Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has devoted most of her very active life to serving Hong Kong in many different aspects, particularly education and, perhaps most noticeably, politics. She is a shining role model for those aspiring to success in the public arena.
Rita was born in Shanghai where her father was a businessman. The family moved to Hong Kong in 1949 when Rita was only four years old. From St Stephen's Girls' College she entered the University of Hong Kong, gaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Physics. Indeed she won first prize in Chemistry.
Rita then entered the world of education, first with this University, serving in the appointments service for 7 years. It was during this period that she gained a Masters' degree in Psychology. She then joined the Hong Kong Polytechnic as head of their Student Affairs Unit and, later, as Associate Director.
Then, much to her surprise, so she tells me, she was approached by the then Governor, Sir Edward Youde, who invited her to join LEGCO as an appointed member. She had never considered politics as a likely career but, having consulted her two bosses, one the head of the Hong Kong Polytechnic and the other, her husband, who both firmly supported the venture, she agreed. She never looked back.
She first entered LEGCO as a Legislative Councillor in 1983 and was subsequently appointed a member of EXCO by Governor Sir David Wilson in 1989, serving in both capacities until 1992. As Convenor of the Security Panel in LEGCO, one of the most interesting problems she had to confront was car smuggling across the border by small craft. She succeeded by the device of persuading the Mainland authorities to require all cars driven on the Mainland to have left hand drives. This meant that Hong Kong right hand drive cars could no longer be smuggled into the Mainland until they had undergone significant mechanical overhaul, which rendered smuggling much less profitable.
She did not, however, entirely divorce herself from education, as she served as Chairman of the Board of Education from 1986 until 1989, and as Chairman of the Education Commission from 1990 until 1992. To avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, she resigned from her post at the Hong Kong Polytechnic. During this period she was called upon to grapple with the evergreen issue - the most appropriate language for children's education. She strongly espoused the case for mother tongue education.
She then turned her full attention to the impending handover, to which her contribution was outstanding. As a member of the Preliminary Working Party, and later as a member of the Preparatory Committee for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Rita played a vital role in ensuring that the transition to Chinese sovereignty was smooth and effective. Given her experience in Hong Kong, she was appointed Convenor of the Panel on Security, her main task being to ensure that the police, immigration, customs, correctional and fire services were fully appraised of, and prepared for, their new role after the Handover. In this she was entirely successful. In particular, she saw as her role the duty to convey to her colleagues the important message that things would be largely the same after Reunification because of the protection afforded by the Basic Law, and that our liberties and lifestyles would remain intact. She was also heavily engaged in promoting SAR passports and ensuring their widespread recognition with the necessary concomitant protection.
At the time of the handover Rita was elected President of the Provisional Legislative Council and from 1998 until 2008 she served a remarkable three consecutive terms as elected President of the newly formed Legislative Council. Indeed she was the first woman to preside over Hong Kong's Parliament. The fact that she was re-elected for two further terms is clear evidence of her success in this difficult role. She always strove to remain impartial in observing and upholding the rules of the Legislative Council and her rulings and interventions over her 9 year period as President have become almost legendary. She demonstrated a widely-acclaimed and respected firm but fair manner of presiding at meetings, having at times to deal with notoriously outspoken Members such as Mr Leung Kwok Hung (`Longhair'). Indeed it was Rita who was responsible in November 2004 for his being the first Member to be ejected from the LEGCO chamber.
Rita is perhaps most admired for her pivotal role in Hong Kong politics, both under British and Chinese rule. As a prime example of prominent people working to ensure harmony between Hong Kong and the Motherland, Rita was elected as a Deputy to the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China for two consecutive terms, from 1998 until 2008, and is now a full Member (indeed the only Hong Kong member) of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China. In these capacities she has worked tirelessly, serving as a bridge between the Mainland and Hong Kong based on mutual trust and understanding, and to implement the fundamental concept of `One Country, Two Systems' to which she was firmly committed. She considers that the concept has proved successful, given the great diversity between the two systems and the different experiences of their respective inhabitants.
Another well publicized issue which Rita has confronted has been the lack of harmony in the relationship between Government and LEGCO. In her Foreword to the LEGCO Annual Report in 2007 she offered the following wisdom:
`With regard to the relationship between the Administration and the Legislative Council, I cannot help feeling that over the years both branches have tended to focus more on their own problems thereby paying less attention to the difficulties faced by their counterpart. True, it is not possible, or perhaps even desirable, for those two arms of the Government to enjoy perfect harmony. But I do urge both Members and Government officials to avoid indulging in the conspiracy theory and try to develop some trust in each other. The partnership between the executive and the legislature is a political reality. I admit that, at times, some members may get carried away in their choice of words and criticise officials in an aggressive manner. On the other hand, some Government officials may try to shy away from the Council to avoid members' criticisms. In this way the relationship between the Administration and the Council can only deteriorate. I believe that mutual respect, sincerity and fair treatment for all are the key to constructive co-operation'.
Rita has also voiced her concern that a career in politics may not be attractive to young people of high calibre. Political parties are still somewhat immature and thought should be given as to how to attract the most gifted into politics, perhaps by permitting political parties to become the ruling party, with the aspiration that the Chief Executive may be appointed from that party. This would provide a great incentive to potential leaders to look towards a challenging and rewarding career in politics.
Moving away from politics, Rita was the first female steward to be elected by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in its 150 year history.
Rita has become well known for her indefatigable energy and courage. She is no stranger to grief and pain. Her devoted husband Stephen passed away some years ago and Rita herself has undergone surgery for breast cancer. She also donated a kidney to her daughter in 1995.
Rita's important role in the prosperity of Hong Kong has been recognised by the award of honorary degrees from both the China University of Political Science and Law and City University of Hong Kong. She was awarded a Gold Bauhinia Star in 1998 and a Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2007.
Rita tells me that she now has some time in which to relax and reflect. She is joyous in the thought that she has received tremendous support from her husband throughout the undulating paths of her political career. When she had been depressed, she had received great encouragement. When elated by success, he had reminded her of the need to be humble and listen to others. Her basic philosophy is that service is not performed by acts and words alone but with the heart. She describes herself as an average person with her feet firmly on the ground. Mr Chancellor, I beg to differ. Rita is no average person. She is a remarkable person.
Mr Pro-Chancellor it is my honour and privilege to present Mrs Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai for the award of Doctor of Social Sciences Honoris Causa.
Citations written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator.