Main content start
decoration image
LI Ka Shing




LI Ka Shing

Doctor of Laws
honoris causa

Our world is full of barbarians. The ancient Greeks regarded non-Greeks as barbarian because, according to Strabo, all foreign languages sounded to a Greek ear like "bar bar bar". The Chinese have commonly regarded foreigners in a similar way. And the English have certainly regarded many peoples as barbarian, even, Mr Chancellor, the Welsh nation.

1200 years ago, in the Tang dynasty, the poet and essayist, Han Yu, was banished to the barbarian south of China, as it was perceived, to Chiu Chau Fu, where he set himself, as one historian has it, "to civilise the rude inhabitants of those wild parts".

Mr Chancellor, in truth civilisation is not something uniform, not something that can be imposed; it is rather something that is created, developed, adopted by a people in its own way, through its own arts and crafts, its own forms of literature and social organisation, and its own institutions of education.

Before you today, in this seventy-fifth anniversary year of our University, stands Li Ka Shing, who himself originates from those so-called "wild parts" of Chiu Chau Fu. And we wish to honour him this evening for many achievements, not least for his contribution to the creation of a University in his own place of origin.

Mr Li's ancestors, like so many others, migrated south from Central China, away from other barbarians who were flooding in. His father, Li Wan King, was a primary school headmaster. But in 1940 came another invasion, that of the Japanese, and the family escaped to Hong Kong, where the young Li Ka Shing continued his education. But after one year his father became ill and the limited range of Japanese medicines available failed to cure him. He died in 1941, and as a result Li Ka Shing had to stop his schooling at the age of fifteen and find work in order to support his mother, and his three brothers and sisters.

He took a job in a factory, working very long hours. His talent and hard work took him from a position as salesman to that of managing director of the company before the age of twenty. In 1950, with his accumulated savings, he established a factory in rented premises of less than 1,000 square feet, with an office in the loft, to manufacture plastic products, recognising the international potential of the market. In due course, his company became the biggest manufacturer of plastic flowers in the world.

The name he chose for his enterprise was Cheung Kong (long river) a name for the Yang Tse. And he tells us this reason for the choice of name: "The long river welcomes all tributaries, that is, its greatness depends upon the help of many small streams".

In short, Mr Chancellor, from the beginning, Mr Li's motives were good filial ones, and his business style, however sharp and astute, was cooperative rather than exploitative, entrepreneurial but not ruthless. In commercial and financial circles, his reputation for straight dealing is legendary.

In 1958, Mr Li first turned to the property market. Since then, a combination of discretion and audacity, lightning decision-making and prudence, have not only taken him successfully through the severest crises in Hong Kong economy and society, such as the1964 run on the banks, the 1967 riots, the world oil crisis of 1973 (which created serious difficulties for Hong Kong plastics manufacturers), and the property market slump in the early 1980s, but have led to a series of dramatic interventions, including the takeover of Hutchison Whampoa in 1979, and the purchase of Hong Kong Electric in 1984. By now, Cheung Kong (Holdings) ranks as a major company by international standards. The market capitalisation in today's trading of Cheung Kong (Holdings) and its associated companies exceeds $34 billion (about US$4.5 billion), and it is larger for example, than such companies as the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Mr Li is Chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings), Canadian Eastern Finance, International City Holdings, Hutchison Whampoa, Green Island Cement. He is Director of the China International Trust and Investment Corporation. He is Deputy Chairman of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and he is president, patron or member of numerous other charitable, cultural, academic and commercial organisations.

Mr Chancellor, we may ask, before this astonishing story of success, what purpose it serves. Aristotle wrote, more than 2,000 years ago: "To be wealthy is not to possess something, but use it". I do not know whether Mr Li has read these words of Aristotle. Though he enjoys reading, he is a very busy man. But he himself makes the very same statement as the old philosopher. What matters with money is what it is used for.

Mr Li demonstrates a straightforward conception of that use: it should be to try to improve the human condition. Accordingly, he has donated in excess of HK$ 400,000,000, mainly for educational and medical purposes, in Hong Kong, in China, and elsewhere. He remembers, we may suppose, how his own father died for the lack of proper medical facilities; he remembers, we may imagine, how his own academic ambitions were set aside by the need to support his family. And he has turned these personal memories into spectacular public munificence.

Mr Chancellor, let me once more remind you of Han Yu, who set himself 1,000 years ago to civilise those "rude inhabitants" of Chiu Chau Fu. Who is it who has brought to reality the long dream of an institution of higher learning in that region? Was it Han Yu, the old essayist? Was it a missionary from some other country? Was it a bureaucrat from the central organs of power in Peking? Was it a politician, or a scholar? No, Mr Chancellor, it was an ordinary, yet an extraordinary Chiu Chau person: it was Mr Li Ka Shing himself.

The idea of the project first came to Mr Li's attention in September 1980, and he seized upon the opportunity with characteristic flair and decisiveness. An initial commitment of HK$ 30,000,000 has since risen to HK$ 240,000,000. But his involvement is not simply that of a donor. For he has taken a direct and detailed interest in the development at every stage of its planning, including its academic and administrative arrangements. The University, constructed on a beautiful site by a lake in the hills near Shantou, admitted its first students in 1983. There are now over 1,800 students enrolled, and it is planned that this number should rise to 5,000. Phase II of the University, which will include a teaching hospital and Medical Faculty, is due to be completed by the end of 1987. A Shantou University Academic Fund is established in Hong Kong to enable students and teachers from the University to go abroad, and to encourage international interchange between the new University and other institutions. In short, as a result of Mr Li's generosity and energy, this new institution promises to develop into an important new University with an international dimension.

Mr Chancellor, for his services to education through his contribution to the establishment and development of the University of Shantou, and his contribution to the economic development of Hong Kong, I present to you Mr Li Ka Shing, Justice of the Peace, brilliant entrepreneur, hardworking family man, imaginative patron of the arts, of medicine, of education, business man of integrity and flair, pragmatic achiever of Han Yu's old dreams for those "wild parts" of Chiu Chau Fu, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor Francis Charles Timothy Moore, the Public Orator.

decoration image