Lau Wong-fat, the former head of the powerful rural body Heung Yee Kuk, has died at the age of 80.

He passed away at home in the early hours of Sunday, surrounded by his family, his son Kenneth Lau said.

Lau Wong-fat
Lau Wong-fat. File Photo: InmediaHK.

Lau was born in 1936 in Hong Kong. He became the chairman of the Kuk in 1980. He was a lawmaker for the Heung Yee Kuk functional constituency, a member of the Executive Council, and the chairman of the Tuen Mun District Council, among other public positions.

The Heung Yee Kuk was founded in 1926 to represent the interests of indigenous villagers. It was made a statutory body in 1959 to advise the government on rural matters.

The pro-Beijing heavyweight, who has been nicknamed “Uncle Fat,” is often referred to as the “King of New Territories” for his influence in the area.

A member of the Basic Law drafting committee, Lau was successful in his fight to include an article in the de facto constitution of Hong Kong to protect the “lawful traditional rights and interests” of the indigenous people of the New Territories.

Small houses
Small houses in Kwu Tung. File Photo: GovHK.

On the second day of the Lunar New Year every year, he often represented the Heung Yee Kuk to draw lots for Hong Kong at the Che Kung Temple in Sha Tin.

Lau was a founding member of the Liberal Party in 1993 but withdrew from it in 2008. He joined the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong in 2012. He was also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference between 1993 and 2013.

The former lawmaker was criticised for making few contributions to the Legislative Council in the 24 years he served as a member of the body, since he has never tabled any motions on his own nor raised any amendments.

Lau wong-fat mocked
Heung Yee Kuk chief Lau Wong-fat was mocked on social media following the June voting blunder.

Lau was investigated by a LegCo committee in 2010 for not declaring the purchase of three properties worth a total of HK$21 million. He did not receive any punishment, though the committee confirmed the transactions.

In 2011, he was challenged by Junius Ho for the chairmanship of the Tuen Mun Rural Committee and lost his seat of 41 years. He also lost his seat at the Tuen Mun District Council, which is automatically given to the chairman of the Committee. But he was appointed a district councillor by the government in 2012 and recovered his Council chairmanship.

In June 2015, Lau was famously late for a LegCo vote on the government’s political reform package, resulting in the bill’s rejection by a far larger margin than expected. Pro-Beijing lawmakers, who later said they wanted to wait for Lau, walked out of the chamber in a failed bid to delay the vote. Although the bill’s rejection was anticipated, the dramatic episode caused huge embarrassment for the pro-Beijing camp.

Lau Wong-fat (left) - father - and Lau Ip-keung (right) - son - former and current Heung Yee Kuk chairmen.
Lau Wong-fat (left) – father – and Lau Ip-keung (right) – son – former and current Heung Yee Kuk chairmen. File

Lau has rarely appeared in public since last year, as he was reportedly hospitalised and underwent surgery.

Lau’s son Kenneth Lau succeeded him as the head of Heung Yee Kuk in 2015, and became the lawmaker for the sector last September.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.