Political Risers: Eunice Yung, a programmer turns to politics

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Hong Kong’s uncertainty may have driven away the professionals from the political circle and even the territory, but it can never stop the brave. A programmer-turned-barrister Eunice Yung is one of them.

When people see Eunice Yung Hoi-yan (容海恩), they often say she looks like Taiwanese actress Gwai Lun-mei (桂綸鎂), although they seriously underestimate her if they judge her by her looks alone. This computer science graduate, who chose the career path of a barrister, is now determined to prove that professionals are just as capable and passionate about public affairs as career politicians are.

From computer science to law

The 39-year-old Yung, single, is a rather unconventional high-achiever. Born into a local middle class family, she had a fairly standard school life through the completion of her A-level exam. Like many 1970s and 1980s children, her biggest interest during her teenage years was not her school lessons, but after-school gaming sessions. It is the main reason why she later chose a university major in computer science.

“At that time, I wanted to be a programmer to write my favourite computer games,” Yung explains.

Yung entered the computer science programme at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and graduated in 2001. She stayed on as a research assistant and helped develop a journal search engine program at UBC, before coming back to Hong Kong in the summer of 2003.

It was the summer of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), when Hong Kong’s economy and property market hit their lowest points since 1967. “The salary offer of many jobs at that time was HK$6,000 per month or below, which impacted my willingness to work full-time, so I chose to go back to school,” Yung recounts.

This time, however, Yung opted for law rather than computer science. “I thought that being a lawyer would be the quickest way to raise my social status, and this allowed me to connect with people in the society,” she says. “In fact, I was already bored with the life of a programmer, which limited me to office work at all times.” She persevered and became a qualified barrister in 2008.

Soon after, Yung’s programmer-turned-barrister background came to the attention of New People’s Party (NPP) chairperson Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (葉劉淑儀), who invited Yung to join her party.

Political career takes off

Yung’s community work did not begin with her political life.

“I am a volunteer legal consultant of New Home Association [新家園協會, a pro-Beijing NGO that helps mainland Chinese immigrants and ethnic minorities integrate  into Hong Kong society] and often help immigrant women fight for their legal rights. Besides, I am the founding member of the Hong Kong Professionals and Senior Executives Association [香港專業及資深行政人員協會, a pro-Beijing professionals’ association] where I broaden my social circle by meeting with political and business figures,” she mentions.

Yung later joined Civil Force (公民力量), a pro-Beijing Sha Tin-based political group that formed an alliance with the NPP in February 2014, symbolising the expansion of Ip’s party from Hong Kong Island (HKI) to New Territories East (NTE). She met Ip while giving a speech at a seminar organised by Civil Force.

“NPP agrees Hong Kong should promote its technological innovation, and Eunice’s computer science and law background fit our needs, so I asked her to join the party,” Ip states. Yung officially joined the NPP in the beginning of February this year, days before February’s Mong Kok civil unrest.

A new face for Hong Kong

“Society is in chaos. Professionals in the past were involved too little in public affairs, and I do think that society now needs young professionals to take part in and share the burden, so that’s why I’m here,” Yung says with confidence.

There are many rumours that Yung may represent the NPP in the NTE Legco election, but the party has not confirmed the decision. Yung, a political rookie, is not afraid of wading into one of Hong Kong’s most fiercely contested legislative battlegrounds.

“I am willing to try any constituency, but Mrs Ip and [Michael Tien, 田北辰] have chosen theirs already. The only choice for me is NTE,” Yung says.  

Ip agrees that Yung has promise. “We saw the boom of young talents in the 2015 District Council election, and the NPP believes it’s time to let our young people try.”

Harbour Times predicts that the pro-Beijing camp may take three out of nine seats in NTE. At least six potential pro-Beijing candidates, including Yung, may join in the race.

Localism is not independence

No political insiders in Hong Kong can escape from commenting on the localism movement, not to mention the political upstarts. Yung insists that localist sentiment is mainstream in Hong Kong, but does not equate this to support for Hong Kong independence.

“Hong Kong has its local-style films and music, but this is not about Hong Kong independence. Also, the political independence of Hong Kong is unreal. It is impossible,” Yung insists. “Hong Kong does not have any material resources to equip with the political separation from China, not to say such move is prohibited according to the laws in Hong Kong.”

“The best choice for Hong Kong is to maintain ‘One Country, Two Systems’,” she believes.

Yung also does not agree with localists who criticise the usage of Mandarin and simplified Chinese characters. “Hong Kong people now, no matter in the workplace or daily life, cannot avoid speaking Mandarin and using simplified Chinese characters, given the closer business relations between Hong Kong and the mainland China,” Yung explains.

“This is the reality,” she tells the localists.

Trumpet lover, ensemble manager

In between Yung’s busy barrister life, she plays the trumpet for relaxation, but she admits that her heavy workload sometimes keeps her from her hobby.

In 2009, this trumpet lover founded Galaxy Wind Ensemble (銀河管樂團) with a group of friends.  It is a brass music band that aims to bring pleasing sounds to Hong Kong audiences. Yung is now the president of the ensemble, proving that, on the job or off, she is a woman of many talents.