From awkward nerd to loud and brash politician

History-making Yau Wai Ching offended many but sees no need to apologise

Ms Yau Wai Ching urging those who gathered in Hong Kong last week to protest against Beijing's intention to interpret the Basic Law to leave the area, as she was worried about their safety.
Ms Yau Wai Ching urging those who gathered in Hong Kong last week to protest against Beijing's intention to interpret the Basic Law to leave the area, as she was worried about their safety.ST PHOTO: JOYCE LIM

They call her "bb" or "goddess". In September, the 25-year-old made history as the youngest ever female legislator elected in Hong Kong.

But Ms Yau Wai Ching, from the pro-independence Youngspiration political party, has become known for her foul mouth as much as for her youthful good looks.

On Oct 3, Ms Yau caused jaws to drop when she said at a public forum that young people in Hong Kong have no room to "bok yeh" (have sex in Cantonese slang) due to low wages and sky-high property prices.

Nine days later, on Oct 12, the Chinese language graduate from Lingnan University, a liberal arts university in the city's New Territories, caused many to spit out their milk tea when she effectively gave Beijing the middle finger when taking the Legco swearing-in oath.

She referred to the People's Republic of China as the "People's Ref---ing of Cheena", while also unfurling a banner that said "Hong Kong is not China".

Many were offended, but Ms Yau did not see a need to apologise. "If they read the oath, they can see that we're taking on the Chinese government - not the Chinese people," she was quoted as saying in an interview with Time magazine.

  • Last week, Beijing handed down an interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law which effectively removes two pro-independence lawmakers from the Legislative Council. The Straits Times Hong Kong Correspondent Joyce Lim looks at their atypical route to Legco.

Ms Yau has not always been a feisty and defiant politician.

Just three years ago, she was an administrative assistant processing membership applications at the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

She grew up in Mongkok, a daughter of civil servants who are now retired. At Lingnan University, she studied Chinese literature, but this has not endeared China to her. Instead, in an interview with The New York Times (NYT), she said Taiwan has done a better job of preserving traditional Chinese culture.

In 2012, she was one of those who protested when the Hong Kong government proposed the "Moral and National Education" curriculum which exalts the glories of China's Communist Party.

In 2014, like many young people in Hong Kong, she took part in the Occupy protests to demand the right to directly elect Hong Kong's top leader, the chief executive.

When the protests ended at the end of 2014, unlike most people, Ms Yau did not return to her old life quietly, but volunteered for the newly set-up Youngspiration party.

Last November, she participated in the district council elections, where she lost to legislator Priscilla Leung in the Whampoa East district by only 304 votes.

At the Sept 4 Legco polls this year, she upset incumbent Raymond Wong to secure a seat in Kowloon West constituency.

Fellow Youngspiration member Sixtus Leung, 30, told NYT that she used to keep to herself. "She didn't know how to express herself. To be blunt, she was quite a nerd," he said.

"But in the two years since, she's been forced to speak and has changed a lot."

But Ms Yau has quietened down for now - she has remained tight-lipped on her next move after Beijing's ruling on Monday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2016, with the headline 'From awkward nerd to loud and brash politician'. Subscribe