New World Man
A mass of contradictions wrapped in an enigma, businessman/impresario/bon vivante David Tang seems singularly poised to deal with whatever Hong Kong's future brings.
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97
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Not surprisingly, Tang accepts, possibly even welcomes, the reversion of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in l997. As he recently wrote in the British Daily Telegraph, "It would be a loss of face, as well as unpatriotic, for us to express a bias against the Motherland in favor of foreign colonial rule." But despite embracing the idea of this colony being returned to "the Chinese motherland," he is far from being anti-British, much less pro-Maoist. "I don't want anything to do with Mao," he tells me, waving a hand as if to banish a bad smell. In fact, in a recent speech, he extolled British rule. "Whatever one might say, Britain has provided a stable system of administration in which Hong Kong inhabitants have been able to flourish magnificently," he said. "Hong Kong is, after all, an exceptional example of excellence under British colonialism and that should command respect from a great many Chinese here now and beyond l997.
"If ever there was a case to be made for colonialism, Hong Kong is a shining example--a paradigm of good colonialism," Tang declared. "It's sad that people don't realize that Hong Kong is an argument for, not against, colonialism. When people say, 'Thank God Hong Kong is reverting to China,' they sometimes don't realize that it would definitely not have been as successful--would not have had such magical chemistry --without the Brits. It's wrong to subject the British to an anti-colonial thrashing when their rule is an example of what colonialism can do and should be extolled for."
When I ask if he thinks China might have something to learn from British rule, Tang only half-jokingly says, "In fact, I think it would be nice if China had a constitutional monarchy, and I've often wondered what would have happened if Chiang Kai-shek had been less treacherous."
Tang also has a deeply Anglophiliac bias in his notion of personal relations. "English friends have an absolute sense of loyalty and I like that," he says. "To me, loyalty through thick and thin is an admirable virtue that is extremely important--something like the love of a parent for a child. Loyalty means friendship, and friendship is what is most important. Your bond with friends should rise above all other commitments. Laughter with friends is it for me. Here in Hong Kong, money distorts that loyalty. On the Mainland, it is distorted by Communism and the party."
"David is an extraordinarily loyal friend," acknowledges longtime partner Chang.
Does Tang feel at home in Hong Kong?
"Oh yes," Tang replies instantly. "Hong Kong has always been a place where I feel completely at home. But I wish people knew how to spend their wealth here, how to treat it as a means to an end instead of an end in itself."
Mindful that classical music is for Tang a kind of end in itself, I ask him how he became interested in playing the piano. "When I was just 15 in England, I heard the falling third of the Brahms fourth and I was transfixed." He starts waving his arms overhead like a conductor. "I didn't even know who Brahms was, but it made me want to start playing the piano right away. Oh, how I wish I could play well!" he exclaims. A pained look comes over his face. "Music is one of my passions, and when I play Mozart, I go mad because I know I am not playing well enough."
What is his favorite type of music? "Well, I'm Catholic, so for me nothing beats the passion of church music. Unfortunately, these days the Vatican is like the British monarchy--trying to be more 'in touch.' But in the process it's killed off too much of the ceremony, like the singing and the vestments. Of course, that also kills spirituality and mysticism which both religion and monarchy depend on to stand up against the mundane world."
Listening to Tang first express patriotic sentiments toward China--sometimes even joking about the need to start another Taiping or Boxer Rebellion to purge China of foreigners--and then venerate British tradition, one may be pardoned for wondering if he is not a colossal and unreconcilable contradiction. He sees himself, however, not as a contradiction but as a "benign mediator" between potential antagonistic world players. "What I enjoy is bringing people together," he says.
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