JUST days before the Chinese University announced the appointment of the controversial Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as its vice-chancellor, it is said, a disturbed man barged into Li's empty office at the Prince of Wales Hospital, creating momentary havoc. Li laughed off the episode. Friends and foes alike, when told the story, were likely to have shrugged their shoulders: if it was going to happen to anyone, it would be Arthur. Since returning to Hong Kong in 1982 to take the university's foundation chair of surgery, Li has certainly made his mark on the territory's medical scene. His enemies like to think it is Arthur Li who is outrageous, if not mad. He, and his allies, think otherwise. The dean of the medical faculty has been investigated twice - and cleared twice - by the Medical Council for alleged professional misconduct. The first time was over remarks that he allegedly made to a Chinese magazine over the ox-valve controversy (six of 12 patients had died after receiving controversial ox-tissue valve transplants although investigations found only one death could be linked to the valves). The second involved alleged irregularities in the election of the Hong Kong branch of the British Medical Association. The most recent controversry surrounding the 50-year-old surgeon came when he resigned as faculty dean after a heated row with a university boss, at a time when he was tipped as the hot favourite for the vice chancellor's job. His critics are quick to claim his resignation was testimony to his love of political power-play. They say that by storming out of a university meeting, bashing out a resignation letter to vice-chancellor Charles Kao Kuen, and subsequently announcing that he would respect Kao's decision not to accept his resignation, he was throwing down the gauntlet to anyone who had not realised he was a force to be reckoned with. Others believe he was doing this as a matter of principle to defend the interests of his faculty. 'He created a storm when he resigned, and now he is the university's next vice-chancellor. It just goes to show how he gets his way,' said an associate. The tone included a hint of mockery: What the princeling wants, he gets. Li is the youngest son of what is dubbed 'Hong Kong's last truly aristocratic family'. His late father, banker and accountant Li Fook-shu, was a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils; his uncle Simon Li Fook-sean is a stalwart of the Preliminary Working Committee; his other uncle Ronald Li Fook-shiu, is the corrupt former Hong Kong Stock Exchange chairman. Li's elder brother is banker and legislator David Li Kwok-po, with whom he is very close and whom admires. Those who know them say they have the same traits: they are hardworking, intelligent, and deeply ambitious. While David's solid British education was completed with degrees in maths and economics and law at London University and Cambridge, Arthur chose to pursue a medical education at Cambridge and Harvard Medical School, specialising in hepatobiliary and upper gastrointestinal surgery. Both brothers are quiet collectors of influential people in Hong Kong. Both are Hong Kong affairs advisers to China. 'I have seen Arthur Li chatting away happily over dinner with (Xinhua director) Zhou Nan while other people looked on. His mandarin is not fluent and Zhou Nan was talking to him in English,' said a doctor. But unlike David, who by training and by trade is cautious, the professor of surgery is outspoken and at times rash. David is never one to commit himself irrevocably in public, while Arthur rarely shies away from fuss and attention. David is eloquent. Arthur can be argumentative. There are even suggestions that because Arthur is the youngest son of a rich family he is spoilt, and that because David made his name long before him, he has an inferiority complex. His critics say this would explain what they see as his temper tantrums, his obsession with success, his love of empire-building. 'I am very pleased in a way with what people said about my temper,' said Professor Li last week. 'It makes me more human. Every normal human being has emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, frustration. I am a doctor and I like to be human. I like to be emotional about things. I cried when patients died and I am not ashamed of it. 'Of course I lose my temper like everybody else. I admit that on occasions, I show a short temper. 'But there are only two situations that make me feel angry. When my two sons are naughty, I will be very angry. And when I see justice not being done or when the honour and reputation of the university are being tarnished, or the welfare of our colleagues is being jeopardised, then I would become very angry and would fight for the just cause. 'But being the youngest son does not mean I am spoilt. When I was small, my clothes were hand-me-downs from my brother. I don't think I have been spoilt in my life.' From the moment Li returned to Hong Kong after a two-year stint as consultant surgeon at the prestigious Royal Free Hospital in London, he has charted an unconventional course. His career at the Chinese University's medical school started humbly, when construction of its teaching hospital, the Prince of Wales at Sha Tin, was not even completed and Li had to teach students in a cargo container used as a makeshift classroom. The department of surgery has since produced seven full professors and more than 35 consultant surgeons in Hong Kong and abroad. Long gone too is the faculty of medicine's underdog image. At the last award of competitive grants in the area of medicine, dentistry and health from the University Grants Committee, the faculty gained 55 per cent of all research funding with the remainder being shared between all other tertiary institutions. Li is famous for his relentless efforts in fighting for resources. His first claim to fame was accusing the Hospital Authority of favouring rival Queen Mary Hospital in resources distribution. 'He made a lot of enemies in his fights for resources,' said a close associate. 'But that is not to say he is ruthless. When he gains something somebody else has to lose. And those who have lost are unhappy. But it is inevitable.' Li's present office at the Prince of Wales Hospital is a far cry from the cargo container days, comparable to that of any chief executive of a commercial enterprise. He tells visitors he funded the decor out of his own pocket because it was in this office he spent most of his time. A colleague said: 'I have seen him working into the small hours in that office. He sometimes sleeps there. He is a very demanding and tough boss and teacher no doubt, but he is many times tougher on himself.' It is unclear when Li began to set his sights on the position of vice-chancellor. For a long time now, a huge picture of the university campus has been hanging on his office wall. 'I may become the next Woo Shien-biau,' was his tongue-in-cheek response when asked of his chances just hours before it was announced he would be given the job. Li was referring to the candidate who was offered the vice-chancellorship by the University of Hong Kong (HKU), only to be pushed aside at the last minute and in the full glare of media attention. Was he really unsure or was he only reminding his audience of HKU's almost farcical hunt for a leader? His enemies would say that Li would never want to miss an opportunity to tease the rival institution. 'If only he could be more humble,' was the opinion of one. Li has a ready answer: 'Lots of people said I am mad. That is a personal view, I can stand that. I am essentially an idealist. 'I have kept my ideals ever since I was in my teens, in my 20s. 'When I resigned (as dean) it was over an important point of principle. It was not a question of using tactics. 'I am not an empire builder. When I was a professor of surgeon my brief was to develop surgery so I must have the resources to develop what I was told to do. That was my job.' Li said he had never lobbied for the job of vice-chancellor 'because that would be wrong'. He said it was towards the end of April that the chairman of the university council Sir Quo-wei Lee rang to tell him he was one of the nominees. 'It was a Sunday evening. He asked if I was prepared to be considered for the vice-chancellorship. I said to him this was the first time I heard of it . . . He said do you want to put your name forward or you can withdraw at this stage . . . I said I needed a week to think it over. 'I discussed it with my friends, my colleagues, my family, my wife. '. . . Somebody said this was an opportunity that would come only once in your life.' There is no doubt that Li will remain controversial in his new post. In an open letter to university staff after his appointment, he said he would 'love to see this university develop into the leading university in Hong Kong. 'Whether this is wishful thinking and empty talk depends on whether we have the will and the resources . . . Whether it is conceit that will offend depends on whether we agree that progress is only possible through competition and good sportsmanship.'