Sir David Tang’s friends have called him one of London’s best-connected men. His circle of pals comprises, to name just a few, the Queen, Paul McCartney, Victoria Beckham and Chris Patten.
The 62 year-old has very good guanxi in China too. In 1983 Tang became Peking University’s first professor from Hong Kong and many of his students went on to serve as senior officials in the Chinese government. In 1991 he opened the China Club, a Hong Kong hotspot in the penthouse of the former headquarters of the Bank of China, and five years later he launched a venue of the same name in Beijing, flying in the Duchess of York, Kevin Costner and Michael Caine for its opening night.
According to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, the China Club was one of the four most prestigious private clubs in the Chinese capital – the others being the Chang’an Club (which targets government officials and executives from state firms), the Capital Club (dubbed “the number one clubhouse for Chinese tycoons”) and the American Club Beijing (which counts as members top international executives from multinationals).
But sadly for Tang – who also created the clothing brand and retailer Shanghai Tang – exclusive clubs have fallen on hard times in the country. And the popular WeChat-based tabloid Chainar (which translates as “where to demolish” in Chinese) has reported that the China Club has been quietly closed down.
What’s happened? Chinese Xi Jinping’s austerity campaign has made the conviviality of clubs like these a lot less desirable. Demand has been dropping. Twenty years ago, members had to cough up $20,000 to join plus a $1,500 annual fee. But Chainar reports that the China Club was even offering “one-off temporary memberships” (at $25 each) if non-members wanted dinner.
Apple Daily reports that the club effectively halted its operations a year ago. Now it has auctioned off its furniture and the site is being leased to unidentified entities for “commercial use”.
No one is quite sure what the premises will become. The venue was built in the seventeenth century as a mansion for one of the many sons of Emperor Kangxi. After 1949 it was converted into a state-owned restaurant serving Sichuanese food. Legend has it that it was one of Deng Xiaoping’s favourites and a place where he formed much of his thinking on China’s brand of socialism. Tang milked the myth, naming one of the private dining areas the “Cat Room” after Deng’s famous maxim, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice”.
“This palace used to house prominent men of their time: the princes, the bankers, the revolutionaries and the elites. People come and people go. Now the doors are closed and we can only see curtains,” Chainar said.
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