Obituary: Dorothy Liu

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The Independent Online
Dorothy Liu Yiu-chu was one of the most colourful and outspoken figures in Hong Kong politics; one of the few members of the pro-China camp who was willing to stand up to Peking when she felt it was going too far. She died just three months before the event she had longed for - the departure of the territory's British colonial rulers.

Liu won Peking's approval with her Chinese nationalist pride. "When it's a question of conflict between Britain and China, I have made it clear I will, without reservation, always be on China's side," she once told a local newspaper. But, in her later years, she found herself increasingly isolated by China and its supporters in Hong Kong because of her attacks on key aspects of Peking's policy on the hand- over of the colony. "There will be fluctuating times: when the central government [in Peking] may be more dictatorial towards Hong Kong; may fail to allow us to have the high degree of autonomy promised to us," she warned in a newspaper interview published last December.

Liu's sense of patriotism towards China was instilled in her by her family. Her late father, Dr Liu Yan-tak, was on good terms with senior Chinese officials and took her to meetings with them. He called her Dorothy because the initial letter D is the fourth in the alphabet, and Dorothy was his fourth child. In her adult life, Liu tried to emphasis her Chineseness by dropping the English name, but despite her efforts it remained in common use in the local media. Many used the nickname Dotty, partly because it evoked her eccentric character.

Ironically, like many members of Hong Kong's pro- China elite, Liu was educated in what might normally be considered the breeding grounds of the British establishment - Hong Kong University (which uses English only) followed by Oxford University. She started as a student of English literature, then switched to law, which she began practising in Hong Kong in the 1960s.

The start of Liu's legal career coincided with the eruption of Communist- inspired turmoil in the colony. Liu declared her pro-China convictions during the 1967 riots, but, like her father, attacked the use of terrorist tactics by some of the more fanatical Maoists in the territory. Liu was taking a risk by expressing pro-Peking sympathies - gripped by fear of a possible Chinese invasion, the colonial government and many members of the public shunned such individuals.

Liu's loyalty was rewarded by Peking in the 1980s when it began choosing Hong Kong residents who would help it set up the post-colonial government. She was invited to assist in the drafting of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution which will come into effect when China takes over on 1 July this year. In 1988, she was chosen by Peking to serve as a Hong Kong deputy to China's parliament, the National People's Congress. The NPC is normally a rubber- stamp body, but Liu used the meetings as a chance to express her grievances as well as her support for Peking.

The bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 badly damaged the unity and morale of Hong Kong's pro-China camp. Liu backed China's decision to impose martial law in Peking, but condemned the way the demonstrations were crushed. At the annual NPC meeting early the following year, Liu attacked a decision to purge a senior Chinese deputy for his role in the unrest. The following year, she called for a minute's silence for the victims of Tiananmen. This was a rebellious move in the hard-line political climate of the day. Chinese officials looked on her with growing wariness.

When it came to China's conflict with the Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, however, Liu was very much on Peking's side. In early 1993, a few months after Patten's arrival, Liu swallowed her pride and attended a ball at which she knew the governor would also be a guest. She waited at the entrance for half an hour, hoping to catch him on his arrival - not to make amends but, as she wrote, "to make the point that Mr Patten should learn the local language, by presenting him with one of my cards in Chinese". Patten arrived late and the card was never presented. But while Patten was on the stage Liu took the microphone and said, as a joke, that the governor should "go home and take a bath", a pun on the name of his former constituency. "As soon as I said this, I could feel the atmosphere becoming tense," she recalled.

Liu made no secret of her contempt for onetime supporters of the colonial administration who switched allegiance as the handover approached. She called them "old batteries" and wept when seated next to a former top adviser to the British, Sir S.Y. Chung, at a meeting of a Peking-appointed committee set up to make arrangements for the transition. Her resentment appeared to be aimed as much at Peking, for welcoming such people, as it did at the individuals themselves.

Liu was still an NPC deputy at the time of her death, but the gravity of her differences with Peking became abundantly apparent last year when she failed to be included in the powerful Preparatory Committee responsible for setting up the post-colonial administration. Liu strongly questioned the legitimacy of China's decision to replace Hong Kong's elected legislature with an appointed interim body. She warned there would be "lots of puppets" in the new government.

James Miles

Dorothy Liu Yiu-chu, lawyer: born Hong Kong 8 July 1934; married (one son; marriage dissolved); died Hong Kong 31 March 1997.