Even his core supporters seem to damn him with faint praise. And his outspokenness has sometimes put him in the soup. Yet Henry Tang Ying-yen has managed to lead a charmed political career. Hear, for example, how Chan Wing-kee, an influential supporter of Tang, extolled the chief secretary in August: 'Although Tang rarely speaks, he can put forward many plans,' said Chan, a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). 'He is much wiser,' Chan added, invoking a Chinese idiom, 'than he appears.' At 59, the wealthy, wine-loving heir of a Shanghainese textile tycoon has risen step by step to the government's number two job - chief secretary, his post since 2007. Before joining the government in 2002 as secretary for commerce, industry and technology, (now secretary for commerce and economic development), the chief executive wannabe had been a member of the Executive Council since 1997 and a Liberal Party lawmaker from 1991 to 1998. The then-industrialist quit the pro-business party as he took up the government appointment. Some of his supporters credit him with 'bringing good fortune' because the economy started recovering when he took the financial secretary post in 2003. His family's business background and connections with Chinese political circles gave him an edge. His father, Tang Hsiang-chien, reportedly had close links with former president Jiang Zemin . It's no surprise that those cheering for Tang's elevation to chief executive include business heavyweights. Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, says he backs Tang for his aura of luck. 'He brings good fortune,' Wu said earlier this month. 'Hong Kong had no budget deficit when he was the financial secretary. He also pushed forward Cepa [preferential treatments for Hong Kong businesses on the mainland] when he was the commerce secretary.' But sceptics insist the government's healthy finances owed nothing to Tang - who managed the public purse from 2003 to 2007 - but to the austerity measures taken by his predecessor, Antony Leung Kam-chung. Samuel Yung Wing-ki, another CPPCC delegate, says Tang has been anointed by God. 'I heard God's calling,' said Yung, a devoted Christian who 'prays everyday'. 'I felt peaceful and touched after deciding to support Henry Tang.' Described as 'down to earth' and 'well liked by civil servants' by many of his supporters, Tang has maintained good relations within the pan-democratic camp, too. He had a good relationship with Democratic Party unionist Lau Chin-shek, sharing candid talks on many worker-employer matters when they served in Legco in the early 1990s. He started a '1991 club' with other veteran lawmakers - including the pan-democrats - to commemorate their service in the legislature that year. Although Tang always wears a big smile on his blushing face, there is no guarantee he's as warmly welcomed by the populace. Various polls have shown his popularity lagging behind his once likely rival Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai. His numbers plunged even further after he dismissed claims that the government had violated civil rights during last month's visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang as 'completely rubbish'. As he put it on August 19: 'I think that is completely rubbish that we have violated civil rights, nor have we violated freedom of speech, because every single activity of the vice-premier has been covered by the media.' The backlash included sharp rebukes from media organisations and politicians. It wasn't the first time that Tang had spoken so bluntly. In 2009, when answering lawmakers' queries on the government's electoral reform consultation document, Tang was asked if the status quo was exacerbating the wealth gap. 'My answer is simple ... yes,' Tang said with a proud smile. In January this year, his warning on the so-called 'post-80s generation' phenomenon drew scorn from the youngsters. He warned that young activists' radical behaviour would end up like a 'fatal car crash'. Amid growing social discontent about what people see as 'land hegemony', Tang told the South China Morning Post that youngsters should ask themselves: 'Why can't I become the next Li Ka-shing?' His remarks drew heavy criticism, except from the richest man himself. The billionaire later hailed Tang's words as 'good advice'. An avid wine lover and collector, Tang says the grape is a mark of civilisation. On his first day chairing the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in 2008, he told the Post that a vineyard should be planted as part of the multi-billion dollar arts hub. 'Wine is also part of arts and culture,' said Tang. Suggesting planting vineyards, he said: 'Why not? How many in Hong Kong have seen wine grapes? I'm not talking about the grapes you buy at supermarkets.' Widely seen as born with a silver spoon, Tang once confided he had experienced hardship. He wrestled with the challenges of food rationing, queueing for hours for dumplings and paying with vouchers when he was a teen, he said in an RTHK interview. Married to Kwok Yu-chin - heiress of another textile empire - Tang has a son and three daughters. He was recently rumoured to be having an affair with Shirley Yuen, the new CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and his former administrative assistant. Yuen denied the claims. While he has not yet resigned so he can officially start his campaign, an alleged campaign document exposed by Chinese media in June appeared to show Tang starting election planning as early as late last year. He insisted he had followed government regulations. He is expected to quit his job as number two soon and start his drive for the top spot.