Oscar Wilde’s Adage – Truth is Stranger than Fiction; Henry Tang’s Underground Palace

Oscar Wilde once said that when he needed sources for fiction, he turned to the day’s newspapers. And indeed the journalists covering politics in Hong Kong today are creating stories richer than any novelist. How else to describe the house that Henry Tang did (or did not) build?

Here’s the story.

Henry Tang is candidate for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Prior to declaring his candidacy Tang was Chief Secretary for Administration for the government of this island nation. Already beloved by bureaucrats he was considered a safe choice by Beijing as he is equally admired by business. It was just a pesky aside that he did not prove popular in opinion polls.

When Tang was falling in the polls, an anonymous source released a conflict of interest claim against one of Tang’s biggest rivals. CY Leung was panelist to choose a design for the West Kowloon Cultural District and failed to declare his business had a relationship with one of the entrants. Rather serious stuff, except that occurred in 2001.

The winning design

Now we all know the adage about people who live in glass houses, right?

Once questions about ethics began surfacing it didn’t take long for someone to dig around in Henry Tang’s past. And they found…a glass house!

Or is it a palace?

At a property previously owned by Tang is an underground structure that was not part of the original development application. This 2,400 square foot space has been described by South China Morning Post as a palace.

The space has not been opened to the public yet diagrams and plans have been reproduced broadly. So let me add to that with a copy of the diagram. Not shown are the windows installed in the ceiling – that look up into the swimming pool. A Basement or an Underground Palace

Floor plan shows a gym, wine cellar, Japanese bath and more

For countries that are used to expelling political candidates for adultery, drink driving or tax fraud it’s hard to explain the importance of building codes to Hong Kong citizens. Half the country is vertical and many have died in building collapses. Plus middle class home owners are routinely fined or jailed for building code violations. So why shouldn’t a candidate for the top job adhere as well?

Looking into Tang's palace
Reporters try to see inside

Then on Thursday it got weirder. (Note to Oscar Wilde – start writing now!)

At a press conference called to let Tang speak to the masses, he provided an excuse that flabbergasted the audience. It was his wife’s fault. You see in 2010 Tang signed the property over to her. They’d had marriage upsets when it was purported he hadn’t been faithful.

So now it’s a global story. This morning commuters in London can read about the issue in The Telegraph. In Sydney they’re talking about it over cocktails as The Australian ran a feature.

And nowhere is the chatter quieter than in Beijing. Some report that Tang would have withdrawn at his press conference if he’d had clearer direction from China. They aren’t sure how to appease the numerous constituents with another candidate. They need time.

And in the interim, there are millions of posts and thousands of articles on the subject. Should he withdraw, Tang will have time to reflect on the debacle – perhaps from the comfort of his underground palace.

The view is nice
Making the rounds online

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