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Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, looks on during a news conference after an annual general meeting in Hong Kong Thursday, May 18, 2006. (Kin Cheung/AP/Kin Cheung/AP)
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, looks on during a news conference after an annual general meeting in Hong Kong Thursday, May 18, 2006. (Kin Cheung/AP/Kin Cheung/AP)

Q&A

Why billionaire Li Ka Shing thinks of his charity as a 'third son' Add to ...

The ship finally raised all three sails and gained greater speed. We went after them for over an hour to no avail. Finally we had to give up and turn back. I was certain I had disappointed my relative and I felt heavyhearted. Later, I received a letter from her. She had returned to her home village. She said that my attempt that day to catch up to them to give them food had touched the captain and all the passengers. They all shared their own food with her family. My attempt had gained her their respect. The passengers on the boat were shouting at me to go back because they wanted to let me know that they would themselves take care of my relative and her children. They took care of her, because they saw that she was cared for by someone else. This episode will always stay with me. It shows how care can restore and even create dignity, which, once created, begets more care.

MM: Is there a similar experience that guided your gaze towards caring for the terminally ill cancer patients and the creation of the hospice system?

LKS: There is. In 1997, a good friend of mine was, as it turned out, in the last stages of his struggle with cancer. He was wealthy, and he could afford the best health care. He was interned at one of the best hospitals in Hong Kong. But he was still in horrible pain, after surgery and chemotherapy. The pain was unbearable. He was alone with this pain, in spite of all the support he had received. On the last day on which I saw him, he took my hand at the end, and he would not let it go. Afterwards, I thought: “If someone of means and benefitting from all this support suffers like this, then how is it for those that have no means at all? How is it for those who cannot afford any care?” That is when the idea of the project came to me. And now it is alive.

MM: Is the Foundation’s commitment to supporting educational projects also connected to your concern for furthering human dignity?

LKS: I think it is. While my father was ill with tuberculosis, I remember buying a book on the disease and reading from it, to understand more. I was for a while terrified that I had myself contracted the disease, as the symptoms the book was describing were similar to what I was experiencing. I did not become ill, but I kept reading. Not being able to attend school regularly, I kept going back to an old book shop, trading in the latest book I had and a bit of extra money for a ‘new’ used book.

I worked hard to build my own knowledge system. I remember that as a young manager, I came home after long work days and took private language lessons from 10 to 11 p.m., then studied hard for hours afterwards. This willingness to learn something new served me well in my job – I was promoted because I had skills. I formed a belief that knowledge and the learning that comes with it can change a person’s destiny. It can make him or her autonomous and robust – these skills will be useful to others in many contexts.

MM: Your vantage point as the builder of the two Foundations, one in Canada and one in Hong Kong, is unique in that it gives you a vista on the particular points of confluence and divergence of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, of East and West. Are there particular points of tension or opportunities for dialogue and collaboration that you perceive from this lookout?

LKS: The main areas of focus of the activities of the two foundations – education and health care – are meant to span and bridge differences. Knowledge and education can change a young person’s destiny, health care promotes and restores human dignity, and medical research makes possible the new and better forms of care. There are differences, yes, but perhaps not conflicts.

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