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Wednesday, December 9, 2015, 08:30

Poverty campaigner Elsie Tu dies at 102

By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong

Outspoken critic of colonial-era corruption and ardent defender of Hong Kong’s underprivileged Elsie Tu died on Tuesday morning due to pneumonia-related complications at the age of 102.

The former elected Urban Council member and lawmaker was a regular contributor to China Daily among other media outlets up until her death, following a sudden deterioration in health last year. She died peacefully at the United Christian Hospital at 9:35 am.

The native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK rose to prominence for her single-handed battle to improve the lot of Hong Kong’s ethnic Chinese population during the height of post-war colonialism, writing incessant letters to a succession of colonial administrators before entering political life. She was instrumental in setting up one of the city’s first English-speaking schools for children of squatters in 1954 — now Mu Kuang English School.

Poverty campaigner Elsie Tu dies at 102
In this Jul 2, 1997 file photo, f ormer Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR Tung Chee-h wa presents the Grand Bauhinia Medal to The Honourable Mrs Elsie Tu. (Photo / GIS)

Following a 32-year career as an elected representative, Tu’s agitations against the colonial government’s excesses served as the seed which germinated into Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. All the while, she campaigned for better work and housing conditions for workers during Hong Kong’s industrial heyday.

Her expertise and foresight also led to her inclusion as a member of the HKSAR Basic Law Consultative Committee and member of the Legislative Council and Provisional Legislative Council in the run-up to the 1997 handover.

Tu also earned the ire of the opposition camp for her support for the city’s first Chinese-led administration and policies. She advocated incremental electoral reforms rather than the opposition’s speedy reforms. Their split was highlighted in 2003 when she voiced support for the local legislation to pass the law safeguarding national security.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying commended Tu for her lifelong passion for her adopted hometown, noting her “tremendous contributions in taking forward reforms and developments in various aspects of society”.

“She adhered to reasoning while respecting the views of the majority. Her noble character earned her wide respect from the community,” Leung said of the Grand Bauhinia Medal recipient and Dame Commander of the British Empire.

A luminous life

Poverty campaigner Elsie Tu dies at 102

1913 – 2 June, Tu born as the second of two daughters to Florence and John Hume, a WWI veteran

1937 – Graduates with a BA from Newcastle University

1946 – Marries Christian missionary William Elliot

1947 –Leaves Halifax, Canada after a ten year tenure teaching and enters China as a missionary with Elliot.

1951 – Moves to Hong Kong where she is barred by her husband and church from helping impoverished Chinese.  Divorces Elliot shortly after.

1954 – Tu sets up Mu Kuang English School for the children of Kwun Tong squatters.  Serves as school principal for the next 46 years.

1960s – Begins writing colonial administrators in Hong Kong and the UK hitting out at endemic corruption within the colonial government and the pervasive influence of organized crime as well as championing improvements in housing and working conditions for the poor.

1963 – Becomes an Urban Councilor for the first time, consistently reelected by huge margins until her defeat in 1995.

1965 – Instrumental in opposing Star Ferry, then the only means of travelling to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon, fare hikes which precipitated the 1966 Kowloon Riots and attracting the ire of the UK’s clandestine services.

1974 - Independent Commission Against Corruption formed, the result of Tu’s unrelenting campaign against corruption in government.

1975 – Receives the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service.

1977 – Made a Dame Commander of the British Empire.

1985 -  Marries education colleague of 30 years Andrew Tu.

1988 – Elected to Legislative Council, serving for seven years.

1996 – Appointed to Provisional Legislative Council in run up to Hong Kong’s return of sovereignty.

1997 – Awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal.

2001 – Husband Andrew Tu passes away.

2013 – Celebrates centenary with CE Leung Chun-ying and other luminaries, wishing for, “a world at peace instead of all wanting to fight.”

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