Growing up in turbulent times

Li is definitely not nouveau riche. One of the reasons he is respected and loved by the people, especially the Chinese, is his inspirational self-made success despite the turbulent times he was born in, and his humility and generosity despite his massive wealth.

On July 7, 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out. In 1938, the Japanese bombed Chaozhou, Guangdong, the birthplace of Li. The following June, the then 12-year-old Li and his parents and two siblings fled their homeland. They arrived in Hong Kong and sought refuge with their relatives (Li’s uncle).

At that time, Hong Kong was under the Japanese occupation. The Li family faced a hard life in Hong Kong as the economy had collapsed under the Japanese occupation. In 1942, Li’s mother returned to Chaozhou with his younger brother and sister, while Li and his father stayed in Hong Kong to make a living

Like a sad and tragic tale, Li’s overworked father soon developed tuberculosis, considered as devastating as cancer today.

“Watching movies was very cheap at that time, but i needed to save every penny. My father had tuberculosis and was hospitalised at the beginning of the Japanese occupation. The hospital fee was not much, but you had to pay for the medicine.

“Because of my father’s tuberculosis, I got some old books on treating tuberculosis and taking care of tuberculosis patients. It would have been better if I hadn’t bought those books. I was only 13 and the books scared me to death as I had all the symptoms,” Li recalled.

The young Li suffered a milder bout but overcame it, thanks to the knowledge gleaned from the books, which suggested ways to overcome tuberculosis through a change in dietary and lifestyle habits. Unfortunately, Li’s father was already at the severe stage and with scant medical treatment, he passed away in 1943. Li was only 14.

“The day before my father died, instead of saying something to me, he asked if I had anything to say to him. It was truly very sad. But I comforted him and confidently told him, ‘Our family will have a good life’.” 

Extracted from Li Ka Shing by Kanyin Publications