A Chinese door to the Western world: Sir David Tang lauded and loved
Hong Kong billionaire and socialite passed away at 63 on Tuesday, a week before his planned farewell party with close friends at the Dorchester Hotel
Perhaps what really matters is how people remember you – not how long you live.
Sir David Tang, the famous businessman and friend of royals and celebrities, won lavish praise from the Hong Kong press, which hailed him as the last noble of his generation and a man who manifested the best of Orientalism, after he passed away at the age of 63 on Tuesday.
He died a week before a party planned as a final farewell with close friends at the Dorchester Hotel in London. “Such tough luck!” you can almost imagine him saying.
The man who founded Shanghai Tang, a luxury fashion house in 1994, was also known for his wealth – both financial and of friends, in business, entertainment, and even royalty, because he was such an interesting character.
Tang, the grandson of Hong Kong philanthropist Tang Siu-kin, was educated in the United Kingdom from the age of 12, and through hard work, acquired a British accent much like the upper class.
When he started Shanghai Tang, he used sharp colors to go with the boring color of the traditional Chinese Tang suit. He did the same when he started China Tang in London, offering Chinese food less known for its taste. And partly just by his dressing in a Tang suit and speaking with the Queen’s perfect English, he opened a Chinese door to the West.
‘Very British, yet very Chinese’
Simon Murray, former taipan at Hutchison Whampoa, who co-founded the China Club with Tang, described his friend as “a unique man, very British yet he also very Chinese”.
“He was one of the world’s real players. He loved life and left with no regrets.”
Murray recalled Tang as a very humorous man who won a lot of friends through jokes.
In one of his favorites, he liked to ask people the difference between the word “complete” and “finish”. He would spell the answer out slowly. “Well, when you marry the right woman, you are complete. But, when you marry the wrong woman, you are finished.”
Pausing for 10 seconds, he added, “And if the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are completely finished!”.
Tang married twice, with Lucy Wastnage in 2003, nine years after he divorced his first wife, the former TV artist Susanna Cheung.
The Financial Times carried a vivid description of the Agony Uncle, a column which Tang penned, published in its weekend edition for the past six years.
‘Loud, obstreperous, outrageous’
“David Tang’s loud, obstreperous, outrageous, clamorous manner was always a constant source of alarm, amusement, and embarrassment,” FT writer and British TV star Stephen Fry wrote. Fry recalled Tang saying “Bullshit. Nonsense. Bollocks. Rubbish” the first time they met – in response to his comment about the weather being mild.
In his final column on August 22 he gave advice to a reader who complained about the imperialistic approach of Chinese investors buying property in London, when things were completely different for Britons wanting to buy property in China.
Tang replied: “It is not at all true that foreigners cannot buy properties in China. But they do so at their peril. They must rely on the Chinese system of changes to the rule of law. They are not feudal. They are communist. Particularly, they have socialist characteristics. So the property laws in China are not exactly reliable.”
So long, Sir David, you will be dearly missed.