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January 28, 2009

Inspiring lives

Yesterday driving to Tenby I listened fascinated to an interview with a Mr Jimmy Li, a Hong Kong based businessman talking about his life and the secret of his success. It was fascinating, because Mr Li was born in Canton in China about the same year that I was born in Cape Town - and into a very different society. His family was well off, but then came Chairman Mao and the Communists and Jimmy and his sisters ended up looking after themselves when he was aged about 9 because the Communists had decided that his father, a businessman, was an enemy of the state and gave him an option - leave or go to a Labour Camp. Then they decided that the childrens' mother needed "re-education" and sent her to a Labour Camp leaving the children at home to fend for themselves. Jimmy did this by finding a job at the railway station carrying bags, sweeping platforms and running errands. Some days they ate, some days they didn't.

I was moved almost to tears as I listened to him explaining that as "children of anamies of the people" they were pariahs and therefore not entitled to state aid, but that their impoverished neighbours shared everything when they had anything to share, and so Jimmy and his two sisters survived until their mother returned. At the age of 11 he decided that he was going to go to Hong Kong to seek his father or his fortune, but his mother refused to allow this until he was twelve, so at that tender age he left home and found his way, smuggled in the bottom of a small fishing smack with several dozen others, into Hong Kong. His first job was sweeping up the scraps in a factory, a job he did so diligently that the factory manager soon promoted him. But I cannot describe the feeling I got when I heard him describe his first morning at work. Arriving at six AM the manager looked at him and asked, "Have you eaten breakfast?" When he said no, he was handed HK$10 and told to go and eat. It was more money than he had ever seen at one time and he was almost unable to decide what he should buy with it because he had never seen so much food so readily available!

He worked hard and by the time he was twenty-one had paid off the "loan" from a relative that had paid for his being smuggled into Hong Kong and started polaying the stock market with HK$7,000 he had earned as a bonus and a further HK$3,000 from a friend. A year later they were both on their way to making their first HK$1 million and five years later owned their own factory. When they split up, Jimmy went on to open a chain of factories and moved his mother and sister into HK. He even opened factories in China itself - but then came Tianamin Square and Jimmy Li began a one man campaign through the media he now owned to attack the Chinese government. They retaliated and he was given an option - sell all his China based factories and retail business to their appointee or loose the lot. Three days later he had sold for a song - but now he really went for them. His media business is now based in Taiwan and elsewhere in the Far East. He has holdings in Europe and he has a fondness for the British and the colonial days in Hong kong.

Near the end of the interview he was asked why and his words went write through me.

"Because under the Western Colonial Rule we were given freedom. You cannot know what that means unless you have never had it. IN China there was no freedom and still is no freedom, but under the British we had freedom."

He also made a statement that really made me sit up and think. It was almost a throw away remark, but it is still amazing. He said, that in Hong Kong, there was no envy of someone else's wealth or good fortune, everyone knew that if you wanted it, all you had to do was work harder. Coming from a man who has taught himself to play the stock market, taught himself journalism, taught himself business management and taught himself to master English to the extent that he has an eloquence that is astonishing in someone who left school aged 9, I was dumbfounded. In just a few words he summed up what is most deeply wrong with our present society - it is founded on envy and greed - no wonder we are in deep trouble! When a man like Jimmy Li can walk in a street in the crowded old city of Hong Kong and see the wealthy drive past in a Rolls Royce or a Bentley and simply tell himself "One day I will own a car like that!" then you know you have met something or someone remarkable.

Jimmy Li, if you should be any chance stumble across this blog - I'd like to take my hat off to you, sir and shake your hand. You deserve everything you have!

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 28, 2009 07:33 AM

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