Hillary Su is a director and early stage investor in tech startups. She has previously worked in investment banking and consulting. She is a local ambassador for Make It Your Business, an NGO that supports female entrepreneurship.
Growing up in rural China as a member of an ethnic minority, I learned the harsh reality of inequality at a very young age. As the commissar pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm warned, some are destined to be controlled by others. My parents’ biggest hope was for me to work for one of China’s state-owned enterprises one day, so that I might one day join the glittering Beijing elite. That was probably the dream of most Chinese parents. But was never mine.
Looking back, I was enormously blessed to have a purposeful and prudent grandfather, who taught me the most valuable lesson in life: do not be defined by your surroundings, but take responsibility for your own destiny. He made me realise I could hope for something different and better: a life defined by personal choice and rewarded by hard work. Little did I realise, back then, that this counter-cultural value system would pave the way for my journey toward becoming a Conservative.
My grandfather was a local politician in China in the early 1950s, having founded the local branch of the Chinese Democratic League shortly after the Chinese Communist Party took leadership of the newly established Republic. Unlike many Chinese households, who shied away from politics, my grandfather never hid his passion – even after the torment he endured during China’s Cultural Revolution.
He would sit down with me to watch the news every day, encouraging me to swallow as much as I could, so that I could learn to develop and express my own opinions in future. I have a particularly fond memory of him telling me about the magnificent “Iron Lady”: those core Conservative values of individual liberty, small government, free market and personal responsibility, and the values of Thatcher and Reagan, at the height of the cold war, were among the reoccurring dinner table discussions in our humble household.
Growing up in rural China during the late 1980s and early 1990s wasn’t a particularly glamorous experience. The skyscrapers, bullet trains and fast internet are part of Le Nouveau Monde. Before China embraced market liberalisation, the nation survived on food stamps. We were told by the central government what to eat, how much we should eat and how many children each family could have. That was the norm. Some families may have attempted to cheat the system. But not us. We were the rule, not the exception. Nevertheless, we awaited with baited breath for our country to evolve. During the lead-up to China’s bid to join the WTO, we started to see supermarkets showing up in our town with shelves filled with foreign goods such as Colgate toothpaste and Safeguard soap. Unilever felt like an epiphany for everyone.
I still remember the first time when I bit into a Chips Ahoy cookie. The 15 years old me carefully opened the izmir blue package with swelling curiosity and anticipation. Oh heavens, there was nothing like it! I remember telling myself “this must be what freedom tastes like”. To this day, I am still convinced that it was that bite changed the course of my life. Suddenly I had the wildest aspiration in life. I wanted to leave China and go to America – the land of opportunity and Chips Ahoy cookies.
I told my grandfather about my plan, and I remember him falling silent for a while, possibly knowing that our time together would be forever cut short, before he then sprang into action, telling me that I must prepare to work extremely hard and be willing to make sacrifices in order to make the best of my chosen path. He was the first to support my decision – and he did so unreservedly. Even my parents thought I was mad, because “people like us” were never meant to have “that” kind of aspiration.
The rest of my story is like so many other immigrants’ stories that you may have heard many times before. I first spent my formative years studying in America after winning a coveted scholarship. I then chose to move to Britain, because I found that it enables even greater civil liberty. Just as my grandfather advised, I worked very hard every day. I finished graduate school in 2008 amidst the global financial crisis.
With few job prospects on horizon, I interned for free for nine months, while earning minimum wage by folding jeans at Abercrombie & Fitch in order to pay my bills, until I landed my first full-time paid job in the City of London. I did not go protesting in the street or blame the “rogue capitalists” for giving me an abysmal start in life, nor did I blame the Government for failing to extend help to people like me.
I accept that life is full of trials and tribulations and it is not meant to be easy. Everything I have in life is not given to me, but a result of hard work. Needless to say, my family made significant sacrifices so that I could spread my wings to unleash my potential. My grandfather passed away four years ago, peacefully in his old armchair, while wearing a jacket I bought him with my first salary. I did not get to see him for one last time.
After nine years of working in financial services with some of the largest multi-national corporations, I decided I wanted to repay Britain for giving me the opportunities I would never have dreamt of having had I stayed in my hometown. I decided to stand in this year’s local election representing the Conservative Party. I did so because I want to help make this city even greater and also keep London from falling into the militant Marxist socialism agenda. I was privileged to be given that platform, and when the results were being called, I thought of my grandfather and how proud he would have been.
I stand proudly on my own, knowing that my story, and my politics, is possible here in Britain. My adopted home has given me – an ethnic minority girl from China – extraordinary opportunities to grow into a professional businesswoman able to participate in public life. It is Britain, a tolerant and liberal democracy, that turned a story of a life into a triumph. If I can do this here, so can you.
Knowingly or not, I think I have always been a Conservative – whether living in communist China or metropolitan London. The Conservative Party is truly the only party that delivers authentic aspiration and opportunity. We care about your values, not your identity. We respect responsibility, self-governance, hard work and our duty of care to others. We are compassionate, and strive to help those who aspire to self-betterment. We believe in where you are going, not where you have come from. I am glad that I am a Conservative. Perhaps the izmir blue package of Chips Ahoy cookie has sealed my destiny as Team Blue long before I even knew it.