THE story of Ming Pao Daily News is the story of its founder Louis Cha, who stamped his views on the paper for more than 30 years, and the surprising result of his 10-year quest to find a suitable heir. To some commentators, the date of the paper's decline coincides fairly closely with the date Mr Cha began to hand control to Yu Pun-hoi, an executive with plenty of cash and ideas and very little in the way of history. Shanghai-born Mr Cha founded the paper with partner Shen Pao-sing after working for the pro-China Ta Kung Pao, a job he held while spending his spare time writing very successful kung fu novels under the pseudonym Kam Yung. One of the paper's early selling points was the serialisation of Mr Cha's novels, many starring the character Wai Siu-po, a court confidant with a quick wit and an eye for a good deal who many believe was modelled on Mr Cha himself. In the 1970s, the kung fu serialisations were replaced by a literary but no-nonsense journalistic style with a strong streak of anti-communism which won many readers. The paper launched an intellectual monthly magazine and a film stars and fun weekly, both of which remain among the most popular of their genre. Ironically, the June 4 massacre in Tiananmen Square, while reducing Mr Cha to tears on television, boosted the paper's circulation to record levels. The publication's exemplary use of Chinese has led to generations of schoolchildren being instructed to read Ming Pao to improve their language skills. When Ming Pao was floated on the stock market in 1991, it was the fourth-largest selling paper in the territory and valued at $870 million. At the age of 67, Mr Cha was looking to spend less time with his newspaper, but unlike many Hong Kong tycoons there were no sons waiting outside the boardroom to sit at their father's desk. Mr Cha said finding a successor was 'the most difficult challenge of my life' and admitted he'd been searching for a decade. In 1993, he announced he was retiring. His seat as chairman of Ming Pao Enterprise Corporation was to be taken by Mr Yu, then just 33, whose budding media group CIM Holdings had become Ming Pao's largest shareholder in 1991. The deal saw Mr Cha sell many millions of shares to CIM in complicated transactions involving property swaps which left many observers marvelling that Mr Yu had taken control of the group by putting up relatively little cash. Under Mr Yu, the company plunged into new ventures, including a mass-market tabloid called Hong Kong Today, which lasted seven months and cost $60 million before being sold at a loss to Mr Yu personally and subsequently shut. In March 1994 Xi Yang, a Ming Pao reporter, was jailed in Beijing for 12 years for allegedly stealing state secrets. The incident did no good at all to Mr Yu's ambitious, expensive but slow-moving plans to break into China's TV market with a Mandarin satellite news service. In October, a disaster unfolded when one of Ming Pao's rivals reported that Mr Yu did have a past - a criminal one. He was found to have been convicted when a student in Canada for credit card fraud and having an unlicensed gun in the boot of his car. In December last year, with analysts putting Mr Yu under increasing scrutiny, Guangzhou-based Modern Mankind, in which CIM had a stake, was closed by mainland authorities. With rumours flying that CIM was running short of cash, it had started selling its Ming Pao shares in small blocks, with one block going to China Strategic Holdings, whose chairman Peter Oei Hong Leong had taken the chairman's seat at Ming Pao after Mr Yu was forced to resign following revelations about his criminal past. On August 4 this year another explosion shook Ming Pao. It emerged that Mr Yu had failed to pay an instalment due to Mr Cha for the shares he had bought. Four days later, the company said it was having difficulty putting its accounts together for the stock exchange. The next day, it emerged that auditors had doubts whether loans worth more than $300 million would be repaid. The destination of those loans is unknown.