Cecil Chao

The best stories of 2012 from South China Morning Post

From a marriage proposal straight out of Hollywood to a tragedy that touched us all, we look back at the year that was

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 3:36pm

It's been a year of unforgettable stories from Hong Kong, China and around the world.

From the magic of the Olympics in London, the tight race for the White House in the US presidential election to the shock revelation that Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen had a palatial - but illegal - basement under his home, there have been stories variously jaw-dropping, depressing, emotive and exciting.

It's also been a big year for the Post's website,, which welcomed more visitors than ever before, especially after introducing limited free access for non-subscribers.

Two stories caught the eye of visitors to the Post's website more than any others this year - one a tragedy which touched the lives of everyone in Hong Kong, the other a tale that could have come out of a Hollywood film script - and may yet form the basis for a hit comedy.

Lamma ferry disaster

The night of October 1, National Day, was supposed to be about celebration. Crowds flocked to Victoria Harbour to watch the fireworks, with the usual flotilla of boats giving revellers a unique view of the festivities from the water.

One such boat never made it to its destination.

The Lamma IV sank in minutes after a collision involving the Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry Sea Smooth close to Lamma Island. The 124 people on board the Lamma IV scrambled to escape. In the hours and days that followed, it emerged 39 had died.

Three days of mourning followed and President Hu Jintao , Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-President Xi Jinping all expressed their condolences to the city.

Many questions remain unanswered about how the crash occurred and why it proved so deadly. A commission of inquiry into the tragedy began its work last month and will review maritime safety conditions and make recommendations for change. A police investigation is also continuing, with the director of public prosecutions warning that crew members could face charges up to and including manslaughter for their role in the tragedy. More than 80,000 unique users viewed the coverage of the crash.


'HK$500m to marry my daughter'

No story attracted more users to than the revelation that tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung was offering HK$500 million to the man who would marry his daughter Gigi.

The twist, of course, was that Gigi already considered herself married - to her same-sex partner of seven years, Sean Eav.

The affair put the spotlight on Cecil Chao and revived memories of his earlier boast that he bedded 10,000 women. He revealed plans for an autobiography and a museum of his life.

"My life is very colourful. A lot of things happened," Chao said in an interview with the Post in October, adding that his life could be equivalent to 10 lives of other people.

Some 20,000 "applications" flooded in from potential suitors around the world - many of them directed via the Post. A Frenchman, 38, wrote: "I'm really serious and [despite the fact] I am a man I think I can make this woman happy, I'm as soft as a woman."

Another internet user, going by the name Robin Hood 702, wrote: "I will win his daughter's heart and marry her, and my Maid Marian, a gorgeous Brazilian model, will help accomplish that with me."

For her part, Gigi Chao was forced to use her Facebook page to demand that her suitors leave her alone and described Eav as "the wind in my sails".

But that might not be the last the world hears of Cecil and Gigi Chao. Comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen is reportedly developing a film based on the saga - under the title The Lesbian. Some 128,498 people around the world viewed the Post's online coverage of the affair.


18th party congress

The Communist Party's leadership transition attracted unprecedented international attention - despite the fact that the likely winners were flagged up well in advance.

It came as no surprise that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang emerged as the next president and premier respectively, but the question of President Hu Jintao's future remained in doubt even in the days before the congress began last month.

The Post was able to confirm days before the start of the congress that Hu would step down from his powerful position as chairman of the Central Military Commission at the end of the meeting rather than following the precedent of Jiang Zemin , who stayed as military chief for two years after leaving the presidency.

More than 54,000 people viewed the Post's extensive coverage online, its most widely viewed China story of the year.


Kate Middleton topless photos

The future queen of England was never far from the news this year, not least in September when a French magazine published grainy photographs of Kate changing out of her bikini during a holiday with Prince William.

The British couple took immediate action against Closer magazine, and a Paris court ruled that the publisher would have to hand over the snaps immediately.

Kate hit the news again this month with the revelation that she was expecting the couple's first child, and the prospect of a royal baby is sure to keep her in the headlines.

The story, the biggest international story of the year on the Post's website, was viewed more than 39,000 times.


The Wen family's fortunes

Reports in the aftermath of the party congress that Premier Wen Jiabao's family had amassed a huge fortune, much of it linked to insurance giant Ping An, put a renewed focus on the wealth of China's top officials.

The Post was first with the news that lawyers for Wen's family had hit back at The New York Times, in particular dismissing its claim that Wen's mother, a former teacher, had once held a huge stake in Ping An.

The lawyers, Bai Tao and Wang Weidong , said they would continue to "make clarifications regarding other untrue reports" by the newspaper and reserved the right to hold it "legally responsible".

The story drew 20,613 viewers to


Check our website for the full list of the best stories, videos and virals of 2012 at