Hong Kong’s former chief secretary Anson Chan has announced she is to step back from civic and political engagements following the death of her daughter.

Head of the civil service before and after British colonial rule, she has in recent years sought to ratchet up international support for democratic reform in the city. In 2013, she launched political think-tank Hong Kong 2020, which advocates direct elections of the chief executive and legislature.

Anson Chan
Anson Chan. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Chan wrote in a statement on Monday she had promised her children she would withdraw from such activities to lead a quieter life upon turning 80 in January. Her daughter Michelle Chan, 57, died last month, according to local media.

“The recent loss of a beloved daughter is a devastating blow. I want to give myself time and space to mourn and recover. I also want to spend as much time as possible with my family, particularly my granddaughters and son‑in‑law,” it read.

“Hong Kong has been and always will be my home. I urge young people not to lose hope for their future and continue to hold fast to the values that underpin our unique city but to do so in a law-abiding and peaceful manner.

The former number two official – who became an envoy for the city’s democrats – met US officials last March to sound the alarm over the territory’s diminishing freedoms under One Country, Two Systems.

Chan last June wrote an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, urging the withdrawal of a proposed extradition agreement with mainland China. The ill-fated bill would foreshadow months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and prompt Beijing to announce the imposition of national security legislation last month.

Anson Chan
Anson Chan in a 2015 HKFP interview. File Photo: Emily Chu/HKFP.

The board of the Project Citizens Foundation – of which Chan was a co-founder – expressed their gratitude on Friday evening: “During these six years, Mrs Chan’s boundless enthusiasm and wise counsel have guided, inspired and enriched the work of the Foundation and encouraged its development as a forum for intelligent opinion and as a notable defender of Hong Kong’s core values and way of life. She is a shining testimony to the best of Hong Kong’s selfless public service.”

The foundation aims to promote quality civic participation.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.