Witness to a turbulent chapter of Hong Kong's history, Lui Che-woo prospered as many from Jiangmen could only dream of. But he has not forgotten his roots Lui Che-woo, chairman of the K. Wah Group, has fond recollections of his hometown. He was born in Jiangmen in 1929, the grandson of an overseas Chinese who had returned from the United States. He particularly remembers living in a beautiful house and going out for dinner, dressed in his finest clothes, to a Chinese restaurant in what he calls 'the tallest building in Jiangmen'. But Che-woo's happy childhood came to an abrupt halt in 1933. He was just four years old when his family decided to flee Jiangmen for the relative safety of Hong Kong. They were among tens of thousands of families that began flooding into the then-British Crown Colony to escape the chaos starting to envelop Guangdong. Japan had invaded Manchuria two years earlier, establishing the puppet state of Manchukuo, with Henry Puyi, the Qing Dynasty's last emperor, installed as chief executive. Setting the stage for war, Japan resigned from the League of Nations the year Che-woo's family arrived in Hong Kong. Following the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937, all hopes for a peaceful settlement of the dispute were abandoned: China and Japan were officially at war. Hong Kong's peace and prosperity lasted another four years until the Japanese finally marched in. In adversity, however, the Lui family found success. With a small amount of cash, Chee-woo's father bought a piece of land in Kowloon's Yau Ma Tei district to set up a small factory, becoming one of Hong Kong's first clothing manufacturers. After completing Form Two, Chee-woo was unable to continue his education or find a job. He had no choice but to help his father, who taught him the fundamentals of how to run a business. Before long, he decided to strike out on his own. His goals and aspirations were loftier than those of his father, who took a more relaxed attitude toward business and life - perhaps owing to the success of his own father and grandfather. Chee-woo seemed to have a natural head for business. By the time the Japanese had invaded Hong Kong in 1941, he was 12 years old. Owing to a shortage of wheat flour and cooking oil, he borrowed some money from his father to go into business with his mother selling food products on a wholesale basis. By his early teens he was already a successful businessman in his own right. Within three years he had already earned close to HK$10 million - a massive sum at those war-ravaged times. 'At the time I saw the Japanese beating people everywhere,' Mr Lui told a local magazine in an interview. 'What's worse, I saw people dying of starvation every day. There were corpses everywhere. Every day I would see more than ten bodies in front of our door piled up like pieces of firewood. It's difficult to describe the stench emanating from those rotting corpses.' By the time the war had ended, Mr Lui - with the help of both his mother and his grandmother - was wealthy, despite his relatively young age. But the impact of what he had seen and done was to have a profound effect on his life. Although he had prospered in the wholesale food business, he didn't look upon this as his true calling. He decided to branch out - first into auto parts and eventually into such diverse sectors as construction materials, property development, and hotels. His empire now comprises more than 200 subsidiaries and almost 10,000 employees worldwide. Under the Japanese occupation, Hong Kong's population shrunk from 1,600,000 people to less than 600,000. After Japan's surrender, people started returning to the colony - at one point reaching a rate of 100,000 a month. By 1947, the population had reached 1,750,000 - surpassing pre-war levels. By 1951, it had surpassed the 2 million mark, adding another million people during the 1950s. A population explosion was underway. With immigrants flooding into the colony, the need for housing and factories was immense. There were entrepreneurs and industrialists with capital to invest alongside impoverished workers and peasants carrying little more than a dream and a propensity for hard work. With the colony awash with refugees and cash, Mr Lui saw his chance. He established the first K. Wah company in 1955 to supply construction materials. There were housing estates and factories, schools and hospitals to be built! Known as the 'the King of Quarry', Mr Lui branched out into property investments in the 1960s. By the 1980s, he moved into hotels. He expanded into the mainland in the 1990s. Two years ago he entered Macau's gaming business as one of the three gaming license holders in the former Portuguese enclave. The original company evolved into K. Wah Construction Materials Ltd in 1997 after substantial holdings in Hong Kong and the mainland were acquired. Other key members of the conglomerate include K. Wah International Holdings Ltd., K. Wah Properties (Holdings) Ltd. and Stanford Hotels International Ltd, whose flagship property is the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hotel in Kowloon's touristy Tsimshatsui East district. Other locally based hotels include the Stanford Hotel in Mongkok and the Stanford Hillview Hotel, overlooking Knudsford Terrace - both in Kowloon. Never forgetting the deprivation he saw in his youth, Mr Lui has contributed heavily to charitable causes, especially in the areas of medicine and education. His philanthropic activities have been spread far and wide, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong to the Stanford University Medical Centre in the United States to the China Foundation for Justice and Courage in the mainland. But he has never forgotten his hometown. As an honorary citizen of Jiangmen, Mr Lui has made several charitable donations to the city. In 1998, he donated 1,000,000 yuan to build a primary school, the Xinhui Lu Jingquan School. In 2001, he donated 1,000,000 yuan to build the Lu Deying Academic Building. And just this year he has given 390,000 yuan to improve facilities at the high school in Xinhui. Jiangmen Wuyi University has also benefited greatly from the generosity of one of Jiangmen's most successful - and charitable - favourite sons.