Being like Li not everyone's cup of tea

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am


Chief-executive-wannabe Henry Tang Ying-yen is prone to the occasional gaffe. So it did not come as a surprise when he said more young people should ask themselves why they could not be like Li Ka-shing.

The usually careful chief secretary probably thought he was being complimentary to Li. But the property tycoon was embarrassed enough to ask this week why people were always dragging his name into controversies he had nothing to do with.

Tang may personally find much to admire in Li, the city's richest man, but different people have different values. Becoming a billionaire may be a popular fantasy, but not everyone considers amassing unimaginable wealth worthwhile or realistic. For many young activists, tycoons like Li stand for something much less benign.

In some ways, it can't be easy being Li. As the ancient Chinese saying goes, a big tree attracts the winds. And Li is as big as they come in Hong Kong. From his control of drugstore and supermarket chains and supply of electricity to the building of new flats, Li's sprawling business interests have a profound impact on the lives and lifestyles of many people. The extent of his wealth and influence inevitably invites comment and criticism.

For many years, Li was called Superman, his business acumen widely admired. But Hong Kong society has changed profoundly even from a few years ago. The widening wealth gap has raised serious questions about whether our society is really fair or just. The disproportionate influence of our leading tycoons gives the lie to the equity of our political system.

The scion of a wealthy family, Tang has been a perfect beneficiary of this system. That is why his remark about Li is especially jarring.