Born into an intellectual Chinese family in Hong Kong, with ancestry from
Taishan Guangdong, Yu was educated at home for many years before attending the local JesuitWah Yan College Hong Kong. In 1938, at the tender age of sixteen, he was admitted to the University of Hong Kong, where he studied educationand prepared to be a teacherFact|date=February 2007 .
In 1941, shortly after the
Pacific Warhad broken out, Yu left college with a B.A. degree and escaped Japanese occupation. He went to Guangxi, China, and was commissioned as an officer in the Intelligence Corps of the Army of the Republic of China. During the War, he undertook numerous espionagemissions and subsequently rose to the rank of major.
In 1945, Yu was awarded a Victory Scholarship by the Government of Hong Kong to continue his studies in
England. Between 1945 and 1947, he read Modern Greats( Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Merton College, Oxford, preparing to become "a politician in China," to quote his own words. Nevertheless, due to the Communistvictory in mainland China in 1949, and his own reluctance to renounce his Roman Catholicfaith, Yu was never able to return to China until the end of the Maoistera.
Jobless and almost penniless, Yu was forced to find himself a profession. Within a mere 10 month period, he familiarised himself with all the "niceties" of the English
common law, studying in the Bar Library at Lincoln's Inn. In 1949, he passed the bar exam of England and Wales and practised briefly as a chancery barristerin London.
In 1950, Yu moved to Malaya, where he failed to establish a prosperous practice. Dismayed, he went back to
Hong Kong, and became the first Chinese person to be appointed Crown Counsel of that British colony. During the next two years, he prosecuted the bulk of the criminal cases in Hong Kong, while his predominantly white colleagues spent their time playing cricket. Frustrated by the blatant racismpervasive in the colonial government and the meager pay of a public prosecutor, Yu resigned in 1953 and commenced a private practice in a 200 ft² (19 m²) office.
He soon built up a sterling reputation as an
advocate, and by the mid-sixties he had already become the top criminal lawyer in town. It was also during this time he helped to establish the first law school in Hong Kong, The Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong.
In 1971, Yu was offered a
judgeship on the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, an invitation he politely declined. Similar offers were made in 1974 and 1979. Yu declined both on the ground that he could never serve under a colonial regime that administered justice in an inherently racist fashion. Yu was also famous for his refusal to apply to become Queen's Counsel, a mark of distinction envied by many practitioners both in Britain and in many other Commonwealth countries.
In 1983, after thirty years of practice, Yu decided to retire. He became a much celebrated
autobiographyauthor and story-teller, and has published two volumes of memoirs and stories since then.
He is a cousin of
Yong Pung How, the former Chief Justice of Singapore, and his younger daughter is married to the younger son of Sir Ti Liang Yang, the former Chief Justice of Hong Kong.
* "Tales from No. 9 Ice House Street", 2002 ISBN 962-209-580-1
* "A Seventh Child and The Law", 2000 ISBN 962-209-524-0
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