Tsang Tsou Choi
Tsang at age 78
12 November 1921|
Liantang, Guangdong, Republic of China
|Died||15 July 2007
Kowloon Hospital, Hong Kong
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Spouse(s)||Man Fok-choi (b. 1936)|
|Children||8, 3 deceased|
Tsang was born in Liantang Village (蓮塘村), Zhaoqing, Guangdong, China. He travelled to Hong Kong at the age of 16, he was a poor worker and was barely literate. He began to mark the streets of Hong Kong with his distinctive graffiti at the age of 35. He claimed that he had studied his ancestral tree and discovered that most of the land of Kowloon belonged to his ancestors. He said that Kowloon belonged to his grandfather. There are no records to back up Tsang's claim.
He was arrested for his graffiti several times, but the police usually just gave him a warning or a small fine. His family disowned him, saying he was mentally unbalanced and a public nuisance and his wife had grown tired of his obsession and left him.
Although his graffiti was repeatedly painted over, he often returned to re-apply his messages as soon as the paint dried. At the height of his graffiti career, his obsessive marking of territory made his graffiti an ever-present aspect of the streets of Hong Kong. The graffiti has been spotted at many places on the streets of Hong Kong, ranging from lampposts, utility boxes, pillars, pavements, street furniture, and building walls, to an occasional car. The contents of his calligraphic graffiti usually include his name, his title (Emperor or King of Kowloon, Hong Kong, or China), his family tree (a variable list of about 20 individuals), the names of illustrious emperors, and the exclamation, "Down with the Queen of England!" His complaints about the supposed misappropriation of his land were not always so formulaic, however. He occasionally demanded that the government pay him land taxes.
A Hong Kong magazine named him one of the city's ten least influential people. However, this supposed lack of influence does not extend to the art world. His typography has inspired many fashion designers, art directors, interior decorators, and CD cover artists. His style has also informed the work of traditional artists, such as Oscar Ho. He appeared in a commercial for Swipe cleaner, in which he cleans away his permanent ink graffiti, proclaiming the product's effectiveness to Hong Kong consumers.
During his last years, he lived in a retirement home, and no longer wrote on walls. However, his poor health did not entirely halt his calligraphic efforts. He continued his work on paper, household linens, and other mundane items. He also told visitors that he should have been elected chief executive of Hong Kong, instead of Donald Tsang, that "impostor".
He received international recognition for his work. Photographs of his work have toured in shows, such as "Power of the Word", which began its US tour at Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery on 6 October 2000. In 2003, he was included in the Venice Biennale. His first major commercial recognition came when Sotheby's auctioned a board, painted by Tsang, for HK$55,000 (USD $7,050) on 31 October 2004.
He died on 15 July 2007 following a heart attack in Hong Kong. He was 85. Art critic Lau Kin-wai said Tsang spent his final days at an elderly home surrounded by family members. He also said that Tsang's last wish was for another exhibition of his work.
In 2011, Hong Kong curator Chung Yin Chai Joel curated the exhibition "Memories of King Kowloon" at Artistree, Taikoo Place. The exhibition exhibited many of Tsang's handwritten works and his belongs. Some of his work has been acquired by the M+ museum in West Kowloon.
When news of his death became known, many people went to take pictures of his work, especially the one in Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier (because of the convenience of the location), which was later sprayed with a clear protective layer. Many worried that the government would 'clean up' his remaining public artwork. The Hong Kong authorities promised this would not happen and undertook to analyse ways of preserving his works. However, in 2009 there were protests and questions in Legco regarding the apparent failure of the government to prevent the removal and overpainting of much of his legacy. The Home Affairs Bureau maintained the government's commitment to protecting Tsang's works "depending on the actual situation and feasibility".
- 关于“九龙皇帝”的集体回忆, time-weekly.com, 5 May 2011 (Chinese)
- Colors Magazine, Issue 65 at the Wayback Machine (archived 13 April 2009)
- Asia Week at the Wayback Machine (archived 1 November 2007), 14 August 1998
- The Standard, 26 July 2007
- Clarke, David (2000). "The Culture of a Border Within: Hong Kong Art and China." Art Journal 59.2: 88–101.
- (Chinese) 【香港廣告】SWIPE 藍威寶 九龍皇帝 曾灶財 30sec on YouTube
- "Calligraphy coins it", Taipei Times, 2 November 2004
- "Who is the King of Kowloon? ArtisTree exhibition pays tribute to artist and eccentric Tsang Tsou-choi", Art Radar Asia, 4 May 2011
- Chow, Vivienne (4 May 2013). "M+ chief Lars Nittve vows museum won't steer clear of politics". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
- (Chinese) Public taking pictures at Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 March 2008) Retrieved on 3 August 2007. (archive)
- Press release: "Mr Tsang Tsou-choi's works", 1 April 2009
- Press release: "Mr Tsang Tsou-choi's ink writing", 13 January 2010
- (Chinese) Government promised to leave artwork as it is Retrieved 3 August 2007.
- Fung, Fanny W. Y. (1 April 2009). "Decay of King of Kowloon's art draws ire". SCMP. Retrieved 1 April 2009.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tsang Tsou Choi.|
- A picture of Tsang with his work at the Wayback Machine (archived 10 November 2006)
- Pictures and description of Tsang on Universes in Universe – Worlds of Art website
- Photos of university students meeting the Kowloon Emperor in 2003 at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 February 2009)
- An audio slideshow about his life and work on YouTube
- Hong Kong Graffiti and Street Art. 香港塗鴉與街頭藝術.