20 February 2019
History is beginning to look more kindly on Tung Chee-hwa. Photo: Bloomberg
History is beginning to look more kindly on Tung Chee-hwa. Photo: Bloomberg

Tung Chee-hwa: Not just another birthday

It’s not just another day for Hong Kong’s former leader.

Tung Chee-hwa might have had more than his usual share of messages this morning, perhaps one from President Xi Jinping and another from President Barack Obama.

After all, it’s his birthday — make that official birthday.

Tung will not turn 77 until June 26, the actual date he was born. But he would have marked the occasion, as he has always done, with his family a month earlier.

Confused? It’s all to do with the lunar cycle on which the Chinese calendar is based.

Although China accounts for about a fifth of the world’s population, it has to follow the Gregorian or western calendar in order to be in sync with the rest of mankind.

In Tung’s case, he was born on May 29 (the 29th day of the fifth lunar month), or July 7 in the Gregorian calendar. When he moved to Hong Kong in 1948, he registered using the former date, so his official documents reflect that.

The family flagship, Orient Overseas, observes May 29 which happens to be June 26 this year in the Gregorian calendar.

Kinder history

Tung stepped down as Hong Kong’s first chief executive nine years ago, but he has been in the public eye for much of the time.

Today, he made the headlines in connection with the spiraling cost of Hong Kong’s proposed cultural hub which was mooted during his administration.

And history is beginning to look more kindly on the man once described as a “good grandpa but a bad CEO”.

He is probably more popular now than his successors. Donald Tsang faces a corruption investigation while CY Leung is having a hard time dealing with Hong Kong’s social problems and democratic transition.

But no one said the job is easy.

In Macau, after days of protest, Chief Executive Fernando Chui was forced to withdraw a draft bill that would have given him immunity from criminal prosecution when he retires, plus 70 percent of his salary as compensation for not taking a new job. 

As for his own retirement, Tung seems to be enjoying it in his role as ambassador-at-large, helping smooth China’s international relations.

He hasn’t been doing badly either as chairman and chief executive of the family business. Last time we checked, the stock was worth HK$39.65 compared with HK$5.50 when he left the company to lead Hong Kong after the 1997 handover. The company has paid out HK$43 per share in the past decade.

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EJ Insight writer

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