Feng Shui in Hong Kong
Fengshui in Hong Kong was noted in the first book on the subject ever written for a Western audience, by E.J. Eitel in 1873. Eitel was a German missionary and inspector of the Hong Kong schools and reported a number of instances in which Western construction projects had angered the Chinese and provoked riots and disturbances because they had supposedly upset the gods and the spirits of the ancestors. A new road to the Happy Valley was being built and the “Chinese community was thrown into a state of abject terror and fright, on account of the disturbance this amputation of the Dragon’s limb would cause to the Feng Shui of Hong Kong” (Bruun, 2003, 56). When Western engineers and workers began to die of fever and the new houses in the Happy Valley had to be abandoned because of malaria “the Chinese triumphantly declared it was an act of retributory justice on the part of Feng Shui” (Bruun, p. 57).
Like most Westerners, Eitel regarded fengshui as mysticism, superstition and mumbo jumbo rather than real science, but he recognized that the Chinese certainly took it very seriously. He argued that with the advance of education, progress and modern education, such beliefs would eventually disappear, although this has not happened yet in Hong Kong as the case of Nina Wang demonstrates. In fact, for the Chinese faced with Western imperialism and unequal treaties, it even became a symbol of nationalism and opposition to Western cultural encroachments. In the late-19th and early-20th Centuries, Chinese crowds frequently attacked Western buildings, railroads, and telegraph and power lines for not being constructed according to fengshui principles and therefore causing natural disasters, epidemics and other instances of bad fortune. This led to riots against railroads, tramways and Western buildings, and increasingly the builders of these projects were often forced to move them or construct them in such a way as not to disturb the spirits and graves of the ancestors (Bruun, p. 60).
The Chinese also commonly believed that the noise and smoke of locomotives, factory chimneys and machinery also caused similar disturbances, and popular movements like the Boxer Rebellion of 1897-1900 used this as justification for driving the foreigners out completely. Particularly in Hong Kong, fengshui was “further stimulated by the continued presence of foreigners and the willingness of the British government to take it seriously” (Bruun, p. 65). For this reason, popular belief in divination and geomancy has continued there down to the present, even though the official Chinese government position since the 1949 Revolution has always been that such beliefs and practices are a hindrance to the nation’s modernization and economic development.
In retrospect, it seems highly peculiar and ironic that fengshui could figure in to the case of Nina Wang’s fortune and the battle over her will, given that she was on the surface at least the epitome of modernization and one of the wealthiest property developers in the world. Teddy Wang’s family had always disapproved of Nina, but the childhood sweethearts were married in 1955 when she was eighteen. They never had any children of their own and became wealthy by buying up cheap properties and simply waiting for years as Hong Kong expanded. Both were notorious for their miserly habits, and even went to lavish banquets with Tupperware containers so they could take home the leftovers. Nina was also quite eccentric and walked around Hong Kong in plaid miniskirts and pigtails dyed electric blue. She reportedly lived on a salary of $400 a month and ate regularly at McDonalds even though she was the richest woman in Hong Kong. Teddy Wang was too cheap to pay for bodyguards, which is why he was kidnapped by Taiwanese gangsters in 1983. When Nina was released, she paid a ransom of $11 million, but Teddy berated her for not bargaining down the price. In his 1990 kidnapping, she only paid half of the $60 million requested ransom, and Teddy was never seen again. Instead, the kidnappers took him out on a sampan and “dumped him, gagged and bound, into the sea” (Donovan 2002).
Nina Wang took over Chinachem after Teddy’s disappearance and became its chief executive officially when he was declared legally dead in 1999. In the court battles over his estate, only the 1960 will that divided everything equally between Nina and her father-in-law Wang Din-shin was uncontested. Wang also produced a 1968 will which made him the soul heir, and claimed that Teddy had cut her out because she had had an affair with a warehouse manager. Nina countered that Wang Din-shin “smoked opium and had a mistress,” while Teddy had also cheated on her, and that pictures of various ladies were found in his safe deposit box after his 1990 kidnapping (Donovan 2002). She claimed that they had later reconciled and produced a 1990 will that left the entire estate to her. In November 2002, the High Court of Hong Kong ruled found this will to be a forgery and upheld Wang’s claims, but the Court of Final Appeal reversed this decision in 2005 and warded the entire estate to Nina (Fishkind 2011). By this time, though, she was terminally ill with ovarian cancer and died two years later, which led to more court battles over the estate and more charges of forgery, in this case against the self-described fenshui guru Tony Can Chun-choen (Tony Chan).
Nina met Tony Chan, a former bartender, in 1990 when he was hired to help locate her husband through fengshui. As they became lovers, the couple “dug over 80 feng shui holes on Chinachem properties all over the city to bury gems and truckloads of cash worth millions” (Fishkind 2011). Chan had little money of his own before he met her, but “lived the life of a kept man” afterwards, in a $30 million house and running his own property development company. In court, he argued that all this money was simply for “feng shui massages and other such services, and commercial investments in his company” (Fishkind 2011). When Nina was dying of cancer, he also manipulated her by “pretending he could magically extend her life with his secret rituals and supernatural powers” (Burnham 2011, Chapter 17).
The Chinachem Charitable Foundation had a 2002 will whose validity was never disputed in which Nina Wang left all her many to charity. Included in this will were “plans for an Asian version of the Nobel Prize and a range of other charitable works, the funds being administered by the UN secretary general, the Chinese government, and the chief executive of Hong Kong’s administration” (Blackman, 2008, p. 178). Chinachem’s lawyers asserted that if the 2006 will was valid at all, she had only made it for “fengshui purposes so that she would receive eternal life” (Fishkind 2011). In any event, after a very careful examination, the Hong Kong probate court ruled in 2010 that the signature of the Feng Shui Will was a forgery and awarded her estate to the Charitable Foundation. Tony Chan was later arrested on suspicion of fraud and forgery, and the evidence indicates that he was simply a fraudster and con artist rather than some type of fengshui guru with great spiritual powers.
Blackman, M. (2008). Asia Future Shock: Business Crisis and Opportunity in the Coming Years. Palgrave Macmillan.
Bruun, O. (2003). Fengshui in China: Geomantic Divination between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.
Burnham, S. (2011). The Art of Intuition: Cultivating Your Inner Wisdom. Penguin.
Donavan, D. (2002). “Wang’s Legacy: Sex, Lies and Litigation.” Forbes.com, November 22, 2002.
Fishkind, R.K. (2011). Probate Wars of the Rich and Famous: An Insider’s Guide to Estate Planning. John Wiley & Sons.
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