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On March 26, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was elected Hong Kong’s leader, topping off a 36-year government career with the honor of becoming the first female chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. On July 1, the former chief secretary for administration will be sworn in as head of the international financial and shipping hub for the coming five years.
Lam won 777 votes from 1,194 election committee members, beating rivals John Tsang Chun-wah, a former Hong Kong financial secretary who took 365 votes, and Woo Kwok-hing, a retired high court judge who received 21 votes. “I shall do my utmost to uphold ‘one country, two systems’ and guard our core values,” Lam said at a press conference after winning the election. “Through care, listening and action, I will build a better Hong Kong.”
Difficult Early Life
Lam was born in 1957 into a poverty-stricken family in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, one of the city’s notorious areas of overcrowded tenement buildings. The fourth of the five children in the family, Lam was born in the Year of Rooster. The Chinese believe that people born in this year grow up wise, passionate about the job at hand and full of integrity—virtues ideal for leadership. But she would have to practice the virtue of patience for many years. As a child, Lam showed great enthusiasm for learning from a very young age.
Lam’s father was a migrant from Shanghai who ran a small business, and her mother was a housewife. Neither had received much education. However, they proved wise and capable parents, especially her mother, who noticed her daughter’s passion for reading and studying, and did whatever she could to support her. “My mother is my idol,” Lam once declared in an interview. “To help me receive a better education, she devoted all of her resources into getting me admitted to a prestigious primary school.”
She studied at a renowned Catholic girls’ school in her neighborhood, where she finished both primary and secondary education. She consistently ranked among the top students at the school, and produced the best score on almost every final annual exam. “Once I only got the fourth-best score on the final exam, which got me so frustrated that I sobbed about it after arriving home,” Lam recalled. “But even that experience taught me a lesson: You cannot always be the best, and sometimes, you shouldn’t care so much about losing face.”
After graduation, Lam was admitted to the University of Hong Kong, where she chose to study social work. After her first year at the university, she switched majors to sociology “to better understand society and better participate in social activities.” In 1980, Lam graduated with a bachelor 's degree in social sciences and joined Hong Kong Administrative Services the same year, where she began a nearly four-decade career in government.