Elsie Tu

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Elsie Tu
Member of the Legislative Council
In office
22 September 1988 – 17 September 1995
Preceded by Hilton Cheong-Leen
Succeeded by Mok Ying-fan
Constituency Urban Council
Member of the Provisional Legislative Council
In office
25 January 1997 – 30 June 1998
Member of the Urban Council
In office
April 1963 – March 1995
Preceded by Alison Mary Spencer Bell
Succeeded by Szeto Wah
Personal details
Born Elsie Hume
(1913-06-02) 2 June 1913 (age 102)
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Political party Reform Club (1963–67)
Spouse(s) William Elliott (m. 1946, div. 1951)
Andrew Tu (m. 1985–2001)
Alma mater Benwell Secondary Girl's School
Heaton Secondary School
Armstrong College
Religion Christianity
Awards Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service
Elsie Tu
Traditional Chinese 杜葉錫恩
Simplified Chinese 杜叶锡恩

Elsie Tu GBM, CBE (née Hume; Chinese: 杜葉錫恩; born 2 June 1913), is an English-born Hong Kong social activist, former elected member of the Urban Council of Hong Kong, and former member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. She moved to Hong Kong in 1951 following a period as a missionary in China. She became known for her strong antipathy towards colonialism and corruption, as well as for her work for the underprivileged. In the run up to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, Elsie Tu surprised many by finding favour with the Chinese Communist Party, and taking a seat on the Beijing-backed Provisional Legislative Council from December 1996 to June 1998, after failing to win in the 1995 election. In post-1997 Hong Kong, although without a formal public role, Elsie Tu has consistently supported the Beijing government especially on contentious issues.[1]

Early life[edit]

Tu was born to John and Florence Hume on 2 June 1913 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the second child of four. After attending Benwell Girls Secondary School and Heaton Secondary School, she went on to study at Armstrong College, a forerunner of Newcastle University, graduating in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts. From 1937 to 1947 she was a schoolteacher in Halifax, where, during World War II, she was a Civil Defence volunteer.

Hume converted to Christianity in 1932. In 1946 she married William ("Bill") Elliott, and went with him to China as a missionary in 1947. After the Communists took power in 1949, foreign missionaries were expelled from the Mainland and the couple moved to Hong Kong in 1951. Shocked by the poverty there, Elsie became disenchanted with her husband's extreme Protestant faith and the refusal of their church, the Plymouth Brethren, to become involved in social issues. The couple eventually separated during an abortive trip back to England, and later divorced. Elsie left the Plymouth Brethren and returned to Hong Kong alone.

In 1954 Elsie Elliott set up a school for the children of squatters in Kwun Tong, remaining as the school principal until 2000.

Political career[edit]

Becoming politically active, Elliot was elected for the first time to the Urban Council (then the only public body with a partially publicly elected membership) in 1 April 1963 as a member of the Reform Club. Later she left the Reform Club and ran as an independent candidate. Since then she remained a Urban Councillor until her defeat in 1995 and had always been re-elected with the highest votes. She was also the spokeswoman for the United Nations Association of Hong Kong, which advocated for self-government in the colony in the 1960s.

In 1965, the Star Ferry applied for an increase of First Class fare by 5 Hong Kong cents (from 20 cents to 25 cents). This was widely opposed in Hong Kong. Elliott collected over 20,000 signatories opposing the plan, and flew to London in an attempt to arrest the plan. The increase in fare was given its go-ahead in March 1966 by the Transport Advisory Committee, where the only vote opposing was Elliott's. Inspired by Elliot's actions, on 4 April 1966, a young man named So Sau-chung began a hunger strike protest at the Star Ferry Terminal in Central with his black jacket upon which he had hand-written the words "Hail Elsie", "Join hunger strike to block fare increase". So was soon arrested and more protests were sparked which eventually turned into the Kowloon riots in April 1966. Elliott was persecuted by the government as a result, accused of instigating the riots. Though never convicted of any charge, she remained under suspicion in the eyes of many.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Elliott was an opponent of the corruption then endemic in many areas of Hong Kong life and the influence of the Triads. She also campaigned for better working and housing conditions for the poor. Her actions gained her popularity and reputation as the fighter for the underprivileged and the most outspoken critic of the British colonial rule. Though many in ruling circles disliked Elliott "rocking the boat", her campaigning is credited with leading to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974.

In 1980 it was revealed by investigative journalist Duncan Campbell that she was under surveillance by the Special Branch of the then Royal Hong Kong Police. This, however, did not worry Elliott as she stated: I know my telephone was tapped and probably is at this moment but I have done nothing wrong and have no political affiliations. Later, Tu wrote in her semi-autobiographical work, Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu, that her phone line was already tapped in 1970.

In later years, Elliott married her longtime partner in her education work, Andrew Tu, on 13 June 1985; he died in 2001. In 1988 she was elected to the Legislative Council as a representative of the Urban Council and in 1993 she topped a public opinion poll as "Hongkong's most widely admired personality".[2]

In the period leading up to Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty, Tu disappointed many of her former allies and supporters by becoming an advocate of slower pace in democratisation (as preferred by the Chinese government, which markets it as "gradual pace") as opposed to many other democrats who advocate faster-pace democratisation (such as Emily Lau and Martin Lee). She opposed strongly to the last Governor Chris Patten's electoral reform and questioned the British refused to give Hong Kong democracy all along but put forward reforms only in the last years of its rule. In the Urban Council election in March 1995, she lost her seat to Szeto Wah, whose campaign targeted Tu's perceived pro-Chinese stance. In the Legislative Council election held September in the same year, she left her Urban Council constituency and went for the Kowloon East direct election but was defeated by Szeto Wah again.

Between 1996 and 1998, she served on the Provisional Legislative Council which controlled by the Beijing government.


Tu left active politics and closed her office in 1999 after having failed in her bid to be elected to the Legislative Council. Since then, she has continued to comment on social issues.

In 2002, she wrote to the Legislative Council in support of the legislation of the anti-subversion laws under the Basic Law Article 23, which was largely unpopular among the public, fearing it would be threat to civil liberty.[3] The controversy over the Article 23 sparked the 1 July Protest of 2003 with the record of more than 500,000 demonstrators.

In 2007, she publicly endorsed Regina Ip, the former Secretary for Security who was responsible for the 2003 legislation of Article 23 and supported by the pro-Beijing camp, running for the Legislative Council by-election against Anson Chan who was the former Chief Secretary for Administration and supported by the pro-democracy camp.[4]

Tu has written two volumes of autobiography (one co-written with Andrew Tu), as well as other works. She also completed for publication her husband Andrew's autobiography of his childhood in Inner Mongolia, Camel Bells in the Windy Desert. She turned 100 in June 2013.[5]


Tu has received numerous honours in recognition of her services to Hong Kong. In 1975, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, often called Asia's Nobel Prize. She was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1977, and was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal in 1997. A number of honorary degrees have also been conferred on her. Although she graduated from Durham University, the Armstrong College where she studied separated with Durham University in 1963 to become the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. She received honorary doctoral degrees in Civil Law from both universities in 1996.


  1. ^ Fighting for the Underdog, or Selling Out to Beijing?, Los Angeles Times, 17 Jan 1997
  2. ^ Elsie Tu tops popularity poll, SCMP, 1 January 1993
  3. ^ "Submission from Mrs Elsie TU" (PDF). Legislative Council of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. 2 December 2002. 
  4. ^ "杜葉錫恩支持葉劉淑儀參選Elsie Tu for Regina Ip". YouTube. 13 November 2003. 
  5. ^ Nai-keung, Lau (4 June 2013). "A tribute to centenarian Elsie Tu". China Daily. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 


  • Elsie Elliott (1971) The Avarice, Bureaucracy and Corruption of Hong Kong
  • Urban Council, Urban Council Annual Report, 1974
  • Elsie Elliott (1981) Crusade For Justice: An Autobiography – covers her early life and her campaigns in Hong Kong
  • Elsie Tu (2003), Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press) ISBN 978-962-209-606-6
  • Elsie Tu and Andrew Tu (2005) Shouting At The Mountain: A Hong Kong Story of Love and Commitment – focuses on the couple's relationship and their work together

External links[edit]

Assembly seats
Preceded by
Alison Bell
Member of Urban Council
Succeeded by
Szeto Wah
Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Preceded by
Hilton Cheong-Leen
Member of Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Representative for Urban Council
Succeeded by
Mok Ying-fan
New parliament Member of Provisional Legislative Council
Replaced by Legislative Council
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Leung Tak-wah
Chairman of the Hong Kong Taoist Association
Hong Kong order of precedence
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal
Succeeded by
Tsang Hin-chi
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal