Martin Lee

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Martin Lee
Martin Lee 2014.jpg
Martin Lee at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China meeting in April 2014
Chairman of the Democratic Party
In office
2 October 1994 – 2 December 2002
Preceded by New title (formerly as Chairman of United Democrats)
Succeeded by Yeung Sum
Member of the Legislative Council
In office
26 September 1985 – 12 September 1991
Preceded by New title
Succeeded by Simon Ip
Constituency Legal
In office
12 September 1991 – 30 June 1997
Preceded by Chan Ying-lun
Succeeded by abolished
Constituency Island East
In office
1 July 1998 – 30 September 2008
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Tanya Chan
Constituency Hong Kong Island
Personal details
Born (1938-06-08) 8 June 1938 (age 78)
Hong Kong
Nationality Chinese
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Fangqi
Children 1
Alma mater University of Hong Kong
Lincoln's Inn
Religion Roman Catholicism[1]
Martin Lee
Traditional Chinese 李柱銘
Simplified Chinese 李柱铭
Lee with U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2009 to discuss the status of democracy in Hong Kong.

Martin Lee Chu-ming, SC, JP (Chinese: 李柱銘; born 8 June 1938) is a Hong Kong political activist, lawyer and former legislator. He was the founding chairman (1994–2002) of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong. He was a directly-elected Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) for the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency. Professionally he is a barrister-at-law, the first on the order of precedence of Senior Counsels in Hong Kong.[2]

Lee has been a prominent figure of the Hong Kong democracy movement on the international stage, especially in the United States. He is a controversial figure in Hong Kong.[3] To human rights activists he has been labelled the "Father of Democracy" in Hong Kong. To Beijing officials, he has been labelled a "running dog of the colonialists".[4]

After being a member of the Legislative Council for 23 years, Lee announced on 27 March 2008 that he would not seek re-election when his term ended in September of that year.[5]


Lee was born in Hong Kong, the sixth of seven children, and raised in Guangzhou, China.[4] A Hakka of Huizhou ancestry, he is the son of a former Kuomintang major general.[6] After he graduated from Wah Yan College, Kowloon, Lee obtained his undergraduate BA degree in Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong.[4] After graduation, he worked as a teacher for three years. He then studied law at Lincoln's Inn in London.[4]


Early career[edit]

Lee was appointed Queen's Counsel of Hong Kong in 1979, and was the chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association from 1980 to 1983.[7] He was a LegCo member from 1985 to 1997.[7]

Leaving Basic Law draft committee[edit]

From 1985 to 1989 Lee was a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Committee until he was forced to leave the committee immediately after the infamous Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.[8] He speculated that the long-term trends in the PRC were not in favour of moving towards democracy and human rights. Lee's activism to renew the momentum behind the Chinese democracy movement has stalled since 1989. Most notable is Lee's call for the overthrow of mainland China's leadership.[8] His role in leading the protest in Hong Kong have led him to be banned from visiting mainland China. The only exception was made during a brief 2005 visit to Guangdong province.[4]

Democracy icon[edit]

He chaired the Hong Kong Consumer Council from 1988 to 1991. Lee also chaired the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK) since its establishment in 1991, and retained his chairmanship when the group was transformed into the Democratic Party in 1994. He was succeeded in the position by Yeung Sum in 2001. In the run up to the 1997 transfer of Hong Kong to mainland China, Lee was an outspoken critic of China's policy towards Hong Kong and a supporter of the political reform of the last Governor Chris Patten,[8] who said later that "Hong Kong was lucky to have him".[9]

Internationally he became an icon for fighting the Chinese government for more democracy in Hong Kong, and was recognised and awarded by a number of international organisations, including the "1995 International Human Rights Award" by the American Bar Association, the Prize For Freedom by the Liberal International in 1996, the "Democracy Award" by the United States' National Endowment for Democracy in 1997, and the "Schuman Medal" in 2000 which Lee was the first non-European to receive from the European Peoples Party and European Democrats.[7]

Defending HK special international status[edit]

Lee supported the overseas governments legitimate concern over the situation in Hong Kong. He cited the 1992 US-HK policy act, which allowed the US Government to give Hong Kong special economic treatments that differ from mainland China. Under the act the US is committed to support democratic institutions in Hong Kong, and could terminate Hong Kong's special economic treatment if the US President considers Hong Kong is not autonomous enough to justify such treatments.[10] Tung Chee-hwa countered the generally negative image of Hong Kong under Communist Party rule, and said Lee was "bad mouthing" the Special Administrative Region in front of the international audience.[11]

Improving PRC human rights via Olympic[edit]

In October 2007, Lee published an article named "China's Olympic Opportunity" in The Wall Street Journal criticising People's Republic of China for not living up to its promise to improve its human rights status during the Chinese Olympic bid. However, Lee urged the West, particularly the United States, not to boycott the 2008 Olympic games but to instead take the opportunity, while China is opening itself up to the world, to directly engage China in efforts to bring China closer to the international community in terms of its human rights.[12]

His article was somehow being twisted and words like "direct engagement" was translated to Chinese equivalent of "intervene", and some media even claimed that Lee asked United States to boycott the games. This immediately stirred backlash from Beijing loyalists, who virtually accused Lee of being a hanjian.[13] On 27 October, the Democratic Party issued an announcement to newspapers setting out the party's position regarding the article Lee published. Chairman Albert Ho reiterated, "It is not an apology, but a clear declaration of what we stand for."[14]


As early as 1992 the People's Republic of China warned then Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, that Lee must not be appointed to the Executive Council.[8] The pro-Beijing camp have since called Lee a "traitor of China" in 2004 upon his return from Washington D.C. His patriotism toward China has been questioned along with his Chinese identity,[3] mostly by pro-Beijing supporters.[citation needed] Lee's father is connected to the Nationalist Party of China.[6] Some[who?] have complained the democratic movement have gone too far and his staunch stance in favour of universal suffrage at the earliest possible date is destructive to the local business climate and political stability.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abrams, Elliott. The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. (2001). Rowman & Littlefield. United States. ISBN 0-7425-0763-7.
  2. ^ Hong Kong's Senior Counsel barlist
  3. ^ a b c Jensen, Lionel M. & Weston, Timothy B. (2006). China's Transformations: The Stories Beyond the Headlines. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-3863-X
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hong Kong's "Father of Democracy" to Retire, Time magazine. Retrieved 31 Jul 2008.
  5. ^ Hong Kong's Martin Lee to step down from territory's legislature
  6. ^ a b Rafferty, Kevin. City on the Rocks: Hong Kong's Uncertain Future. (1989) Viking Publishing. ISBN 0-670-80205-0.
  7. ^ a b c Martinlee official website
  8. ^ a b c d Overholt, William H., The Rise of China: How Economic Reform is Creating a New Superpower (1994), W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31245-3.
  9. ^ Chris Patten (1998). East and West: The Last Governor of Hong Kong on Power Freedom and the Future. Pan Macmillan. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-330-37308-1. 
  10. ^ Hong Kong's reversion to China: effective monitoring critical to assess U.S. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 1-4289-7837-2
  11. ^ Chan, Ming K., The Challenge of Hong Kong's Reintegration With China (1997), Hong Kong University Press; ISBN 962-209-441-4.
  12. ^ China's Olympic Opportunity, The Wall Street Journal, 17 October 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  13. ^ Lee fires bullet at Beijing, asks Bush to meddle, The Standard. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  14. ^ "Democrat bid to curb Lee fallout", The Standard. Retrieved 26 October 2007.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Henry Litton
Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association
Succeeded by
Henry Litton
Legislative Council of Hong Kong
New constituency Member of Legislative Council
Representative for Legal
Succeeded by
Simon Ip
Preceded by
Chan Ying-lun
Member of Legislative Council
Representative for Hong Kong Island East
With: Man Sai-cheong (1991–1995)
Replaced by
Provisional Legislative Council
New parliament Member of Legislative Council
Representative for Hong Kong Island
Succeeded by
Tanya Chan
Party political offices
New political party Chairman of United Democrats of Hong Kong
Merged into Democratic Party
Chairperson of Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Yeung Sum