Allen Lee Peng-fei has left an indelible footprint in Hong Kong politics. From being a member of the British-groomed elite in the cabinet of the colonial governor to the first business figure to win a directly elected seat in the Legislative Council; and from gaining Beijing’s trust to take up key positions to becoming a vocal critic of the government in recent years, Lee’s political career was closely intertwined with the ups and downs of the city over the decades. That is why his death has seen an outpouring of emotions in political circles and beyond. It is a sad reminder of not just the loss of a fine politician who had the city’s interests at heart, but also the qualities and cooperation that characterised his era. As a businessman, he set a good example for others to embrace democracy. While his counterparts in Legco were holding onto the seats reserved for industrialists and professionals in the final years of colonial rule, he saw direct elections as the way forward and founded the pro-business Liberal Party. He bowed out after failing to hold his elected seat in New Territories East in 1998, but he remained a staunch supporter of party politics and became an outspoken commentator on public affairs. Despite a wealth of mainland appointments before and after reunification, Lee lost favour with Beijing over the years owing to his criticism. His views may not have been to everyone’s taste, but his rich political experience made him a force to be reckoned with. Even though he may not have found favour with the patriotic or opposition camps of today, his style stands out in the current political environment, which many find increasingly uncomfortable. Lee represented an era when politicians of different colours could respect and cooperate with each other. Hopes of “one country, two systems” being a success were high. There were disagreements, but not bickering. The good old days when rationality and pragmatism prevailed are sorely missed. Upon his retirement from public life in 2018, Lee said a “high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” – the principles enshrined in the Basic Law – remained a challenge, and he hoped there would be political reconciliation one day. Those remarks still resonate in society today. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.