Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor: Build­ing a Bet­ter Hong Kong

Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor:

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Ru Yuan

On March 26, Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was elected Hong Kong’s leader, top­ping off a 36year gov­ern­ment ca­reer with the honor of be­com­ing the first fe­male chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion. On July 1, the for­mer chief sec­re­tary for ad­min­is­tra­tion will be sworn in as head of the in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial and ship­ping hub for the com­ing five years.

Lam won 777 votes from 1,194 elec­tion com­mit­tee mem­bers, beat­ing ri­vals John Tsang Chun-wah, a for­mer Hong Kong fi­nan­cial sec­re­tary who took 365 votes, and Woo Kwok-hing, a re­tired high court judge who re­ceived 21 votes. “I shall do my ut­most to up­hold ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’ and guard our core val­ues,” Lam said at a press con­fer­ence af­ter win­ning the elec­tion. “Through care, lis­ten­ing and ac­tion, I will build a bet­ter Hong Kong.”

Dif­fi­cult Early Life

Lam was born in 1957 into a pover­tys­tricken fam­ily in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, one of the city’s no­to­ri­ous ar­eas of over­crowded ten­e­ment build­ings. The fourth of the five chil­dren in the fam­ily, Lam was born in the Year of Rooster. The Chi­nese be­lieve that peo­ple born in this year grow up wise, pas­sion­ate about the job at hand and full of in­tegrity—virtues ideal for lead­er­ship. But she would have to prac­tice the virtue of pa­tience for many years. As a child, Lam showed great en­thu­si­asm for learn­ing from a very young age.

Lam’s fa­ther was a mi­grant from Shang­hai who ran a small busi­ness, and her mother was a house­wife. Nei­ther had re­ceived much ed­u­ca­tion. How­ever, they proved wise and ca­pa­ble par­ents, es­pe­cially her mother, who no­ticed her daugh­ter’s pas­sion for read­ing and study­ing, and did what­ever she could to sup­port her. “My mother is my idol,” Lam once de­clared in an in­ter­view. “To help me re­ceive a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion, she de­voted all of her re­sources into get­ting me ad­mit­ted to a pres­ti­gious pri­mary school.”

She stud­ied at a renowned Catholic girls’ school in her neigh­bor­hood, where she fin­ished both pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. She con­sis­tently ranked among the top stu­dents at the school, and pro­duced the best score on al­most ev­ery fi­nal an­nual exam. “Once I only got the fourthbest score on the fi­nal exam, which got me so frus­trated that I sobbed about it af­ter ar­riv­ing home,” Lam re­called. “But even that ex­pe­ri­ence taught me a les­son: You can­not al­ways be the best, and some­times, you shouldn’t care so much about los­ing face.”

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Lam was ad­mit­ted to the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong, where she chose to study so­cial work. Af­ter her first year at the uni­ver­sity, she switched ma­jors to so­ci­ol­ogy “to bet­ter un­der­stand so­ci­ety and bet­ter par­tic­i­pate in so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.” In 1980, Lam grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor 's de­gree in so­cial sci­ences and joined Hong Kong Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vices the same year, where she be­gan a nearly four-decade ca­reer in gov­ern­ment.

A Fighter

In 1982, Lam went to Eng­land for a oneyear course in de­vel­op­ment stud­ies at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity, spon­sored by the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment. Upon re­turn­ing home, she was grad­u­ally pro­moted through var­i­ous gov­ern­men­tal de­part­ments in­clud­ing health, se­cu­rity and fi­nance, and so­cial wel­fare.

Lam be­came known as Hong Kong’s “Iron Lady” and as a tough fighter who al­ways got her way. Such qual­i­ties are ex­em­pli­fied by her var­i­ous projects. When the SARS (se­vere acute res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome) epi­demic struck the city in 2003, Lam and three other civil ser­vants launched the We Care Fund to raise money to ed­u­cate chil­dren who had lost par­ents to the dis­ease. Within three months, she had raised about 80 mil­lion Hong Kong dol­lars. Across the next decade, many chil­dren af­fected by the epi­demic grad­u­ated from col­lege. To this day, the com­mit­tee over­see­ing the We Care Fund still meets reg­u­larly, and Lam hardly misses a meet­ing.

The com­pas­sion­ate and grass­roots of­fi­cial has a nat­u­ral affin­ity for the un­der­priv­i­leged. And Lam al­ways stresses that ac­tions speak louder than words. She im­mersed her­self in prac­ti­cal work in­stead of net­work­ing with per­ceived big­wigs, which caused some to per­ceive her as “cold.” “She never made empty prom­ises,” one col­league de­clared. “But she will go out of her way to help when prob­lems are brought to her.” Once, an ad­vo­cate for dis­abled peo­ple sug­gested to her that the gov­ern­ment fund a breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus for the se­verely dis­abled. Lam replied with real ac­tion only three weeks later. “Thanks to your sug­ges­tions, we have launched new projects to ad­dress your con­cerns,” she wrote in an email to the ad­vo­cate.

The fighter has han­dled many tough cases: Dur­ing her days in the So­cial Wel­fare De­part­ment, Lam helped over­come Hong Kong’s se­vere fis­cal deficits. In the De­vel­op­ment Bu­reau she was met with demon­stra­tions when she took ac­tion against unau­tho­rized con­struc­tion in the New Ter­ri­to­ries. As chief sec­re­tary for ad­min­is­tra­tion, she took the lead in launch­ing the five-step process for Hong Kong’s con­sti­tu­tional de­vel­op­ment.

“Heal the Di­vide”

In the post-war era, Asia had few free mar­kets other than Ja­pan and Hong Kong. The lack of eco­nomic open­ness in neigh­bor­ing ar­eas gave Hong Kong tremen­dous ad­van­tages. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the city’s econ­omy de­vel­oped at amaz­ing speed and its res­i­dents glowed with pride. How­ever, in the mod­ern era, an in­creas­ing num­ber of emerg­ing Asian mar­kets has grad­u­ally stripped Hong Kong of its ad­van­tages as a free port, and the gap be­tween the rich and the poor has widened. Against this back­drop, Lam is ex­pected to face many chal­lenges dur­ing her five-year term, and needs to “heal the di­vide,” the goal to­wards which she pledged to work in her post- elec­tion vic­tory speech.

To suc­ceed, Lam will need a lot more of the prag­ma­tism she ex­hib­ited dur­ing her cam­paign. She em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of a sta­ble ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment for young peo­ple and the ne­ces­sity of un­der­stand­ing the needs of teach­ers, par­ents and stu­dents. She hopes to en­gage more skilled peo­ple to re­store a more sta­ble and tal­en­to­ri­ented en­vi­ron­ment in Hong Kong. She has noted that many low-to-mid­dle-in­come Hong Kong res­i­dents spend their life sav­ings rent­ing or buy­ing a small apart­ment, and called for the con­struc­tion of more units af­ford­able for first-time home buy­ers.

But prag­ma­tism alone will not de­liver ev­ery prom­ise. “Heal­ing the di­vide” could take years of ef­forts. So far, Lam has shown the will and ca­pa­bil­i­ties to ex­cel in the role. “Lam has shown good­will to all of Hong Kong so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion par­ties, since her elec­tion vic­tory,” opined Tian Fei­long, a le­gal ex­pert and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing Uni­ver­sity of Aeronau-

tics & As­tro­nau­tics in an in­ter­view. “It is clear that she is look­ing for a new man­age­ment style through which the gov­ern­ment be­comes more in­clu­sive and ad­dresses the con­cerns of Hong Kong’s young peo­ple.” Lam’s good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and charisma will likely aid re­con­struc­tion of Hong Kong so­ci­ety—and some posit her gen­der may play a pos­i­tive role.

“In the next five years, there is plenty of work ahead and prob­lems that will not be easy to solve,” Lam ad­mit­ted in her speech. “My heart is the same as it has al­ways been, ex­cept more hum­bled. I am firmly op­ti­mistic about the road ahead.” She is well-pre­pared to hold Hong Kong’s torch.

April 11, 2017: Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping (right) meets with Car­rie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the newly-ap­pointed chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion, in Bei­jing. by Ju Peng/xin­hua

March 26, 2017: Lam (cen­ter) poses as she de­clares her vic­tory in the Hong Kong chief ex­ec­u­tive elec­tion, vow­ing to lead Hong Kong for­ward in sol­i­dar­ity. IC

Lam and her hus­band Lam Siu-por in the 1980s.

Septem­ber 22, 2014: Lam (left), then Hong Kong’s chief sec­re­tary for ad­min­is­tra­tion, gives a sou­venir to Shan Jix­i­ang, cu­ra­tor of the Bei­jing-based Palace Mu­seum, at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Cul­tural and Artis­tic Tal­ents Sum­mit in Hong Kong. by Li Peng/xin­hua

Fe­bru­ary 4, 2017: Lam takes a selfie with mem­bers of the Hong Kong Squash Team. IC

Au­gust 27, 2016: Lam, then Hong Kong’s chief sec­re­tary for ad­min­is­tra­tion, and Liu Peng, then di­rec­tor of the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport of China, greet peo­ple as the Chi­nese main­land del­e­ga­tion for the Rio 2016 Olympics ar­rives in Hong Kong for a three- day visit. IC

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