The 76 years old John Hung is a common sight at the FCC for those – like the writer of this review – who had made it their second home. He is tall and in still in good shape, perhaps because of his past as an athlete. I was aware about his brush with the Law but I did not know about a book he wrote while he was kept at Stanley Prison. Then, few days ago, while browsing in Bookazine I spotted this book: ‘Master of None. How a Hong Kong High-flyer overcame the devastating experience of imprisonment’ published by Blacksmith Books in 2011 I bought it and then I read in two days. In fact it is one of those books which are hard to put down once you start reading them. It is written in flawless English and it is full of fun and life, with no bitterness and anger for the 16 months spent behind bars and mixed with common criminals. He maintains to this day thahe was imprisoned in a brutal manner as an innocent man, and going through his pages the reader will be convinced of his innocence, even if his Appeal on 19 May 2010 was dismissed in only 12 minutes.
Hung knows better than anyone that life can change dramatically for the worse in an instant, so now he makes the most of every day. The news of his guilty verdict, in a bribery case, had rocked Hong Kong society and destroyed his brilliant career. Hung declared in an interview:
‘There is no future in history,’ he said. ‘Looking forward is my only option.’ During his incarceration, he wrote this book about his life, a book which offers an insight into one of the city’s most recognisable taipans.
With Chinese and Scottish ancestry, Hung’s family – their real surname should be Hunt but they had it sinicized – is part of the history of Hong Kong. Hung joined Wharf Holdings in 1967, after being brought into the company by his stepfather M.C. Hung, and then he became the third generation of his family to work for the property, media and communications group. By the time he retired in 2002, his family’s association with Wharf was 90 years old.
Hung held various senior positions, including managing director of real estate group Wheelock and Company and executive director of Wharf. It would be hard to find a businessman in the city with an equally impressive cursus honorum. At the height of his fortune, he was under immense pressure, and it was not unusual for him to attend five business lunches and five business dinners a week, washing down the food with alcool.
He had been a sportsman, he played cricket for Hong Kong, was captain of the Singapore Cricket Club and was once a talented high jumper. He was then elected to be chairman of the Sports Development Board and president of the Hong Kong Cricket Club for 11 years. He was made a fellow of the Hong Kong Management Association, awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star and appointed a Justice of the Peace. He was also chairman of the China Coast Community and the Enlighten Action for Epilepsy charities.
Hung was charged with, but pleaded not guilty to, one count of soliciting an advantage and three of accepting an advantage totalling HK$450,000 from a middleman, Joseph Loong Shun-ming, in October 2006, as a reward for helping racing member Joanne Wong Pui to become a full Jockey Club member. Hung, who was a voting member of the Jockey Club, contended the money was not connected to Wong’s membership bid and was a loan from Loong, whom he described as a friend. However, Deputy Judge Anthony Kwok Kai-on said it would be an astonishing coincidence if the two assertions were not connected, and Hung was found guilty. A later appeal failed. He was jailed for two years in July 2009 for bribery and served 16 months in Stanley Prison but before that his loss of face and legal expenses had drained his finances. Prison gave Hung a chance to put his life in perspective, and he gradually began to see that things could be worse, he lost 17 kilos, no alcool, no internet and the simple life did good to his body. His home was a two-by-three-metre cell, and his bed, bolted to the floor, was not big enough for him. Inside was also a toilet with an attached wash basin, both made of stainless steel. In the summer months, the temperature in the cell would typically rise to 37 degrees. There were no fans, and ventilation was poor. He would go through two T-shirts a night, each drenched with sweat. If he did sleep, it was because he was exhausted. During his prison term, the irony of it all was not lost on him. As a Justice of the Peace, he had visited Stanley and most of Hong Kong’s other correctional facilities for many years. But when a Justice of the Peace is actually one of the prisoners, it no doubt elicited some interest.
‘Just before one Justice of the Peace visit, the officers told us that we had the right to raise a complaint with him,’ Hung said. ‘A lone voice from our group said: ‘There’s no need. We have our own Justice of the Peace in here!’ The officers did share in the laughter.’ And he adds: ‘Before I went to prison, I only focused on those in the upper echelons of Hong Kong society. That was wrong,’ he said. ‘Many of the people I met in prison came from such humble backgrounds that prison life was actually better than the one they had on the outside. Some would say on their release, ‘Keep my room for me’ because they knew they’d be back.’
His conviction meant he could no longer serve on any listed boards; he was disqualified from practice in most professional capacities; it created problems for travelling to certain countries; and he was suddenly persona non grata in the most highly respected clubs and institutions in the city. Even today he refuses to live on his past glories, and accepts that people of his generation do not retire, they just keep going – there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
‘I will not try to hide the fact I’ve been a prisoner, but I know I can still be successful. With a lot of fight and determination, I can claw my way back,’ he said. He is a great man and a great writer.
John Hung Master of None Blacksmith Books, 2011. ISBN 978-988-19002-7-2