New star power for Hong Kong's democracy struggle
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Eu was born in Hong Kong and went to Catholic school. Her parents were traditional; her mother raised her "with the theory that you must be first in everything and that this is possible if you try hard enough."Skip to next paragraph
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She thought of several careers, settled on the law, and was first in her class. Law was a difficult decision for a woman in the early 1970s in Hong Kong.
"It was thought that without connections a woman should not be so audacious," Eu says, "so there were a lot of cold buckets thrown. But I wanted to try."
She thrived, made a name, and has great respect among barristers here. Eu is popular "because her success is open for all to see," says colleague and friend Margaret Ng, also a Hong Kong legislator. "You get to know Audrey, and you realize her success is not built on who she knows, or her father's position. In the legal profession, you go by ability."
Of late, Eu has read Churchill, Mandela, and a raft of books on economic theory. She admires Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the Burmese dissident. She remembers a line in Hillary Clinton's autobiography, from Eleanor Roosevelt, that "a woman is like a tea bag ... you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water."
She recently read David Garrow's biography of Martin Luther King Jr. "I like King, I must say," she says. "He was attacked even by his own community, but said that he was taking controversial stands not out of arrogance, but out of conviction."
Eu says she would be happy to visit Beijing along with other democrats. But China hasn't offered an invitation. She says there is a "firmly entrenched" view in Hong Kong, influenced by Beijing, that if Hong Kong were to have direct elections for a chief executive, and universal suffrage, that "all these foreign countries, and particularly America, will control and influence Hong Kong.
"In real terms in Hong Kong this kind of thinking is impossible to comprehend. Yet you get this vibe and feedback all the time," she adds.
After the huge protest of July 1, 2003, which dramatically changed Hong Kong politics, chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was dismissed. Until late last fall, Eu and her compatriots were content to run something called the "Article 45 concern group," a legal think tank. But new Chief Executive Donald Tsang offered up a constitutional reform bill that seemed more like a step backward than reform to the democrats.
The proposal, now defeated, would have allowed more executive appointments, less choice, and blocked direct elections. Mr. Tsang's idea brought those 300,000 people out on a clear, cool day last December, and was the spur to the formation of the Civic Party.
"This reform was really against the principle of democracy ... it was so obviously a backward step. There was no way to accept it," Eu says. "It meant the fight would have to be carried on for some time."
Speaking for the idea of democracy in China's special autonomous region, Eu notes, "We needed some new blood, some reinforcements."
"One memory that will never leave me is the July 1 march of 2003. We didn't expect a half-million people at all. We knew it would be big, but didn't expect 500,000. It was an extremely hot day, and everyone was literally withering under the sun. It was quite a strenuous walk. There were many bottlenecks and we were often stuck for a very long time. At one place we were stuck for nearly an hour.
"But people were buying soft drinks, handing them out, and everyone was very happy and in a jovial mood. People were passing around mints, sweets; it was like a family - a huge family outing where we all know each other, and feel like we are all seeing a bosom friend. People weren't known to each other, but they were all connecting.
"Toward the end, near the Bank of China building [in Central Hong Kong], there were trucks with high deck platforms looking over the crowds. Different groups were mounting them. One group recognized me.
" 'Come up and speak to the crowd!' they yelled. So I went up, and it was a fantastic sight. You could see from every corner of your eye, and every bit you could see were heads. You almost felt like it was something biblical, all heads wavering and bobbing, heads moving all over as far as you could see. You speak to the microphone, and everyone responded. It was quite fantastic.
"I remember the first thing I thought up there was a Chinese saying: 'The water can carry the boat, just as it can sink the boat.' And I felt the water could carry the boat. Things were possible.
"The saying can mean, you know, good things. And it can also mean dangerous things. It means you have to be careful as well.