huang Chen-ya by a mere 1.22 per cent. On his alleged stand which seemed to stem from his days at university, Chan said then: 'I am a nationalist and I wish China well. But I do not support the current Chinese leadership.' The campaigners' strategy, dubbed by the Chinese media as a 'topple-Chan' campaign, might have caused his defeat, but it did not crush his will. He later re-emerged as a Beijing-appointed district affairs adviser. In March last year, he ran in Urban Council elections, but was defeated by democrat Kam Nai-wai. Last September, the media man cum public relations consultant stood in the Legco poll for a second time, as an independent in the business service functional constituency. He lost to Democrat Andrew Cheng Ka-foo. Chan's ambition was to shape and move policies. Early this month, he applied to join the Selection Committee which is charged with the responsibility of electing Hong Kong's first chief executive and a provisional legislature. The end of Chan's life begs the question: Is Diaoyu a worthy cause to champion, at the expense of social stability in the 1970s and now human life? For Chan's wife, Lau Shun-hing, and two children, On-yin and On-lap, part of their lives can never be replaced. But the family stood by him all the same. His apparently impulsive decision to dive from Kien Hwa No 2 to 'demonstrate to the Japanese that Chinese have the right to do whatever they want, including swimming in Chinese waters', shows Chan has changed little from his student days. Chan began those days as a hothead. Some would say he died as one.