Emily Lau

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Emily Lau Wai-hing

Lee-cheuk-yan-confirmed-legco-by-election-candidacy-3 (cropped).jpg
Emily Lau in 2018
Chairperson of the Democratic Party
In office
16 December 2012 – 4 December 2016
Preceded byAlbert Ho
Succeeded byWu Chi-wai
Member of the Legislative Council
In office
1 July 1998 – 30 September 2016
Preceded byNew parliament
Succeeded byLam Cheuk-ting
ConstituencyNew Territories East
In office
9 October 1991 – 30 June 1997
Preceded byNew constituency
Succeeded byReplaced by Provisional Legislative Council
ConstituencyNew Territories East
Personal details
Born (1952-01-21) 21 January 1952 (age 66)
Hong Kong
NationalityBritish (until 1998)
Hong Kong Chinese
Political partyFrontier (1996–2008)
Democratic Party (2008–present)
John Ball
(m. 1983; div. 1985)

Winston Poon
(m. 1989; div. 2006)
ResidenceHappy Valley, Hong Kong
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
London School of Economics
OccupationLegislative councillor
ProfessionJournalist (formerly)
Emily Lau
Traditional Chinese劉慧卿
Simplified Chinese刘慧卿

Emily Lau Wai-hing, JP (Chinese: 劉慧卿; born 21 January 1952) is a politician in Hong Kong who champions press freedom and human rights. A former journalist, she became the first woman directly elected to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong in the 1991 LegCo elections. She served as Legislative Councillor for the New Territories East throughout the 1990s and 2000s until she stepped down in 2016. She was also the chairperson of the Democratic Party.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lau was born on 21 January 1952. Her family moved to Hong Kong from the Guangdong in 1948 during the Chinese Civil War. In 1962, her family transferred her to the then new English-language Maryknoll Sisters' School in Happy Valley, where she studied until 1972. When she was in primary school, she was given the English name Emily by her aunt.[2]

Lau travelled to the United States to study journalism studies at the University of Southern California from 1973 to 1976 and graduated with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism. She later cited the Watergate scandal and investigative journalism having had a major formative effect on her views on the role and potential of the press.[2]

Journalist career[edit]

After returning Hong Kong, Lau worked between 1976 and 1978 as a reporter for the South China Morning Post, the major English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. She then moved into television journalism when she joined the Television Broadcasts (TVB) and promoted to senior producer in 1981. She furthered her studies in the early 1980s at the London School of Economics and completed an MSc in International Relations in 1982,[3] then followed a position as an assistant producer within the BBC from 1982 to 1984, while concurrently working as the London correspondent of Hong Kong TVB News.[2]

It was the time the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom discussed over the fate of Hong Kong after 1997. She later noted, "My passion for politics began to develop in 1982, when China told Britain that it would impose a settlement on Hong Kong if the two sides could not reach an agreement by 1984. From that moment, politics began to matter."[2]

Emily Lau returned to Hong Kong as Hong Kong correspondent of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review in 1984. The position allowed her access and insights into the politics of the colonial Hong Kong. During the time Lau took up position at the Journalism and Communication Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 1987 and subsequently at the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Hong Kong (HKU).[2]

In December 1984, after signing the Sino-British Joint Declaration, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher flew to Hong Kong to give a press conference. Lau questioned Thatcher, "Prime Minister two days ago you signed an agreement with China promising to deliver over 5 million people into the hands of a communist dictatorship. Is that morally defensible, or is it really true that in international politics the highest form of morality is one's own national interest?" Thatcher replied by saying that everyone in Hong Kong was happy with the agreement, and Lau may be a solitary exception.[4]

She also involved with the Hong Kong Journalists Association during this period, serving as an executive committee member, vice-chair and later on chairperson from 1989 to 1991.[2]

Legislative Councillor[edit]

Last years of the colonial period[edit]

When the direct elections for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) were first introduced in the 1991 elections, Lau resigned from her posts and ran for office in the New Territories East geographical constituency (GC). She campaigned for five months as a new breed of populist politicians in Hong Kong who can appeal wide range of Hong Kong populace. The elections saw with a liberal landslide victory, she became the first woman elected in direct elections along with other pro-democracy politicians of the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK), largely due to the fear of Hong Kong populace towards Beijing after the Tiananmen massacre in early June 1989.[2]

In this period, Lau became a household name in Hong Kong and the legislator came to be both a champion of her constituents and a perceived thorn in the side of the Hong Kong administration. She was equally a critic of Britain and Beijing. The last British Governor Chris Patten aimed at a faster pace of democratisation. Governor Patten carried out the reform packages which enfranchised millions electorates in the functional constituency indirect elections. Although the reform packages were ferociously criticised by Beijing government for violating the Sino-British agreements, she introduced a private member's bill which would even allow all 60 Legislative Council seats to be directly elected in 1995. The bill was beaten by only one vote.

In 1993, Lau tabled a motion to seek assurances of right of abode in Britain for the British National (Overseas) passport holders if expelled from Hong Kong after 1997. The motion was supported by 36 legislators but was rejected by the Secretary for Security Alistair Asprey.[5] In October 1994, Lau led legislators in urging Britain to grant full citizenship to 3.5 million native Hong Kong British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC). As the situation intensified, she led a cross-party delegation of Hong Kong legislators to Britain to lobby government and opposition politicians ahead of the LegCo debate. The five councillors met the British Foreign Secretary and other senior officials, but achieved little.[2]

In the 1995 Legislative Council elections, Lau was re-elected to the legislature by popular vote, winning with 58.51 percent of votes cast, the highest figure among all the geographical constituencies.[2] Growing disillusionment with the Democratic Party, the pro-democracy party formed and succeeded the United Democrats of Hong Kong in 1994, and other liberal forces, Lau founded a new political grouping, The Frontier, in August 1996 which took a more aggressively pro-democracy, pro-human rights and anti-Communist Party stances and left wing positions on economic matters. Lau became the Convenor of the party, having five legislators and becoming the fourth largest political grouping in the legislature in the run up to handover. Lau remained in the Legislative Council until it was disbanded by the PRC following the handover on 1 July 1997.[2]

Lau also participated in street protests, and in December 1996 scuffled with riot police outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre with Andrew Cheng, Lee Cheuk-yan while demonstrating outside the closed-door election for the post-handover Chief executive.[6] She was arrested within 29 other pro-democracy activists. Over the following several months leading up to the July 1997 handover, Lau urged the Chief executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa to stand up against Beijing, following his "unreserved support" for the Beijing-hand-picked Provisional Legislative Council abolishing or modifying some Hong Kong laws covering human rights and civil liberties. In March, Lau called for boycott of Hong Kong's future first election under PRC rule if the voting system was unfair and the proportional representation favoured pro-Beijing candidates.[2]

Early post-handover era[edit]

She was required to relinquish her British passport and adopt Chinese citizenship in order to be eligible to run for the first Legislative Council elections after the handover in 1998. The pro-democracy camp won 63 percent of the popular vote and Lau was returned again to the Legislative Council through New Territories East which she remained in until her retirement.[2]

Emily Lau at the 1 July protest in 2005.

Lau led The Frontier at the forefront of pressure on the government for early democratisation and was an outspoken critic on human rights and a number of other policy areas in the HKSAR; she was sceptical of the functioning of the "One country, two systems" principle. Beside pushing for tightened human rights protection, greater efforts on equal opportunities, and the establishment of a statutory right to access to information, she demanded a redraft of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitutional document, and democratisation in China. On the economy she supported legislation on fair trading, oppose importation of foreign labour, and called for a minimum wage. Lau received the Bruno Kreisky Award for her human rights work in 1998.

In 1998, Lau sued the Hong Kong branch of the Xinhua News Agency over its slow response to her queries for personal information. She lost the case and was ordered by the court to pay legal fees of HK$1.6 million. Claiming that her lawsuit was in the public interest, she attempted to raise funds from the public to repay the debt. In December 2000, with over $1 million still outstanding, the agency (now the Central People's Government Liaison Office) applied to the court for her bankruptcy.

In the 2002 Chief executive election, Lau was against supporting an alternative candidate as some pro-democracy allies argued: "As it is not a fair, open and democratic election, we should not participate in it and give it any legitimacy." Lau co-founded the Coalition Against Second Term (CAST) to draw attention to the flawed process of choosing the Chief executive, the lack of competition and the need for real democracy.[7]

On international issues, Lau is supportive of self-determination for Taiwan. In 2003, she and another legislator, James To of the Democratic Party, attended a seminar entitled "Hong Kong Under One Country, Two Systems" organised by a pro-Taiwan independence group headed by former ROC President Lee Teng-hui. Lau stated that "Taiwan's future should be determined by the Taiwan people themselves".[8] Her subsequent refusal to explicitly recognise Taiwan as a part of the PRC during an interview again drew criticism from more conservative sectors of the Hong Kong society, including attacks from pro-Beijing politician Leung Chun-ying, who became Chief executive in 2012.

Beside her legal problems, Lau has been the victim of several criminal nuisance cases, including telephone nuisance to her office in January and October 2003, and two cases where food and/or faeces were splashed outside her office in Shatin in July and September 2003. A woman and an old man were arrested and fined in connection with some of these cases. Most notably, an arson attack against Lau's office took place on 21 June 2004. Posters outside her office, about an upcoming rally, were burned. Words were left saying "All Chinese traitors must die."

She fiercely opposed to the controversial national security bill in 2002 and 2003 to meet requirements of the Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23. After the 2003 July 1 march in 2003, she was listed second on the joint-candidate list with other pro-democrats in the New Territories East and was elected to the Legislative Council elections in 2004 Legislative Council elections. She was elected chairwoman of the Legislative Council Finance Committee and had chaired for occasions until 2012.

In the Chief executive election held in 2005 after unpopular Tung Chee-hwa stepped down, Lau announced her interest in running for the post to raise the discussion over Hong Kong's democratic development.[9] Due to the opposition from secretary-general Andrew To and other members of the Frontier, Lau did not run in the election. Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat became the only pro-democratic candidate in the election, but did not secure the threshold of 100 nominations.

Joining the Democratic Party and 2012 reform package[edit]

Emily Lau at the City Forum in April 2010.

At the time of her election to LegCo in 1991, Lau was generally considered to be the most radical legislator.[10] However her radical image was overshadowed by activist Leung Kwok-hung and other radicals with her popular votes continuously declined. After the 2008 LegCo elections in September which saw Emily Lau was re-elected in New Territories East with the fewest votes, the Frontier merged into the more mainstream Democratic Party in November and Lau immediately became one of its two vice-chairpersons. After The Frontier merged into the Democratic Party, her earlier strident stance toward the Beijing government and opposition to pro-Beijing supporters mellowed somewhat, and was seen by some even to have been compromised.[11]

On 24 May 2010, Emily Lau and Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho and veteran Cheung Man-kwong met with Beijing representatives headed by Li Gang, the deputy director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong – the first meeting between Democratic Party leaders and senior officials from the central government since the Tiananmen protests of 1989 – for negotiations over 2012 constitutional reform package. In June 2010, as vice-chairperson of Democratic Party, she voted with her party in favour of the government's reform package, which included the party's late amendment – accepted by Beijing – to hold a popular vote for five new District Council (second) functional constituencies.[12] She has been surpassed by the radical democrats, such as Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man, and is the main target for attacks by Wong and People Power.[10]

Chairperson of the Democratic Party[edit]

In September 2012, the Democratic Party suffered the worst defeat in party's history in the 2012 Legislative Council election. Chairman Albert Ho resigned as chairman and Lau became acting Chairperson of the party for three months.[1] In the party leadership election on 16 December 2012, she was elected chairperson, narrowly defeating vice-chairman Sin Chung-kai, by 149 votes to 133, becoming the first female leader of the party since its formation in 1994.[13]

Lau and other Democratic Party members supported the 2014 Hong Kong protests by taking a supporting role. On 11 December 2014, Lau was arrested by the police with a group of about a hundred demonstrators staging a final sit-in which included other prominent democratic legislators including Martin Lee and Alan Leong, putting an end to a 75-day street occupation.[14]

On 14 December 2014, she was re-elected chairperson in the party leadership election, beating three rivals in the party's 20-year history.[15]

On 1 January 2016, she announced that she would not seek for an eighth term in the September election after 25 years service on the Legislative Council as she did not field her nomination in the party primary.[16] She ran as a second candidate on his younger colleague, Lam Cheuk-ting's candidate list, and helped him to get elected with nearly 40,000 votes.

Lau announced her retirement from the party chair in December 2016 and was succeeded by legislator Wu Chi-wai. She also relinquished all the party position afterward. She remained hosting her interview programme after her retirement, inviting different political heavyweights on her shows occasionally.


Lau has been considered politician with strong conviction on promotion of democracy human rights and equal opportunities in Hong Kong. She was considered by the Hong Kong government as "radical", "outside mainstream public opinion" and a "solitary exception".[17] She was among the most popular legislators throughout the 1990s.[18] The last British Governor Chris Patten regarded Lau as a "professional politician, handsome, well informed and dashingly eloquent, who would have got to the top in any Western political system" and an "exponent of the incisive soundbite."[19]

Since she joined the Democratic Party, her earlier strident stance toward the Beijing government was seen by some even to have been compromised.[11] After she met with the mainland officials and for negotiations over 2012 constitutional reform package and voted with her party in favour of the reform package, she was under ferocious attacks from the radical democrats for the compromise.

Personal life and family[edit]

Lau married John Ball, a British journalist from the Sunday Times, in 1983. The marriage lasted two years. She remarried to a Hong Kong lawyer, Winston Poon, QC in 1989 after they met in London during her visit to discuss the Hong Kong Basic Law with the members of Parliament of the United Kingdom.[2] In 2006, she changed her marital status to unmarried with the Legislative Council office.

Stephen Lau Sing-hung, Emily Lau's brother was a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Guangzhou committee member in the 1980s, chairman of Ernst & Young's tax service before he left in 2006 and chief executive of China Timber Resources Group from 2007 to 2010. Despite her sister's political stance, he sued Occupy Central organiser Benny Tai in the 2014 Hong Kong protests for HK$314.60 in the Small Claims Tribunal as he had to spend HK$320 for a taxi ride on 6 October instead of just HK$5.40 for bus fare from his home in Wong Nai Chung Gap Road to Central because of the occupation movement. Emily Lau said she was not aware of her brother's action but insisted the family is not affected by the action.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Emily Lau Wai-hing elected Democratic Party chairwoman". South China Morning Post. 16 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Stefanowska, A. D.; Wiles, Sue, eds. (2003). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume 2. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 290–292.
  3. ^ "Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP". Legislative Council of Hong Kong. Archived from the original on 6 December 2010.
  4. ^ "Featured Alumni: Emily Lau (MSc in International Relations, 1982)". Department of International Relations blog.
  5. ^ McMillen, Donald H. (1994). The Other Hong Kong Report 1994. Chinese University Press. p. 14.
  6. ^ Chan, Ming K. [1997] (1997). The Challenge of Hong Kong's Reintegration With China. Hong Kong University Press. Hong Kong (China). ISBN 962-209-441-4.
  7. ^ "The Promise of Democratization in Hong Kong: The 2002 Chief Executive Election and the Transition Five Years after Reversion" (PDF). National Democratic Institute. 2002.
  8. ^ Ping, Xiao (2 September 2003). "Do not show toleration of Emily Lau's Offence". China Daily.
  9. ^ "參與特首選舉推動民主運動". Apple Daily. 25 March 2005.
  10. ^ a b Cheng, Joseph Yu-shek (p.217). "The Emergence of Radical Politics in Hong Kong: Causes and Impact". China Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, Special Issue: Urban and Regional Governance in China (Spring 2014).
  11. ^ a b "Democratic Party becomes moderate but no wiser"[permanent dead link]. Ta Kung Po, 28 May 2010.
  12. ^ Cheung, Gary; Wong, Albert; Fung, Fanny WY. (25 June 2010). "Cheers and jeers for political reform vote", South China Morning Post
  13. ^ Lau makes political history Archived 5 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine., The Standard, 17 December 2012
  14. ^ "Hong Kong's main democracy protest camp falls with leading protest figures arrested". Time. 11 December 2014.
  15. ^ Ng, Joyce (15 December 2014). "Re-elected Democratic Party head Emily Lau calls for party to focus on younger Hong Kong generation". South China Morning Post.
  16. ^ Lam, Jeffie (1 January 2016). "Emily Lau reflects on 'glorious days' in Hong Kong legislature, but rules out standing for chief executive in a 'fake election'". South China Morning Post.
  17. ^ Halpern, Diane F.; Cheung, Fanny M. (2011). Women at the Top: Powerful Leaders Tell Us How to Combine Work and Family. John Wiley & Sons.
  18. ^ McMillen, Donald H. (1994). The Other Hong Kong Report 1994. Chinese University Press. pp. 120–1.
  19. ^ Patten, Chris (2012). East and West. Pan Macmillan. p. 104.
  20. ^ "Occupy taxi claim splits Lau brother and sister". The Standard. 19 November 2014. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015.

External links[edit]

Legislative Council of Hong Kong
New constituency Member of Legislative Council
Representative for New Territories East
Replaced by
Provisional Legislative Council
New parliament Member of Legislative Council
Representative for New Territories East
Succeeded by
Lam Cheuk-ting
Preceded by
Philip Wong
Chairman of Finance Committee
Succeeded by
Tam Yiu-chung
Preceded by
Tam Yiu-chung
Chairman of Finance Committee
Succeeded by
Tommy Cheung
Party political offices
Preceded by
Cyd Ho
Convenor of the Frontier
Merged into Democratic Party
Preceded by
Tik Chi-yuen
Vice Chairperson of Democratic Party
Served alongside: Sin Chung-kai
Succeeded by
Richard Tsoi
Lo Kin-hei
Preceded by
Albert Ho
Chairperson of Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Wu Chi-wai