HK Magazine Archive

Tanya Chan

Politician, barrister and stage actress Tanya Chan Suk-chong is a founding member of the Civic Party. A Legco member from 2008 to 2012, she became the party’s Vice-Chairman in 2012. She tells Andrea Lo about changing her plans to open a dai pai dong and where she sees Hong Kong in 2047.
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 August, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:47pm

I grew up in Hong Kong. I was here all through school and I went to HKU.

I went to an all-girls school. A few of us said that we would remain single and buy a house together to live as spinsters.

The other girls are all married and some have become mothers. I have remained single, although I haven’t bought a home yet.

When I was a child, I was the kind who talked back at people a lot. My aunties and uncles said I should become a lawyer.

I studied for an LLB [Bachelor of Laws] and felt like I had been tricked, because it was so boring. I decided I never wanted to be a lawyer. But it made sense to have a professional degree.

I worked in investment banking and then went back to study for a PCLL [postgraduate legal qualifi cation]. I was a solicitor, then became a barrister. I was in my early 30s and things were stable.

A friend asked if I was interested in doing theater.

I acted in a political comedy, “East Wing, West Wing.” A lot of political fi gures came and I met [Civic Party leader] Audrey Eu.

When I joined the Civic Party almost 10 years ago, I didn’t know a single person.

Originally I thought I would be in politics for a decade, then go and open a dai pai dong. But sometimes things don’t happen just because you want them to.

More importantly, with the current social environment, I might not feel comfortable bowing out.

I feel like a chair with three legs. Without any one of the things I’m doing I’d feel uncomfortable.

I always forget that I’m a woman. When I see two guys fi ghting in the street I try to get in the middle of it.

No female Legco member has ever got married during her term. Every time a single woman joins Legco, she leaves single.

I wouldn’t call it a curse. It’s a phenomenon.

In political circles, I feel it has always been quite fair—no one would treat you any better or worse because you’re a woman.

Still, there are not enough women in politics. 

I’m lucky in that when the tabloids write about me, my track record is mentioned—they don’t simply gossip.

Photo: Emily Chu /

My biggest success? I have many good friends around me. My failures have happened when I’ve gone too far with things, like when I’ve been too blunt with what I say.

I don’t like offending or upsetting people. I think everyone has a right to be happy.

People are more lenient now when it comes to how they expect their politicians to be. We used to have to be very straightlaced and could never do a single thing out of line.

Would I run for Chief Executive? That’s like asking me if I would run for Miss Hong Kong again. I’ve never thought about it. I like having more freedom.

But if people started worshipping me like some kind of god I wouldn’t like it.

2047 is a long time away. If everyone wants things to be better, we need to work hard at it.

The most important thing is to do things that are good for all of society.

I’m worried about people who do things just to make a profit.

It leads to corruption, class conflict and things being done at the expense of other people.

Maybe people can’t see far into the future, so when they see an opportunity for power and profit, they grab it.

But Hongkongers are good at making the best out of a bad situation.

It’s going to be a tough road towards 2047, but when Hongkongers know there are difficulties ahead, they’ll tackle them.

I like that Hong Kong is extreme. There’s not a lot of gray areas. It’s a pretty crazy place.

A lot of my friends have left or are planning to leave. I don’t think they’ve completely given up on Hong Kong, but they’re choosing to channel their energies elsewhere.

Maybe they feel like they can’t risk the fight—especially those with children.

You could say it was crazy that I shaved my head [in 2014 to protest for political reform]. Just because I did it, it didn’t mean we were then going to get universal suffrage. If that was the case, most people in Hong Kong wouldn’t have hair. 

I remember stepping out of the shower for the first time without a head of hair, looking into the mirror and thinking: We were born like this. You can live without a lot of things.

The most important thing in life is happiness—and having principles. Without principles you’re done. You might as well be a robot.

Every five to seven years, I go through big changes. In the past I have gone to study or changed careers. Right now it feels like I’m preparing for another big change to come.

Need to Know...

In 2010 Tanya Chan teamed up with four other lawmakers to resign from Legco, forcing a de facto referendum on political reform. She applied for the Miss Hong Kong pageant in 1992 and is the host of a popular Apple Daily online radio program, “Luen Up 24.”