Lydia Dunn, Baroness Dunn

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The Baroness Dunn

Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
24 August 1990 – 29 June 2010
Life Peerage
Senior Member of the Executive Council
In office
Preceded bySir Sze-yuen Chung
Succeeded byRosanna Wong
Senior Member of the Legislative Council
In office
7 August 1985 – 25 August 1988
Preceded byRoger Lobo
Succeeded byAllen Lee
Personal details
Born (1940-02-29) 29 February 1940 (age 78)
British Hong Kong
Political partyCrossbench
Michael Thomas (m. 1988)
ResidenceKnightsbridge, London
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley

Lydia Selina Dunn, Baroness Dunn, DBE, JP (Chinese: 鄧蓮如; born 29 February 1940) is a Hong Kong-born British businesswoman and politician. She became the first ethnic Chinese and the first woman from Hong Kong to be given a life peerage when she was made Baroness in 1990.

Launching her career in British firms Swire Group and HSBC Group, she was an Unofficial Member and then the Senior Member of the Executive Council and Legislative Council of Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s, witnessing the major events of Hong Kong including the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Tiananmen protests of 1989. She famously campaigned for Hong Kong people's right of abode in Britain after 1997 and remained influential until her retirement from Hong Kong politics in 1995.

From 1990 to 2010, she also served as a member of the House of Lords, the first person of Chinese origin to assume such position. She resigned from the House of Lords in 2010 following the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 which banned the people with "non-dom" status from sitting in Parliament.

Early life, business and public career[edit]

Dunn was born in Hong Kong to a refugee parents from China with a Chinese name Tang Lin-yu in which she later anglicised to Lydia Selina Dunn. She was educated at the St. Paul's Convent School in Hong Kong, and at the College of the Holy Names and at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon her return to Hong Kong, she was hired by the Swire Group where she kept rising to the directorships of the John Swire and Sons (HK) Ltd., Swire Pacific Ltd., and Cathay Pacific Airways. In 1981, she became the first woman to sit on the director board of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.[1] From 1992 to 2008, she was the bank's deputy chairman.

Dunn also served on many public positions, including the chairmanship of the Trade Development Council from 1983 to 1991. In that capacity, she led missions abroad to promote Hong Kong textile and clothing products as well as stood firm against protectionism in her report for the Trade Policy Research Centre in 1983 on 'Protectionism and the Asian-Pacific Region'.[2] She was also the director of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation from 1979 to 1985 and served as the chairman of the Prince Philip Dental Hospital from 1981 to 1987, during the formative years of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Dentistry.[1]

Political career[edit]

Dunn stepped into the politics when she was appointed as an unofficial member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong in 1976 by the then Governor of Hong Kong Murray MacLehose. In 1982, she was appointed unofficial member of the Executive Council by Governor Edward Youde.[1]

During the Sino-British negotiations over the Hong Kong sovereignty in the early 1980s, Dunn was part of the delegations of the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils led by Senior Unofficial Member of the Executive Council Sir Sze-yuen Chung to London and Beijing to meet with Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping to raise the concern for the Hong Kong people and to negotiate for a better deal for Hong Kong. However the Beijing authorities rejected the their idea that Hong Kong people had an independent role to play in the negotiations.[3] From 1985 to 1988, she was the Senior Member of the Legislative Council. In 1988, she succeeded Chung to become the Senior Member of the Executive Council.

After the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration which ensured Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong after 1997, Dunn campaigned for the Hong Kong people's right of abode in Britain as the rights of the millions Hong Kong people were stripped away from living or working in Britain by the British Nationality Act 1981. She famously broke into tears when she testified emotionally on the issue of Hong Kong people's nationality before a British parliamentary committee on Hong Kong in May 1989 during the unstable situation given by the Tiananmen protests of 1989 in China. Dunn called the British government "morally indefensible" to surrender "British citizens to a regime that did not hesitate to use its tanks and forces on its own people".[4][5] Britain refused to bend its restrictive nationality policies, but eventually allowed about 50,000 Hong Kong families to become British citizens through the British Nationality Selection Scheme in 1990 after the Tiananmen massacre.

In May 1989, Dunn and some other Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils also initiated a moderate "OMELCO Consensus" model for the post-1997 political of electing the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council to the Basic Law Drafting Committee as an alternative model to the progressive model by the pro-democracy camp and the conservative hardliners from the business and professional group. However, after Beijing disapproval of the "OMELCO Consensus", Dunn softened her tone. In a House of Lords debate in 1992, Dunn described having more directly elected seats as "unwise", and talked of it as "reviving uncertainty, tension and discord in our community." She also said that "for the British Government to put a request to the Chinese Government, asking for democracy -- that, too, will be improper."[6]

After Chris Patten's arrival as the last Governor of Hong Kong in 1992, Dunn supported Patten's proposal of the divorce of Executive Council and Legislative Council to achieve check and balance. After Patten's reshuffle of the Executive Council, Dunn became the only one who remained on the council. She adopted a more retiring public style during the Patten governorship. It was widely speculated that she had lost her influence in politics due to her disagreement with Patten's confrontational style dealing with the Chinese as compared to her consensual approach. In 1995, two years before the Chinese rule, Dunn announced her retirement from Hong Kong politics which sparked the speculation whether she believed in the territory's future after 1997.[7]

Despite the former British-appointed politicians finding new favour with the Beijing authorities ahead of 1997, Dunn went against the trend by reinforcing ties with Britain, remaining in the House of Lords where she was appointed when she was created Baroness in 1990 and also by maintaining high-profile positions in British companies including HSBC Holdings.[3] In 1996, she relocated to Britain with her British husband Michael Thomas, former Attorney General of Hong Kong.

Dunn rarely attended the House of Lords meeting or spoke. Dunn resigned from the House of Lords in 2010 following the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 which banned the people with "non-dom" status from sitting in Parliament.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Dunn is married to Michael David Thomas, former Attorney General of Hong Kong in 1988. The couple have four children from Thomas previous marriage. She has resided in London since 1996. In 2010, Dunn auctioned 160 items from her private art collection at Christie's, with lots reportedly valued at up to GBP30,000 (HK$354,000) each.[8]


For her contributions in Hong Kong, Dunn became Officer and Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1978 and (CBE) 1983 respectively. In 1989, she was appointed as Hong Kong’s first ever Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE). One year later, she became the first ethnic Chinese and the first woman from Hong Kong to be given a life peerage in the Queen Elizabeth II’s 1990 Birthday Honours, where she was made Baroness of Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong and of Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Among the international recognitions Dunn was also awarded the Prime Minister of Japan’s Trade Award in 1987 and the United States' Secretary of Commerce award in 1988.[1][2]

In 1991, she was conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Hong Kong.[1] She also received Doctor of Science honoris causa by the University of Buckingham in 1995.[2]


  • In the Kingdom of the Blind (1983)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Rt Hon the Baroness Dunn". University of Hong Kong.
  2. ^ a b c "Baroness Lydia Dunn". University of Buckingham. Archived from the original on 10 February 2006.
  3. ^ a b "Baroness who kept Hong Kong spirits up admits she will leave". Independent. 17 June 1997.
  4. ^ "Hong Kong Journal; A Plea to the Motherland: Listen to Your Heart". New York Times. 15 May 1989.
  5. ^ Carroll, John M. (2007). A Concise History of Hong Kong. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  6. ^ "Hong Kong Hansard" (PDF). Legislative Council of Hong Kong. 24 June 1992.
  7. ^ "Dunn shock absorbed". South China Morning Post. 16 June 1995.
  8. ^ a b "Lydia Dunn gives up seat in House of Lords". South China Morning Post. 9 July 2010.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Yuet-keung Kan
Chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council
Succeeded by
Victor Fung
Preceded by
Sir Sze-yuen Chung
Senior Member in Executive Council
Succeeded by
Rosanna Wong
Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Preceded by
Harry Fang
Senior Chinese Member
in Legislative Council

Succeeded by
Allen Lee
Preceded by
Roger Lobo
Senior Member
in Legislative Council