The empress, the eunuch and $4 billion By Kent Ewing
HONG KONG - So-called feng-shui masters - Chinese equivalents of wizards
such as Merlin in Western lore - have a long history of duping emperors and
empresses with their dubious divinations. But the ultimate feng-shui scam
is unfolding in this money-obsessed city, which for the past two months has
been riveted by the story of a modern-day empress of the Hong Kong business
world and the extraordinary chutzpah of her self-professed lover and geomancer.
The empress in this drawn-out drama is Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum, the richest woman
in Asia until she succumbed to cancer in April of 2007, aged 69. Known as
"Little Sweetie" because of the pigtails and girlish clothes that became her
trademark, Wang's worth was estimated at US$4.2 billion at the time of her
In a court battle of dueling wills, that fortune is now claimed by the
charitable foundation associated with Chinachem Group, the Hong Kong-based
property giant run by Wang until her death, as well as by Tony Chan Chun-chuen,
49, a former bartender who somehow became the tycoon's richly remunerated feng-shui
advisor - and, he claims, her secret lover.
Chinachem points to a 2002 Chinese-language will leaving Wang's wealth to the
foundation. But Chan, who speaks limited English, has produced an
English-language will, allegedly signed by the Chinachem chairlady in 2006,
which gives Wang's billions entirely to him.
After 38 days of titillating testimony in Hong Kong's Court of First Instance,
the hearing concluded last week, but the case is far from over. Lawyers from
both sides will make their final submissions in late September, and a verdict
will not be handed down until months after that.
No matter that verdict, appeals are almost certain to follow all the way up to
the city's Court of Final Appeal, dragging out this sensational Chinese soap
opera for years to come. In the end, if Chan manages to pull off the ultimate feng-shui
magic and win the case, he will be the richest geomancer in history.
Alternatively, if he fails, he may wind up in jail.
Meanwhile, all of Hong Kong is wondering: is this a spiritual saga of love and
loyalty or a wholly material one of greed and gall?
And this is not the first time that this city of 7 million people has been
mesmerized by a court battle involving Wang and her fortune. Wang was a subject
of fascination since her husband, Teddy, founder of the Chinachem empire, was
abducted for the first time on April 12, 1983. Reportedly chained to a bed for
eight days, he was freed after his wife paid US$11 million in ransom.
After a second kidnapping in 1990, however, the Chinachem founder was never
seen again. This time, to no avail, Wang had paid US$34 million of the $60
million ransom demanded by his abductors.
In 1999, although his wife continued to insist that he was alive, making a
point of referring to him in the present tense, Teddy was declared legally
dead. In his absence, she had seized control of Chinachem and entered into a
prolonged courtroom war with Teddy's father, Wang Din-shin, now 98, over her
husband's will, no fewer than three versions of which had turned up. The one
Wang favored, of course, left everything to her.
Ultimately, in 2005, after she had lost the first two legal rounds against her
father-in-law and appeared to face a prison term for forgery, the Court of
Final Appeal ruled in her favor, and Chinachem was hers.
Now her putative lover/soothsayer is skating on similarly thin legal ice while
basking in equally garish publicity. Chinachem's lawyers argue that Chan duped
a dying, mentally unstable woman with promises of eternal life. At the very
least, they say the 2006 will leaving her fortune to him was a ritualistic prop
meant to be burnt, like paper money, as part of a traditional life-extending feng-shui
At worst, the company states, the will is an outright forgery.
Members of Wang's family have ridiculed Chan's claims - both as a feng-shui
expert and as a lover - with her sister, Kung Yan-sum, comparing their
relationship to that of an empress and a eunuch.
On the other hand, Chan's defense team maintained that Wang had wanted to have
a baby with him and had even undergone estrogen treatments in Canada with this
aim in mind.
In his own testimony, Chan, who is married with three children, said his
relationship with the tycoon began in 1992, when his offer of a head massage
quickly turned into a full-body treatment. Soon thereafter, he continued, she
was calling him "hubby" and they were spending nights together.
Chan also produced a video in which he and Wang are seen burning money and
incense at a Taoist temple in Hong Kong in a gesture that he said was intended
to seal their relationship. Even before this ceremony, he testified, Wang had
begun referring to him as her husband, but in the video she can clearly be
heard calling him "Kung Kung" - which means eunuch in Chinese.
Whether he was eunuch or lover, however, Chan was richly rewarded for his
services. Before Wang died, he received a series of cash payments between 1993
and 1997 totaling US$93 million - much of it, according to the testimony of
Chan's two younger brothers, delivered in tennis bags. Wang also helped him set
up RCG Holdings, a successful biometrics company listed on the Hong Kong Stock
No wonder Chan chose to name his eldest son, born a year after that fateful
full-body massage, "Wealthee".
During the hearing, Chan's doggedly loyal wife, Tam Miu-ching, took the stand
to defend her husband, but her performance may have done more harm than good.
Although she was 27 years younger than Wang when the two met for the first time
in 1992, Tam testified that her husband introduced the Chinachem boss as his
goddaughter and that thereafter Wang referred to her as "Godmother".
Tam also said that she, Wang and her husband traveled to Beijing as a threesome
and that she made no objections when Chan arranged for their third child to be
born on Wang's birthday.
Cross-examined about the source of her husband's suddenly acquired wealth, she
responded: "I didn't care."
The hearing concluded with testimony from two rival feng-shui experts,
but the face-off turned into an anti-climax when the expert representing Chan
admitted that he was mostly self-taught and the judge then abruptly ended his
There is, however, no end in sight to Chan's bid to use his association with
Wang to graduate from the millionaire to the billionaire class. If he succeeds,
his ancient feng-shui ancestors will honor him as Soothsayer for All
Time. If he fails, however, 21st-century Hong Kong may put him in a prison
Kent Ewing is a Hong-Kong based teacher and writer. He can be reached at