Alvin Yeung had his eyes set on politics from a very young age. As a little boy, he wanted to become a president. “I wanted to be like Ronald Reagan,” he said. Seeing the American former president in the news all the time, he thought “it must be cool to be a president, it must be somehow like a hero.”
Today the 34-year-old is a rising star at Civic Party, one of the city’s biggest and most respected political parties. When veteran lawmaker Ronny Tong, a Civics founding member, quit both the party and the Legislative Council in June this year, he expressed hope for Yeung to win the by-election for his seat.
Born in Yuen Long as the only child to a restaurant owner and a jewellery dealer, Yeung and his parents emigrated to Canada in the early 1990s, “just like many other middle class families after 1989.” The horrific bloodshed on Tian’anmen Square in Beijing following a month-long student sit-in had made the Yeungs “scared” of what was to come ahead of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
In his teenage years, Yeung looked up to Taiwanese politician Ma Ying-jeou, now the island nation’s president. “I remember clearly when Ma ran for Taipei mayor in 1998. I even kept his poster.”
After studying political science in Canada, Yeung went to Peking University in China to do a master’s degree in constitutional and administrative law. It was 2003 and the SARS epidemic had spread to northern China. The slow response of the government and the lack of transparency in information disclosure made him see the importance of “building the rule of law” in the country.
That year, Hong Kong was rocked by a massive protest against national security bill Article 23 of the Basic Law, which saw half a million people march in the streets. Barristers Alan Leong, Audrey Eu, Ronny Tong and others formed a concern group to actively speak out against the anti-subversion bill, which they feared would be used for political suppression.
Inspired by the lawyers, Yeung joined a group called “July 1 People Pile.” He also made up his mind to pursue a legal career. “I found my identity. I have to become a barrister.” In 2004, Yeung campaigned for Alan Leong when he ran successfully for a seat in the LegCo. The next year, he went to the UK to study a law degree and became a certified barrister in 2008.
The 2003 demonstrations shook up Hong Kong’s political scene and led to the rise of Civic Party, a “lawyers’ party” speaking the voice of the city’s working professionals.
In 2011, five years after Civic Party was founded, Yeung joined and was immediately sent to the front line to represent the party in the Tai Po District Council election that year. “Politics was not on TV any more but on the street. There’s a person in front of you, you have to convince him or her to vote for you.” Despite losing, Yeung said he earned valuable experience in the race.
Three years later, Hong Kong’s political scene once again changed drastically, this time by a never-before-seen mass movement which saw the city’s three busy business districts blocked by demonstrators for up to 79 days.
The pro-democracy Occupy Movement was educational for many, Yeung said. “People now have a better idea what governance should be, they have a higher expectation.”
The city is also turning more and more political, Yeung said, citing the government’s recent crackdown on taxi-hailing app Uber as an example. In what should have been a purely business affair, people have pointed their fingers at the government, accusing it of targeting Uber while tolerating the Chinese-backed Kuaidi One.
The rise of new political groups formed by students before and after Occupy means Hong Kong’s pan-democrat camp is increasingly fragmented. Faced with a new generation which is more politically aware and harder to please, Yeung said politicians need to adapt. “You have to speak their language.”
The working barrister co-hosts popular political talk-show “Teacup in a Storm” on D100 radio station. Unlike many public figures, Yeung manages his own Facebook page and regularly replies to comments left by his supporters.
“I do it when I have time, like when I am on the MTR or something.” Yeung said, “We belong to the younger generation. With Whatsapp and all these [apps], my fingers are always on the screens anyway.”
Yeung is strongly tipped to be the Civic Party candidate to run for the by-election after Tong’s seat becomes vacant in October. However, for legal reasons, no official announcements have been made. “The announcement will definitely come after October 1,” Yeung said.