'Man has an existence apart from the body - he needs to have a meaning to his life. I hope you will adhere to this truth and the life of the spirit, and go forth proudly as Chinese to found the future.' This message to students of the Marine School is contained in a collection of thoughts and observations of the late shipping magnate C Y Tung. He was remembered by one of his friends as 'a man of vision, a man with vitality and energy, a man with ideas and ideals.' At the age of 59, his eldest son Tung Chee-hwa has drawn inspiration from his father's success - not just by bringing ships across the globe but by thinking of leading Hong Kong into the 21st century. Last night, he broke months of silence and confirmed he is actively considering contesting the post of Chief Executive. Tipped as Beijing's hot favourite, Mr Tung has been described by local National People's Congress deputy Liu Yiu-chu as a 'political figure who has genuine multi-faceted links'. This is no exaggeration. Appointed as a member of the now-defunct Basic Law Consultative Committee in 1985, Mr Tung remained a lesser-known political figure even when he was given a seat at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in 1992. But a former senior government official firmly believed as early as 1985 that Mr Tung would play a key role in post-handover Hong Kong. His appointment as one of the five vice-chairmen of the Preparatory Committee when it was established in January is another sign of his ranking in China's list of local leaders to run the Special Administrative Region. His links with China, however, date back much earlier. Mr Tung was born in Shanghai in 1937. His father started building his shipping empire in the same decade. C Y Tung then established a shipping company in Hong Kong in 1941 and another on the mainland in 1946. After the communists took power in 1949, his father moved his business to Taiwan. Analysts say the Tung family's Taiwan links have given him an edge when contesting the top post, given the significant role of the territory in China's grand reunification plan. His brother-in-law, John Peng, is an influential player in Taiwan politics. Mr Peng sits on Taiwan's non-governmental body on mainland affairs and is known as a strong opponent of Taiwan independence. Educated in China, Hong Kong and Britain, Mr Tung has close connections with the international community. A former senior government official said: 'He has good relations with a lot of important people. He can knock on the doors of Bill Clinton, Lee Teng-hui and the British Prime Minister.' Mr Tung is currently chairman of the Hong Kong-United States Economic Co-operation Committee and a member of the Hong Kong-Japan Business co-operation Committee. He serves as an International Councillor at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington DC-based think-tank. He is also a member of the International Advisory Board of Council on Foreign Relations in New York. 'He's a good and intelligent man with sharp mind,' the former senior official said. About the same time that he was named as a CPPCC deputy in 1992, Mr Tung was appointed by Governor Chris Patten to Exco. He quit that post in June, citing conflicts between the two roles of Exco member and vice-chairman of the Preparatory Committee. That has not stopped speculation that he is Britain's second-best choice for the top job, if not the first choice now that Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, has been virtually ruled out of the race. A senior government official said: 'Most of the policy secretaries would prefer him to T L. [Chief Justice Sir Ti Liang Yang.] He's a pertinent person and always thinks thoroughly and carefully before making a decision.' A friend close of his family points out that Mr Tung has already faced and survived tough times - during a challenge to his family business. After he took the helm of the family firm on his father's death in 1979, the business suffered badly during the global oil crisis. Mr Tung's company nearly sank under a tidal wave of debt and was bailed out in part by a US$100 million investment from a China-backed company set up by tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung. The Tung family later bought back most of the shares and restored their majority control. The close friend said: 'It's an extremely difficult decision for him. He has no big political ambition nor a major interest in politics.' Others, however, believe he has little choice but to stand. A senior government official, referring to China's financial support, said: 'He owes China a big favour. How can he say no?' That, however, does not mean he will be a yes-man, according to his supporters. A businessman who has frequent contacts with Mr Tung said: 'He is ready to say no to China when he thinks it's not in the interest of Hong Kong people.' Over the past fortnight, Mr Tung has given clear signals he would be joining the race with a well-formulated strategy to counter criticism that he is a businessman with no understanding of the grassroots. Mr Tung emerged as a strong contender after senior Beijing official Lu Ping dropped hints that the top post might go to a 'dark horse'. The famous hand-shake between Mr Tung and Chinese President Jiang Zemin gave further credence to the theory Mr Tung was the chosen one, until the emergence of Sir Ti Liang. He now looks ready to face the real test.