Hong Kong culture

Where Hong Kong got its thing for crowning people king - of shops, props, toilets, toys ... and Kowloon

You’ve probably heard of the four heavenly kings of Canto-pop, but how about the four crazy kings, the king of strategies or the king of judicial reviews?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 7:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 7:31am

Hong Kong has its“four heavenly kings” of Canto-pop, and kings of gambling, votes, thieves, even toilets. The city has a habit of unofficially crowning its high achievers – whatever their line of work.

The name is usually bestowed on them by admirers, members of the public, or media headline writers, sometimes jokingly, at other times in recognition of the fact certain individuals are simply the best at what they do. These are among Hong Kong’s many “royals”:

King of Kowloon – Tsang Tsou-choi

Wandering the streets with a bag of ink and brushes, Tsang was an unlikely “King of Kowloon”. He arrived in Hong Kong as a teenage refugee in the 1930s from Guangdong, and started his urban scribblings two decades later, and conferred the title on himself.

Regarded as an eccentric, Tsang daubed his Chinese calligraphy on thousands of public spaces, on everything from lamp posts to mail boxes, over almost five decades. In his graffiti, he claimed to be the true heir of the territory and listed the supposed names of his illustrious ancestors. Tsang even anointed his eight children as princes.

Although Tsang’s claims weren’t taken seriously, his distinctive graffiti has won plaudits in art circles. There have been efforts to preserve what remains, and reproductions of his calligraphy were displayed at the Venice Biennale in 2003.

Tsang, who died in poverty aged 86 in 2007, once said he was not an artist, but “simply the king”.

King of Toilets – Ronald Leung Ding-bong

The chairman of the now defunct Urban Council launched a crusade in the 1990s to improve the quality of Hong Kong’s public toilets. He dreamed up innovative ways of stressing the importance of having more pleasant surroundings in which to exercise basic bodily functions. Leung once urinated in front of stunned reporters, saying: “Am I not entitled to human rights? Is there press freedom but no freedom to pee?”

Clean toilets were Leung’s passion, and he left no stone unturned in his search for scatological sanctity. By staging initiatives including the Public Toilets Drawing Competition, Leung also tapped the potential design talent pool of the city’s primary schools.

King of Shops – Edwin Leong Siu-hung

The local billionaire may have inherited his business acumen from his father, Jardine Matheson comprador Henry Leong, who died when Edwin was nine years old. Young Edwin began buying a diverse range of properties, and founded his main investment vehicle, Tai Hung Fai Enterprise, in 1977 at the age of 25.

A great deal of Leong’s wealth was gained from letting retail properties he had acquired. Today, he owns more than 1,000 properties – shops, industrial units, offices, car parking spaces, hotels and serviced apartments – throughout Hong Kong. His net worth is estimated by Forbes at US$3.3 billion.

King of Shoes – Patrick Tang Kim-kwan

Self-starter Tang’s rise to billionaire status made him a symbol of Hong Kong’s “can-do spirit” until he became entangled in a sensational court tussle with a former lover.

Tang’s shoe-trading company, ATG Sourcing, was for 20 years the go-to agent for footwear brands including Adidas, Merrell, Reebok and Timberland. However, his last Guangdong shoe factory closed in 2012 amid rising labour costs and falling orders. Still, Tang’s wealth is estimated at about HK$2 billion.

That same year, the married tycoon accused lover Karen Lee Chi-ting of cheating on him with actor Francois Huynh, and sought to recover three properties he bought in Lee’s name.

Lee, 27 years Tang’s junior, retained a Tai Kok Tsui flat, which she sold in 2014 for HK$2.1 million.

King of Toys – Francis Choi Chee-ming

Choi made his start as a toys salesman in the early 1970s before founding his first toy factory at the tender age of 25. He made his fortune – and earned his nickname – supplying US toy giants, including Hasbro and Mattel, with everything from Barbie dolls to My Little Pony products. His Light International company also makes die-cast Nascar collectibles and licensed dolls, including Harry Potter and Bratz.

In the mid-90s, Choi diversified into property investment, accumulating a portfolio of commercial buildings, luxury flats and a hotel. Nevertheless Choi, estimated to be worth US$4.82 billion, has never shrugged off the “King of Toys” nickname.

Four Crazy Kings – Hong Chao-feng, Pauline Chan Bo-lin, Yammie Lam Kit-ying and Kenneth Choi Fung-wah

The four “crazies” rose to fame as young entertainers in the 1980s, but were destined to experience dramatic twists in their lives.

TVB actress Yammie Lam Kit-ying – technically a “crazy queen” – had originally been nicknamed “the Most Pretty Actress Among Five Hong Kong TV Networks”. She starred in a number of hit TV shows and became a household name. But her career spiralled downwards after a road accident in 1998, leading to mental illness. Lam filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and is currently living on social welfare.

Porn star Pauline Chan Bo-lin committed suicide in Shanghai when her baby boy was barely a month old. Radio presenter Hong reportedly suffers bipolar disorder and singer Choi has depression.

They were named the “Four Crazy Kings” for their erratic behaviour, including Chan’s attempt to commit suicide during a TV interview. Hong claimed to have been made chief consultant to the “Hong Kong Distinguished Citizens’ Association” in 2006, and said he would raise HK$1 billion for society.

King of Hong Kong Category III Films – Herman Yau Lai-to

Yau gave audiences nightmares with his 1993 film The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story. The gruesome tale of a murdered family who end up as filler for a mad chef’s “pork” dumplings shocked viewers.

Yau has gone on to direct more than 70 films, including War of the Underworld and Ebola Syndrome, cementing his reputation as one of Hong Kong’s most prolific cult movie directors.

The ambitious 56-year-old has been bolder in recent years. Having touched on women’s rights in True Women for Sale in 2008, last year’s The Mobfathers uses a triad election as a metaphor for the pursuit of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, inspired by the 2014 “umbrella movement”.

King of Trees – Jim Chi-yung

Perturbed by the city’s greyness when he returned to Hong Kong in 1981 after years spent abroad, the HKU chair professor of geography switched interests from soil research to trees. Jim has since devoted himself to protecting the city’s arboriculture.

He has called for property developers to make space for plants when planning projects, and long

called for a tree law to hold owners of private trees responsible for any threat to public safety.

Such is his passion, Jim claims to have a collection of more than 10,000 photos of trees from cities he has visited all over the world.

Jim has also been involved with various government advisory bodies, including the Country and Marine Parks Board, of which he was chairman, and the Greening Master Plan Committee.

King of Strategies – Rafael Hui Si-yan

Also known as “Fat Dragon” and “Old Master Hui”, the 69-year-old disgraced former Hong Kong chief secretary was known for his big ideas during a career in business and public office. However, Hui could not find a strategy to extricate himself from a marathon graft trial that sent him to Stanley Prison for 7½ years in 2014.

Convicted of taking HK$11.18 million in bribes days before becoming chief secretary in 2005, Hui was the first high-ranking local politician to be sentenced on such a serious charge. The case gave a rare glimpse into the cosy ties between the city’s policy makers and major property developers.

Hui appealed to the top court last year and has a chance to overturn a “key legal point” in May.

King of Props - Wong Kwok-hing

The former pro-establishment lawmaker certainly knows how to impress an audience. Using calligraphy, a fake leg or golden scissors, the 68-year-old made himself noticed with his figurative displays while trying to make a point in Legco.

Wong said symbols helped to emphasise his point in a simple and direct way, so his props created a deep impression. He was proud of being dubbed the “King of Props”.

Wong, elected in 2004, wielded a giant pair of golden scissors to protest against filibustering tactics. He was an outspoken critic of the delaying tactic, and took his makeshift cutting tool into the chamber whenever he felt a marathon debate needed the snip. Wong’s tenure was cut short when he lost his Legco seat last year.

King of Judicial Reviews – Kwok Cheuk-kin

The 75-year-old former civil servant was not content to spend his retirement walking dogs or caring for grandchildren. Instead, he chose to challenge the authorities by filing judicial reviews.

Kwok filed his first application in 2006, asking the court to review ferry fare increases on the route between Central and Cheung Chau. He claims he has since filed more than 20 legal challenges against the government. Despite losing most of the cases, Kwok says he has raised awareness about social problems. “If you don’t try, you will just sit there and wait to die. If you try, at least there is a chance.”