SHE is "The Iron Lady"
renowned for her smile and dimples, the person most identified by
international media as the post-handover "conscience of Hong Kong",
a tough bureaucrat ready to defend the government at all costs and a
big-hearted boss who buys teddy-bear ties for juniors.
A shooting star and women's rights advocate who has always denied
personal ambition and said she would have been happy as a housewife.
However retiring Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan is
remembered, the woman appointed as Hong Kong's top civil servant by
former governor Chris Patten and a stand-in for him as acting
governor, was often said to have carried the post-handover hopes of
Hong Kong's six million residents on her shoulders.
Her perfectly manicured hand has remained firmly on the tiller of Hong
Kong's social and economic development and the civil service.
Her resignation announcement came only days before her 61st birthday,
and after almost 40 years as a pioneering spirit for female civil
servants the past seven as head of the civil service.
She wants to spend more time with her family, particularly her
grandchildren Rachel and Adrienne.
Mrs Chan has often credited the strength and support of her husband,
Caltex Oil consultant Archibald Chan Tai-wing, and the love of her two
children Michelle and Andrew, for her success.
In 1989, then a 49-year old Secretary for Economic Services, she said:
"There's no contest: I value my family more than my work."
Mrs Chan experienced tragedy early. She was only 10 when her father
Fang Shin-hau, a successful Shanghai textile businessman, died in 1950
at the age of 36 after hospital treatment for headaches.
They had fled to Hong Kong only two years earlier to escape the
brewing revolution. She, with her twin sister Ninson and her six
brothers, was brought up by her mother, grandmother and uncle, Sir
Harry Fang Sin-yang, a prominent orthopaedic surgeon and former
legislator and Executive Councillor who was named International Man of
the Year for his work with handicapped children around the world. He
once treated Deng Xiaoping for heart disease and is reputed to have
close personal links with many Beijing leaders.
And her lineage hints at the origin of her leadership skills: her
grandfather Fang Zhen-wu, was a famous Kuomintang general who switched
sides to join the communists in the war against Japan.
"I don't think anyone can deny it is useful that members of my family
have links with Chinese leaders . . . but obviously my relationship
with the Chinese will have to be built at my level," she said in
early 1994, after the first 100 days into her appointment as Chief
Secretary. Ironically, many from the Chinese side thought her links
with the British administration, notably Mr Patten, were uncomfortably
close, despite local enthusiasm that she might become the territory's
first Chief Executive.
Her mother is Fang Zhaoling, a traditional Chinese artist of
international renown. The two shared a stage at Hong Kong University
in 1992 when Mrs Chan was awarded a Doctor of Laws and her 82-year-old
mother an honorary Doctor of Letters.
"We were a middle-class family, but we weren't born with silver
spoons in our mouths," Mrs Chan said in 1989. "My sister and I put
ourselves through university. I worked part-time as a private tutor,
and spent a year as a clerk at Queen Mary Hospital before I went to
Her grandmother, she once said, "was illiterate but had such an iron
will", encouraging the children to care about family and study hard.
One of her six brothers took American citizenship and was working at
the United Nations in Geneva. One brother, David Fang Jin-sheng, was a
former orthopaedics lecturer and Hong Kong Academy of Medicine chief,
twin sister Ninson ran a travel agency, and another brother, John Fang
Meng-sang, became a lawyer. Sir Harry's daughter, Mrs Chan's cousin
Christine Fang Meng-sang, was recently appointed Hong Kong Council of
Social Service chief.
The young Anson Maria Elizabeth Chan met Archie at university through
a shared love of amateur dramatics and they married in 1963. He became
a science teacher at St Joseph's School while she was one of only two
women who joined the civil service at that time. The Sacred Heart
Canossian College student and Hong Kong University English literature
honours graduate started work on a social work diploma before applying
for the civil service. When she entered the service, she was paid a
quarter of a man's salary.
The woman who would become the first woman director of Social Welfare,
was a force behind the Association of Female Senior Government
Officers, which was instrumental in pushing for wage parity.
After a cadetship, she quickly moved to the economics section of the
finance branch in 1962, followed by stints in Agriculture and
Fisheries, then back to the department of commerce and industry, and
later back to finance.
As early as 1970, she was assistant financial secretary in the finance
branch of the Colonial Secretary, the first woman to attain that post,
and later became the first female civil service director when
appointed Director of Social Welfare in 1984.
There she was severely criticised for her handling of the Kwok Ah-nui
"lonely girl" case, in which she authorised social welfare staff to
forcibly enter a flat where a mother was keeping her five-year-old
daughter isolated. The mother was kept in hospital for psychiatric
care. The calls for her resignation left her bruised and media shy.
In 1989, she admitted: "I got very upset with the lampooning. My
defence was not to read about the case and about me personally. Some
of the attacks in the press were very personal and I was bound to do a
great deal of soul-searching."
But it didn't hurt her career, and, in 1987, she became the first
female policy secretary as head of the Economic Services Branch. Only
recently it was revealed that in this role she over-estimated growth
in power demand when approving expansion plans for a China Light and
Power power station, which cost consumers an extra $3.3 billion from
1996 to 1998.
In the early '90s, she was a well-travelled international voice trying
to calm foreign investors about pre-1997 jitters and brain-drain
problems. In 1992, she received the insignia of Commander of the Most
Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) from the then-governor,
Sir David Wilson.
It was with her appointment to the position of Chief Secretary in 1994
that she made an effort to be more accessible to news media.
Mrs Chan was assigned to head the Airport Development Steering
Committee to oversee the construction of Chek Lap Kok airport, but in
1998, she was summoned by the legislature to testify on the airport's
Last June, she was assigned by Mr Tung to head a committee to revamp
the housing bureaucracy after a series of scandals hit public housing
"I've never been very ambitious anyway. Success has just happened,"
she once said. Now she may have time to pursue her hobbies: music,
reading, mahjong and ballroom dancing.
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