Aung San Suu Kyi – Lady of No Fear

L to R: Yuen Chan, Koji Fusa, Peter Carey and Ian Holliday at Asia Society Hong Kong on June 15, 2012. (Asia Society Hong Kong Center)

HONG KONG, June 15, 2012 — As Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally appeared before the Nobel Committee in Oslo to accept her 1991 Peace Prize, the Asia Society Hong Kong Center gathered to look at her life and her struggle for democracy.

Following a screening of Lady of No Fear — a documentary depicting the shared resolve of Suu Kyi and her late husband Michael Aris to support democracy in Myanmar despite great personal sacrifice — the Asia Society Hong Kong Center held a discussion with Oxford academic Peter Carey, friend and colleague of Michael Aris, Ian Holliday, Professor of Political Science at Hong Kong University, Koji Fusa, personal friend of Suu Kyi, and moderator Yuen Chan from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Carey began by explaining that Aung San Suu Kyi’s name means "a bright collection of strange victories." “Expect the unexpected from her, and the sublime,” he added. 

Suu Kyi is of course celebrated for her steadfast opposition to authoritarian rule in Myanmar, but many know little of her quiet life in England, where she was married to Oxford academic Michael Aris. During her time as a student and housewife in Oxford, Carey recalls that she was compelling and driven, but “not especially political or religious.” However, she did project a fierce pride in her Burmese culture and Buddhist spirituality and was “very immediate, very demotic and down to earth.”

The daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero Aung San, Suu Kyi married Aris on the condition that should her country ever need her, she would return. “There is a strong resonance with Suu and her people, a quality of connectedness,” remarked Carey. In 1988, after witnessing the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Yangon, she addressed a large crowd in support of the movement and soon emerged as a pro-democracy icon.

For her opposition to the military regime she would spend the next 20 years in and out of house arrest in Yangon. This kept her from claiming her Nobel Prize — and from saying goodbye to her husband in his last years suffering from cancer. If she had left Myanmar to be with him, she would not have been allowed enter her country again. Fusa explained that, “Michael never wanted her to return for him. It was not a choice; it had to be this way.”

As Suu Kyi takes her seat in parliament there is an incredible sense of anticipation and optimism that democracy will be realized. However, Holliday cautions that, “She has lots of support but just about nothing has changed. The institutions and economy are still in the hands of the military junta and its cronies.” Though Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party will be in the minority at least until the 2015 national elections, they will continue to campaign resolutely in defense of civil society and democracy.

Reported by Laura Mapstone

Video: Watch the complete program (40 min., 56 sec.)