his impeccable Oxford grey suit and gold tie, a confident Daniel Fung strides
into the Connecticut Room, one of the small private spaces of the exclusive
American Club. Fung is a new member, he says, but he is clearly at home
here on the 47th floor of Exchange Square, in this room with a panoramic view of
Victoria Harbour far below.
It is early June, a little more than 15 years
since Fung flew to Beijing with money raised in Hong Kong for the Tiananmen
Square protesters. But this is a much different Daniel Fung, one who has adapted
quite comfortably to the corridors of power in the intervening years. He is a
wide-ranging thinker, able to converse on a dizzying number of topics with an
ease that borders on glibness.
During the course of our lunch he manages to
segue from celebrating Martin Lee's birthday in London in the late 1980s to his
favourite wines (he prefers Burgundies to Bourdeaux but has a special fondness
for New Zealand sauvignon blanc) to the Russo-Finnish War and the surprising
ability of the Finns to hold their own. This in turn leads on to a discussion of
``Finlandisation'' during the days of the Soviet Union and possible parallels to
It was this supple facility with language and
ideas that helped him become one of Hong Kong's youngest Queen's Counsels, the
highest rank of the legal profession, and which has kept him at the top.
Had he stayed on the path indicated by his
dramatic Tiananmen gesture, he might now be a leading light of the
opposition. Instead, he is a local delegate to the Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference and an ally of tycoons such as Ronnie Chan,
whose Hong Kong Development Forum, a discussion group for pro-Beijing business
leaders, includes Fung as a key member.
On April 26, when the National People's
Congress (NPC) Standing Committee discussed its decision to rule out full
democracy for Hong Kong, Fung was one of just three local businessmen called
upon to respond to public remarks made by Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy
secretary-general of the NPC Standing Committee. In his brief turn at the
microphone, Fung called the decision a chance for a ``creative beginning'' for
Hong Kong's political reform process.
When asked about his change of political
stripes, Fung says that he has simply changed along with China. ``People do take
different paths in different stages of their lives,'' he says. ``I believe if
you are true to yourself, things will work. Someone who never changes their
stance may not always be true to himself.''
It is a matter, Fung says, of understanding
that the Chinese Communist Party today is much different than it was in its
ideological heyday. ``I think it is important to understand the party in the
present context. The position it occupies is not dissimilar from that of the
Tory party in late Victorian England,'' he says. ``An ambitious young person who
wanted to shinny up the greasy pole would join the party. [The Communist Party]
has a similar function. We know from the way they approach things that it is
pragmatic as opposed to ideological.''
Regardless of how mainland communism has
changed, Fung has done well under both British rule and Chinese sovereignty.
Currently chairman of the Broadcast
Authority, he was the last Solicitor General before the handover, after his 1994
appointment by Governor Chris Patten, and he maintained the post after the
As Solicitor General, in 1998 Fung argued the
landmark right-of-abode case, contending that Hong Kong had the right to
dramatically limit the number of mainland children allowed to live here. The
government lost, but refused to accept defeat and sent the decision to Beijing
to be re-interpreted - in favour of the government - by the NPC Standing
Committee. It was the first, and until the recent controversy over electoral
reform, the only case in which the NPC stepped in to supercede local authorities
on a legal matter.
After stepping down as Solicitor General in
1998, Fung taught at Harvard Law School and is currently chairman of Des Voeux
Chambers, one of Hong Kong's most prominent legal firms.
He also remains engaged in political affairs.
Fung recently said that he and a group of like-minded lawyers planned to set up
a new, as yet unnamed, group to help pursue better relations between Hong Kong
and the mainland.
He also is a member of the World Bank
Advisory Council on Law and Justice and is a special adviser to the United
Nations Development Programme on rule of law issues and corporate governance in
China. In short: Fung is a man who matters.
Fung grew up in a world of affluence,
spending his childhood in Hong Kong, first near Kowloon City and then in the
wealthy district of Kowloon Tong where his parents still live.
His father, a medical doctor, sent him to
Diocesan Boys' School, where he rubbed shoulders with other children of Hong
``I grew up in a Hong Kong much different
from today. It was a very quiet place,'' a backwater really, on the edge of
three ``giant societies''', as Fung calls them - the People's Republic of China,
Soviet Union and the United States.
``We had a sense of dislocation, growing up
in a colonial society where Chinese history was only taught up to 1912 and not
beyond that. We had no context to locate ourselves in. We found ourselves on the
edge of an empire but Hong Kong was not the crown jewel. India was.'' It was a
tumultuous time in Hong Kong, with its huge neighbour in the throes of the
Cultural Revolution and pro-communist riots inspired by the upheaval spreading
through the colony. During those days of unrest in 1966-1967, Fung remembers he
``had a great time'' because school was often out and exams were cancelled.
However, it was a different story for his
parents. His father had to venture into dangerous parts of town to care for his
patients and he worried about the future. As a result, Fung was sent to boarding
school in England. He would stay in the country for the next 11 years. The
biggest shock came not from academic expectations but from being thrust on to
sporting fields to play football and cricket. ``In Hong Kong, we did not play
any sports, not to mention team sports or cricket.''
At 18, Fung entered University College
London, obtained a law degree at 21 and, later, his masters degree from the same
university. After a year in practice, he became a qualified barrister in 1975
and thought he had it made. ``I thought I was on top of the world at that time
but the reality is I knew nothing,'' he says, adding that he regrets taking law
as a first degree without enough life experience to appreciate what the law was
We take a break from the conversation,
finally, as the starters arrive - cold cucumber soup for Fung. He manages to
take a few sips before we are back to his life. ``It would have been better if I
started practice at 32 instead of 22,'' he says, musing that he would have liked
to have become a writer - or at least worked at something else before practicing
``Before entering university I had a long
series of discussions with my father about whether I should go at all because I
wanted to be a writer,'' Fung says. He was attracted to the brave deeds of
Ernest Hemingway and the risks he wrote of in his books. Hemingway's life in
Cuba fascinates him and he is especially moved by the novels Death in the
Afternoon and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Ironically, it's when the American prime rib
arrives that talk switches to Hong Kong politics. ``Hong Kong is part of China,
not the centre of China,'' Fung says with assurance - or is there a bit of the
neo-colonial fear that one is still on the periphery? In any event, Fung
believes that Hong Kong people think too highly of themselves, and don't
understand their true place in the new China.
Fung contends that provincial governments in
China have been more proactive in seeking and protecting their own interests,
while Hong Kong's government is ``disengaging itself, playing less of a role''
than it should in the mainland's development. Further, while Hong Kong bills
itself as an international city, the way people conduct themselves demonstrates
very much the opposite. He was disappointed, for example, when the Hong Kong
government declined an invitation to an international forum on Asian security
with the excuse that Hong Kong does not have responsibilty for its defence.
``We've spent a lot of energy on domestic
issues. But we should strike a balance between domestic obsession and
``People have sucked all the oxygen out of
public debates. Everything is domestic.''
Fung still hadn't started his main course. We
worried that he wouldn't give himself a chance to eat. Fortunately, he was just
waiting for some strong Engish mustard to season the beef. After several quick
bites, Fung continued. This is a man, after all, who eats to live, but who lives
``I became involved in the constitutional
drafting in 1985 following the Blueprint of the Joint Declaration. It was
risk-taking work as it involved a clash of cultures and perspectives [between
the Chinese and British governments]. However, unless you had decided to leave,
it was better to be engaged than not be engaged.''
From the 1980s Fung fast-forwarded to the
current controversy over Hong Kong's electoral issues. He would like to see more
occupations covered in the functional constituencies to make Legco more
democratic, he says. But he wouldn't be drawn on specifics except to say that a
number of occupations - he mentions homemakers - are not represented by
He is firm on one thing, his opposition to
direct election, or one-man-one-vote, for chief executive, despite having twice
travelled to England with Martin Lee to lobby for direct Legco elections in the
``An overwhelming majority of systems
worldwide have indirect elections for the head of government. In the United
States, the electoral college for the president is not one-man-one-vote,
otherwise Al Gore would have been the president, not GeorgeWBush,'' he says,
making an argument that ignores the fact that a popular vote in the US
determines how the electors vote - and that the US has direct representation at
every other level of government.
Fung cites the parliamentary system in
Britain as another example, because the leader of the majority party serves as
prime minister. But again, the parties compete in democratic elections, a fact
he chooses to ignore.
Fung's argument that representational
democracy in the West is somehow equivalent to the Hong Kong system may not have
convinced his interlocutors. But there is no question that Fung has one of the
quickest and liveliest minds in Hong Kong. It will be intersting to see what
success he has in pushing reforms in China. but the path he has taken over the
last 15 years suggest that Fung somehow will manage to find himself deeply
engaged in the momentous changes sweeping the world's largest country.
- by Emily Tang and Mark Clifford WEEKEND
STANDARD 12 June 2004