Anson Chan Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
|Photo by S. Beth Atkin|
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Welcome to Berkeley, Dr. Chan.
In your wildest dreams did you ever anticipate you would be playing such a historic role in the history of China and Hong Kong?
No. When I joined the Hong Kong civil service in 1962, I expected to reach midstream in my career. And certainly it never crossed my mind that I could get to the very top of the civil service. But it's certainly a great honor and a very exciting position to be in, and to be part of Hong Kong's history after 1997.
What led you to choose public service as a career?
Actually it was by accident. I wanted originally to be a social worker. I had worked in a large public hospital in Hong Kong, in medical social work. They were doing extremely good work, very highly valued by the community, and thought I would like to try my hand at that. So I actually, after I took my B.A. course, I went on to study social work. But in that one year, while I was undergoing the studies, I happened on an advertisement in the newspaper for administrative officers for the Hong Kong government. So I thought, well, I'll try my hand at that. And I sat though the examinations, I got in, and I haven't looked back since.
And the notion of public service was not new to your family, is that correct?
True. My uncle is an eminent orthopedic surgeon, and indeed worked in the public sector and subsequently set himself up in private practice. My auntie is also a well-known worker in the rehabilitation field, looking after children with cerebral palsy. And she was in fact in charge, for many years, of the John F. Kennedy Center for Cerebral Palsy Children. And other members of our family worked at one time or another in what I would loosely describe as the private sector.
And you had a grandfather who was a historic figure in the history of China?
Yes. My grandfather is regarded as a great patriot. He fought against the Japanese during the Japanese invasion of China, and is of course very well known, particularly in his own home county, Anhui.
And recently you went back for a ceremony honoring him?
Yes, the government decided to commemorate my grandfather by erecting a monument in his honor and the entire family was invited back to participate in the ceremony. It was my very first visit to Anhui, my father's native county, and it was an extremely memorable visit. I got to meet many of the provincial people and it was altogether a very, very good trip.
And your mother is an extraordinary individual. Tell us a little about her and the situations she dealt with as you were growing up.
My mother had a very unusual background. In her days it was very unusual for women to be highly educated, but she had a very enlightened mother who made it her business to ensure that her two daughters received the best of education, including teaching in English, which was very, very rare in her days. My mother is an extremely resourceful woman. She was widowed at a very young age, in her early 30s, with eight very young children to raise. But nevertheless, she did raise all of us. We like to think that we've all made something of our lives. But at the same time, in addition to looking after us, she's managed to carve out a career for herself as an extremely talented and imaginative artist. And today she is recognized as probably one of the best contemporary Chinese artists. She has given exhibitions all over the world.
As I hear your story, I hearken back to my introduction of you, you're the first woman in the position you hold and the first person of Chinese ancestry. So it's fair to say that the background that you've just described informs the way that you're approaching the challenges of Hong Kong.
I suppose you could describe it that way, yes.
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