Selina Tsang: Pathfinder

Dec 15, 2008
*Special to asia!
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Wife of HONG KONG's Chief Executive Donald Tsang

In June, the Hong Kong public was given a rare insight into the character of the artist and calligrapher Selina Pou Siu-mei, otherwise known as Mrs Donald Tsang, wife of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

During an interview with the Oriental Daily, an influential Chinese newspaper, Donald Tsang suddenly told the reporter: "My wife and I will leave Hong Kong after I retire."

During colonial days, all British governors left Hong Kong after retirement to avoid undermining the authority of their successors. But Hong Kong has been under Chinese rule for nine years. Tsang’s predecessor, the shipping tycoon Tung Chee-hwa, stayed on after stepping down in 2005. What prompted him to go?

Donald Tsang, famous for his outbursts, kept a tight-lipped silence. Next to him, Selina spoke out, softly but decisively. "We have learnt a lot from the people who have gone before us."

The Hong Kong Economic Journal, a highly respected Chinese daily, said her comment "deserved to be pondered over and over again".

When Selina spoke of "the people…before us", she was not talking about the hapless Tung or his unpopular wife. They are still in Hong Kong. She was referring, pointedly, to Anson Chan, Donald’s old boss.

Anson Chan, head of the civil service, took early retirement in 2001 after disagreements with Tung. Donald Tsang, then Financial Secretary, was chosen to take her place. When Tung in turn retired, Tsang was again chosen (by Beijing) to fill the gap.

In the past few months, Anson Chan has launched a series of increasingly scathing attacks on the government and Beijing. She is widely seen as the only credible candidate against Donald Tsang when the Chief Executive post is up for re-election next year.

As Anson Chan has never named Donald Tsang in her criticisms, it would be bad form for Tsang to rebut her directly. But an oblique attack by his wife is perfectly acceptable in polite company. It certainly earns the couple brownie points in Beijing.

In her late 50s, and the mother of two sons, Selina Tsang smiles a lot and talks little in public occasions. Privately she is his perfect foil. She is moderate while he is hot-tempered. She is well educated and shows it. Donald Tsang, eldest of six children of a poor police officer who couldn’t afford to go to college on his own steam, often betrays a rough edge. She is s teeped in Chinese culture while her husband, British-trained, still favours wearing a bowtie. She has built up invaluable contacts in China through her art and calligraphy activities. Donald Tsang, a career civil servant, was poor in guanxi (connections) in Beijing. For many years, Selina has served as Donald’s weathervane and his pathfinder through the corridors of power in Beijing. Now, with Anson Chan nipping at Donald Tsang’s heels, Selina Tsang has taken on a new role, her husband's protector. The artist has become a fighter.



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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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