All in the Family

All in the Family

All in the Family

Anson Chan  The Faculty of Arts has a
  remarkable association
  with the  family of Hong
  Kong’s former Chief
  Secretary Anson Chan
  Fang On-sang.

  Mrs Chan and her
  mother, painter Fang
  Zhao-ling, both
  graduated from the
  Faculty within a few
  years of each other and in 1996 they stood together on the stage of Loke Yew Hall to receive honorary doctorate degrees. Mrs Chan’s twin sister, Ninson, is also a graduate of the Faculty and more than a dozen other family members are HKU graduates, including her husband Archibald Chan whom she met at a dance at Loke Yew Hall.

The extended family has been important to Mrs Chan because it provided both stability – her father died when she was 10, leaving her mother a widow with eight young children – and an environment that valued education, including for girls. However, the upbringing was “very very strict” and it was not until her time at HKU, where she enrolled in 1959 on a bursary and graduated in 1962, that she found her feet.

“For the first time you experience such a great deal of freedom,” she says. “And I think those are the years when you learn to have some discipline. Because when you move from a very restrictive life to a totally free [one], where nobody is looking over your shoulder telling you to go to tutorial, to go to class, what time to go to bed, what you can do or not do, it takes actually a little while to acquire the necessary discipline.”

She admits to wasting time and not studying hard enough, but the self-discipline she acquired in the process – together with the communication skills and insights she learned from studying English Language and Literature – has paid off in her career.

Mrs Chan was unflappable as she blazed a trail through government ranks to become the first female head of a government department in 1984 (as Director of Social Welfare – ironically, she cut short an ambition to become a social worker in order to join the government) and the first female and first ethnic Chinese Chief Secretary, serving from 1993 to 2001.

One thing that prepared her for the rigours of the administrative service was her experience in tutorials, where she was questioned on every remark to provide evidence for her arguments. “You have to come up face to face with challenges, you have to produce reasons for what you’re saying,” she says – very similar to her

All in the Family

encounters with her superiors in the civil service.
An Arts education also helped her to cope with the pressures of a public life thanks to the appreciation of poetry and literature that she gained under such teachers as poet Edmund Blunden who taught in the Faculty from 1953 to 1964.

Studying the humanities “gives you some sense of perspective, of balance, it gives you some better sense of the things that should matter to you in life and the things that do not matter to you in life. And I think that learning that has been crucial to me in keeping my sanity in the 39 years that I spent with the Hong Kong government,” Mrs Chan says.

An Inspiring Role Model

Painter Fang Zhao-ling was “a very cultured, every erudite person who read widely and travelled widely. I think she was very much a woman ahead of her generation,” says her daughter Anson Chan.

Madam Fang was raised by a mother who herself believed in providing daughters with the best possible education. She studied at Manchester University for two years in the 1930s and completed her BA in Chinese at HKU in 1956. Professor Francis Drake, then Head of the Department of Chinese, persuaded her to further her studies in Oxford University.

But it is painting that distinguishes Madam Fang. Mrs Chan says her mother’s works have “a wonderful combination of naivete and sophistication” and they have been exhibited around the world. 

Anson Chan 2

The Hon. Mrs Anson Chan graduated with a BA (Hons) in English and English Literature from the University of Hong Kong in 1962 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 1996. Mrs Chan retired as the Chief Secretary for Administration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government in 2001, after nearly forty years of distinguished service. In recent years, Mrs Chan has taken a prominent role in the campaign for full universal suffrage for election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and all members of the Legislature. She is a recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal and is an honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.