John Tsang

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The Honourable
John C Tsang
John Tsang 2016 5 cut.jpg
Financial Secretary of Hong Kong
In office
1 July 2007 – 16 January 2017
Chief Executive Donald Tsang
Leung Chun-ying
Preceded by Henry Tang
Succeeded by Paul Chan
Director of the Chief Executive's Office
In office
24 January 2006 – 30 June 2007
Chief Executive Donald Tsang
Preceded by Lam Woon-kwong
Succeeded by Norman Chan
Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology
In office
4 August 2003 – 24 January 2006
Preceded by Henry Tang
Succeeded by Joseph Wong
Personal details
Born (1951-04-21) 21 April 1951 (age 65)
Hong Kong
Nationality American (until 1998)
Hong Kong Chinese
Spouse(s) Lynn Tsang
Children Terence
Alma mater La Salle College
Stuyvesant High School
MIT School of Architecture and Planning
Boston State College
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Religion Roman Catholicism
John Tsang
Traditional Chinese 曾俊華
Simplified Chinese 曾俊华

John Tsang Chun-wah, GBM, JP (Chinese: 曾俊華; born 21 April 1951) is a Hong Kong senior civil servant and government official who was the longest-serving Financial Secretary in the SAR period.

Born in Hong Kong and raised and educated in the United States, Tsang worked in the Hong Kong government for more than thirty years. He was the private secretary to the last colonial governor Chris Patten and was promoted to Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology in 2003.[1] He worked as director of the Office of the Chief Executive under Donald Tsang administration from 2006 to 2007.

In July 2007, he was appointed Financial Secretary by Donald Tsang. He proposed the Scheme $6,000 tax rebate to all Hong Kong residents in his 2011 Budget. He continued to serve in the Leung Chun-ying administration until January 2017, when he resigned in order to run in the 2017 Chief Executive election.

Early life and education[edit]

Tsang's great grandfather was from Taishan, Guangdong. He made his fortune as a labourer in San Francisco. His grandfather was a well-off Chinese physician-turned-businessman. His father, Tsang Chuek-ho, was the eldest child of eight siblings. Graduated from normal schools, Tsang Chuek-ho and his wife planned to move to the United States, where his sister was living, through Hong Kong in the 1940s.

While waiting for the immigration process, the family settled in Hong Kong and had four children. Tsang Cheuk-ho and his children adapted the surname Mui when he was adopted by a relative in Hong Kong; they reverted to their original surname after emigrating to the United States.[2] John Tsang, the eldest child, was born as Mui Chun-wah in Hong Kong on 21 April 1951 and lived in Sai Yeung Choi Street in his childhood.[2][3]

Tsang was a primary and secondary school student at La Salle College in Hong Kong. In 1965 when he was 13, Tsang and his family moved to the United States. He first resided on the 8th Street in Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York City. He was enrolled to the Stuyvesant High School in the following year, from which he graduated in 1969.[4][5] Eric Holder, the first African-American Attorney General of the United States, was his classmate. During his early life in the United States, he was involved in defend the Diaoyu Islands movement in the early 1970s.

He then studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[4] He also holds a master's degree in bilingual education from Boston State College and a MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[4]

Civil service career[edit]

Through his teens and twenties, Tsang lived in the United States and worked as an architect. In November 1982 he returned to Hong Kong after working with the Boston Public Schools Board as a special advisor, at the midst of the Sino-British negotiation over Hong Kong sovereignty, and joined the civil service under the encouragement of Donald Tsang, with whom he became friends when they were at Harvard together.[6] He started his civil service as an Administrative Officer, in which first position was a two-year stint as Assistant District Officer for Shatin, serving under Donald Tsang, the District Officer.[7] He went on to positions in the former Finance Branch, Monetary Affairs Branch and the former Trade Department. From 1987 to 1992, he was first Administrative Assistant to then Financial Secretary, Sir Piers Jacobs.[5]

He was Assistant Director-General of Trade from 1992 to 1995 and Private Secretary to the Governor, Chris Patten, from March 1995 to June 1997.[5] In July 1997, Tsang was appointed Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London. In 1999 he returned from London and assumed the office of Commissioner of Customs and Excise, appointed by then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.[5] Tsang was Secretary for Planning and Lands from 2001 to 2002.[1] After the Principal Officials Accountability System was introduced in July 2002, his title was changed to the Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands (Planning and Lands), Permanent Secretary having become the highest ranking in the Hong Kong Civil Service.

From August 2003 Tsang was Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology.[1] In this role he was also Chair of the Sixth Ministerial Conference (MC6) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held in Hong Kong from 13 to 18 December 2005.[6] For his outstanding performance in the WTO, he even earned praise from Chinese President Hu Jintao.[6]

Tsang then became the director of the Office of the Chief Executive, working directly for his friend Donald Tsang. He held the post from 2006 to June 2007.[6]

Financial Secretary[edit]

Tsang in 2010.

In 2007 Tsang became Financial Secretary of Hong Kong when Donald Tsang began his second term. In 2012 he was re-appointed as the territory's financial chief by Leung Chun-ying.[4] Although Hong Kong's economy generally grew at a stably under Tsang and the government recorded surpluses every year, Tsang was criticised for his drastic miscalculations of the government surpluses and his fiscal conservative philosophy.[8]

After seven consecutive years of budget surplus, Tsang's 2011 annual budget came under heavy fire from the Legislative Council.[9] His original proposal of putting HK$6,000 directly into workers' Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) accounts was condemned. About 10,000 protesters showed up at Central to demonstrate. The mismanagement of the funds opened a number of controversies.[10] Tsang eventually backed down and carried out the Scheme $6,000, to give HK$6,000 cash handout all adult holders of a Hong Kong permanent identity card. In the same budget, Tsang also initiated iBond, a Hong Kong dollar retail inflation-indexed bond to further develop the local bonds market, attracting 155,835 applications in 2011, which rose to 525,359 by 2013.[11]

In January 2011 the government's IT chief information officer Jeremy Godfrey stepped down from his job for "personal reasons". On 10, May 2011 in a letter to the Legislative Council, he said those personal reasons were not real, and that the real reason he quit was related to Permanent Secretary for Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Elizabeth Tse and John Tsang.[12] It turns out there were arguments over the implementation of the Internet Learning Support Program (ILSP). It was revealed that Tse and Tsang forced the HK$220 million contract to be awarded to a company called Internet Professional Association (iProA). The company turned out to be founded by Elizabeth Quat, a member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).[13] Tsang responded that the accusations were ridiculous and absurd.[13] Godfrey then stated that Quat herself had nothing to do with the ILSP controversy,[14] but said the IT decision was politicised.[13]

In the 2013 budget, Tsang said he understood the people's concern as himself was also a middle class. By supporting his claim, he said that the middle class are those who drink coffee and like French films. He was ridiculed by the public for the remarks, as he earned a basic monthly salary of HK$302,205 and lived in a luxury government residence.[15]

On 7 December 2013, Tsang was hit on the head by an egg thrown by a League of Social Democrats (LSD) protester Derek Chan Tak-cheung when he attended a government forum. Tsang joked about the incident, saying that a doctor had advised him not to eat too many eggs. "Luckily I'm not wearing a good suit today. I appear to have foreseen the incident."[16]

To distance himself from the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying who took the hardline stance against localism in Hong Kong, Tsang expressed his affection for local culture, especially showing his support to the Hong Kong national football team against China during the World Cup football qualifiers. He also wrote in his blog that localism could become a "strong and constructive force" that binds society together. His popularity rating had been over 60 out of 100 in 2015 and 2016, according to tracking polls by the University of Hong Kong public opinion programme, being the most popular principal official in the government.[8]

Tsang resigned as Financial Secretary on 12 December after months long speculation of him running in the 2017 Chief Executive election in which he had topped the opinion polls against incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.[17] His resignation was approved by Beijing's central authorities on 16 January 2017, the same day on which his rival Carrie Lam left her office of Chief Secretary for Administration. The unusual month-long gap between his resignation and Beijing's approval has caused critics to speculate Beijing's reluctance to allow him to join the race.[18]

2017 Chief Executive bid[edit]

John Tsang officially declared his Chief Executive candidacy on 19 January 2017.

John Tsang officially declared his candidacy on 19 January with a slogan of "Trust, Unity, Hope", after more than a month-long pending of his resignation by the central government which put his campaign in limbo. There were reports that central government officials had given "red light" to John Tsang running in the election and had allegedly asked John Tsang not to run for more than ten times, including rumours of him being offered the deputy governor post at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in return for not joining the race. Tsang refuted such claims, only saying that there were "friends" who supported him and some who did not.[19] He described himself as a good listener and accept different views, appealing to "all 7.35 million Hongkongers so that together we can make Hong Kong a better place." Retired senior civil servant Rebecca Lai Ko Wing-yee, former Permanent Secretary for the Civil Service, became director of Tsang's campaign office. Former Permanent Secretary for Food and Health Sandra Lee Suk-yee was also part of his campaign team, despite a number of his supporters switching to Lam’s camp amid reports suggesting he failed to get endorsement from Beijing.[20] Tsang also launched his election Facebook page, which drew more than 100,000 likes in a day.

After days of candidates meeting members of the Election Committee from different sectors to canvass at least 150 nominations to enter the race, despite topping in the polls, John Tsang was speculated securing less than 100 nominations. Tsang refused to reveal the number of nominations he had secured, stating "[t]here is no reason for me to believe that the central government does not trust me," as pro-Beijing electors felt pressured to nominate him amid the speculation that he was not Beijing's preferred candidate, while his archrival former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam who was speculated as Beijing's choice, was endorsed by many pro-Beijing heavyweights.[21] In a TV interview, Tsang revealed that an unexpected handshake from President Xi Jinping in Beijing in June 2015, which was speculated as a sign of endorsement, was one of his reasons to run for the Chief Executive.[22]

On 3 February, John Tsang launched a crowdfunding website. The website went down within minutes due to overloading. The public responded actively, with more than one million Hong Kong dollars were raised in just few hours.[23] John Tsang unveiled his 75-page election platform entitled "Convergence of Hearts, Proactive Enablement" on 6 February, with the promise of revisiting the possibility of the Article 23 national security legislation with the possibility of relaunching political reform without mentioning the "831 framework". Other policies included introducing a progressive profit tax, developing New Territories North and East Lantau and abolishing all Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) and Basic Competency Assessment (BCA) tests, among others.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Tsang is married to Lynn Tsang (曾黃蓮華; née Wong) who he met as a nurse while doing volunteer work in the United States in 1975.[25][26] The couple has a son Terence Tiu-lung (雕龍; literally "carving of dragons") and a daughter Prudence Man-sum (文心; literally "literary mind"); the combination of the siblings' names alludes to The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, a Chinese classic on literary aesthetics. The family remained a low profile despite Tsang's senior political position.

Tsang is a Roman Catholic and a martial arts and fencing enthusiast. He learned Hung Kuen with martial arts master Kwong Tit-fu during his life in the United States and got to know Tai Chi master Bow-sim Mark and her son Donnie Yen.[27] He has been voluntarily coaching the fencing team of his alma mater La Salle College since 1985, Sammy Leung was among his students.[28] He also cameoed as a fencing coach in a government's tourism promotion video. He is also nicknamed "Mr Potato Chips" and "Uncle Pringles" for a mustache similar to one worn by a character on a potato crisp brand's packaging.[17] He has a pet dog Shiba Inu named Oliver, in which he gave to his daughter as a Christmas present in 2008. Oliver is often featured in Tsang's greeting cards.

In 2009, Tsang suffered a health scare on his return from a G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. On 27 September he was admitted to Queen Mary Hospital with a coronary artery blockage and underwent an angioplasty operation. He recovered and was discharged from hospital on 3 October, assuring the media that the operation would not affect his work.[29][30][31]


  1. ^ a b c "Three HK officials named to new posts". Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "【特首跑馬仔】曾俊華原名「梅俊華」?! 原來有段古" [[Chief Executive Race] John Tsang's Original Name is "Mui Chun-wah"?! There is a Story Behind it.]. Ming Pao (in Chinese). 19 January 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2017. 
  3. ^ Tsang, John (10 April 2016). "奇遇" [Adventure]. Financial Secretary's Office (in Chinese). 
  4. ^ a b c d "Mr John Tsang Chun-wah, GBM, JP, Financial Secretary". GovHK. Archived from the original on 4 May 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department – Issue 6 (1999 June)". Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d "John Tsang will get WTO reward with new posting". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "Civil Service Newsletter Issue 60". Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "The remaking of financial chief John Tsang into 'local Hong Kong boy'". South China Morning Post. 12 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "" Legco finance committee to scrutinize the 2011–12 budget next week. Retrieved on 27 March 2011.
  10. ^ "HK Citizens Protest Against Government's $6000 Giveaway | AX3 | Global Asian Lifestyle + Pop Culture Webzine". 6 March 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  11. ^ "Record iBond subscription means many Hong Kong investors will face allocation limit". South China Morning Post. 5 August 2015. 
  12. ^ "Former top official warned in net row". The Standard. Hong Kong. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c "Whistle-blower tells of HK$220m deal pressure". South China Morning Post. Hong Kong. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Godfrey, Jeremy. "ILSP selection: No complaint about Elizabeth Quat". Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  15. ^ "Bitter Starbucks lesson for Hong Kong". Market Watch. 3 March 2013. 
  16. ^ "Finance chief John Tsang comes out of his shell at 'egg-throwing' trial". South China Morning Post. 7 November 2014. 
  17. ^ a b "Hong Kong financial secretary resigns, expected to seek top job". Reuters. 12 December 2016. 
  18. ^ "John Tsang remains coy about entering CE race, despite Beijing's nod to him and Carrie Lam". South China Morning Post. 16 January 2017. 
  19. ^ "Unity trust hope - Tsang enters CE race with three-word message to fix 'torn-apart' HK". The Standard. 20 January 2017. 
  20. ^ "John Tsang to officially announce chief executive bid despite no clear nod from Beijing". South China Morning Post. 19 January 2017. 
  21. ^ "No reason for Beijing to mistrust me, Hong Kong leadership contender John Tsang says, as he takes aim at arch-rival". South China Morning Post. 26 January 2017. 
  22. ^ "Handshake with Chinese president Xi Jinping among reasons John Tsang decided to run for Hong Kong leadership". South China Morning Post. 3 February 2017. 
  23. ^ "Chief executive hopeful John Tsang launches crowdfunding website". South China Morning Post. 3 February 2017. 
  24. ^ "John Tsang walks thin line as he promises both political reform and revisiting of Article 23 in election manifesto". South China Morning Post. 6 February 2017. 
  25. ^ "Registration of Financial and Other Interests". Office of Financial Secretary. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 December 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  26. ^ "John Tsang praises wife's quick thinking after heart attack". South China Morning Post. 5 October 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  27. ^ "曾俊華少時習拳 跟甄子丹「因武結緣」". Hong Kong Headline. 29 January 2009. 
  28. ^ "「幾打得」曾俊華劍擊學打逆境波 森美:Keep Running". 20 January 2017. 
  29. ^ "Statement by Government Spokesman Issued at HKT 01:11". Press Releases. 28 September 2009. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2009. 
  30. ^ "John Tsang recovers, leaves hospital". Information Services Department, HKSAR. 3 October 2009. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2009. 
  31. ^ 財政司司長會見傳媒談話內容(只有中文)(附短片). 香港特區政府新聞公報 (in Chinese). 3 October 2009. Archived from the original on 4 October 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2009. 

External links[edit]

Civic offices
Preceded by
Li Shu-fai
Commissioner of Customs and Excise
Succeeded by
Raymond Wong
Government offices
Preceded by
Gordon Siu
Secretary for Planning and Lands
Succeeded by
Michael Suen
as Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands
New office Permanent Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands (Planning and Lands)
Succeeded by
Carrie Lam
Preceded by
Lam Woon-kwong
Director of the Chief Executive's Office
Succeeded by
Norman Chan
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Tang
Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology
Succeeded by
Joseph Wong
Financial Secretary of Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Paul Chan
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Joseph Yam
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal
Hong Kong order of precedence
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal
Succeeded by
Ronald Arculli
Recipient of the Grand Bauhinia Medal