Hong Kong mourns as Tin Ka-ping ‘a great educator’ and philanthropist who donated his fortune to help others dies aged 99

From humble beginnings on the mainland, businessman became a philanthropist who donated billions of dollars in support of education, culture and social welfare

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018, 7:31am

Respected Hong Kong entrepreneur and philanthropist Tin Ka-ping has died. He was 99.

Tin Ka Ping Foundation, a charity founded by Tin, announced the news on its official website on Tuesday.

The message said Tin “passed away peacefully” but did not give a cause of death.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed her “deep sorrow” at Tin’s death, and hailed his contribution to the promotion of education, culture, medical and social welfare in Hong Kong and the mainland.

“On behalf of the Hong Kong special administrative region, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family,” Lam said.

To many Hong Kong people, the Tin Ka-ping name is synonymous with philanthropy, especially in the arena of education. Former lawmaker and former head of the Professional Teachers Union, Cheung Man-kwong, who represented the education sector, once described Tin as “a great educator”, although he did not come from the sector.

“Mr Tin is an advocate and supporter of education,” said foundation vice-chairman Tai Hay-lap, also former headmaster of Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Secondary School.

“Mr Tin liked to say that the future of China lies in education. His idea is that for a country to be strong, it has to have high quality and educated people.

“He did not just donate money to build schools [on the mainland]. He would fly to the towns to visit the teachers and students and exchange with them about his ideas on education. He did so even in his 70s,” said Tai.

To recognise his contribution to the society, Tin was awarded an MBE in 1996 by Queen Elizabeth, and a Grand Bauhinia Medal in 2010, by the Hong Kong government.

Despite his great success and fame, he was a modest man who lived a simple life.

“He often chose to ride the MTR, or bus,” Tai said. “He liked to joke that he took the most expensive vehicle in Hong Kong.”

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen also praised Tin for his contribution to education.

The plastic industry magnate founded the Tin Ka Ping Foundation in 1982, and since its inception it has funded 323 kindergartens, schools and tertiary institutions, more than 1800 rural libraries, 29 hospitals, and about 130 bridges and roads in Hong Kong and across the mainland, from Hainan to Xinjiang provinces.

The foundation has also supported many other education-related projects, such as teacher training programmes and scholarships.

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In a 2010 interview with free Chinese-language newspaper AM730, Tin said he had donated more than HK$1 billion to charitable projects and had only left a family-run chemical plant to his children.

“I certainly want to pursue money,” said Tin in an undated, video-recorded interview with the ICAC Moral Education Website, run by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

“But I don’t want it so badly that I must own the money. The more important thing is how you can make the best of the money you own.

“I feel [using money for] education can achieve much more than putting [money] in my own pocket.”

During the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Tin and his businesses suffered a massive blow and it became difficult for his foundation to complete some of the donations.

In 2001, Tin, 82 at the time, made the incredible decision to sell his house – which he had been living in for 37 years – on Somerset Road in Kowloon Tong for HK$56 million. He donated all the proceeds to more than 20 secondary schools.

I myself feel my greatest success is to be able to gain respect from people from all walks of life
Tin Ka-ping

Tin and his wife, Fong Wai-ying, then moved into a 1,300-square-foot rental flat close to the house.

Born in 1919 in Dabu county of Meizhou, Guangdong to a business family, Tin was his parents’ only son. In a 2010 interview with Hong Kong Memory, a multimedia online archive of local history co-operated by the government, Tin said he was proud of his family history.

He said his grandfather was an official in Henan province and fought against the Taiping rebellion for the Qing dynasty.

Tin’s father, already 48 when he was born, passed away in 1935, when Tin was about 15 and had just completed the second year of secondary school. Tin had to quit school to take over the family business, a grocery store and a tile kiln.

At the time there were many people from his hometown, known for its abundance of clay earth, running factories in Vietnam manufacturing ceramic bowls. Dissatisfied with the business’s development in Dabu, a Hakka community at the border between Guangdong and Fujian, Tin started to export clay to Vietnam in 1937.

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His business turned out to be a big success, accounting for about 60 per cent of the export market.

In June 1939 the Japanese army occupied the coastal city of Shantou, blocking Tin’s export route. He then moved to Indonesia, where his cousin, who was bought by his parents as a son, was based.

As the Japanese army occupied the coastal areas in Indonesia, Tin sought refuge in Jakarta, where he took care of his cousin’s metal factory, together with his nephew.

Tin said local Indonesians did not fight the Japanese due to a lack of education, and local Chinese, who were still a minority at the time, did not feel the need to fight, unlike those in Malaysia and Singapore, where the Chinese were a majority.

“Chinese immigrants in Indonesia were very tame and easy to manage,” Tin said. “In Indonesia, except for the fact that there was no freedom and a lack of resources, you could say the Chinese immigrants there were very lucky in comparison.”

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During his time in Indonesia, Tin focused all his energies on building up his business.

Soon after the end of the Japanese rule in 1945, funded by his family and friends, Tin started a rubber factory in Jakarta. The abundance of rubber locally, and low labour costs contributed to the move.

“There was a serious shortage of materials after peace resumed, because importation had stopped for many years,” he said in the 2010 interview. “So, whatever you did at that time could become a good sell.”

The 100,000 sq ft factory began by producing simple household items such as slippers, rubber bands and rubber balls. The rubber bands became inexplicably popular in mainland China in the 1950s, and there was no shortage of bulk buyers.

The business expanded so that Tin opened another rubber factory. After a trip to Japan in 1954, Tin decided to start producing plastic film, becoming Indonesia’s first plastic film producer two years later.

In 1958, Tin moved to Hong Kong, partly to expand his Indonesian business and partly to let his children have Chinese-language education. Tin said he preferred the British colony to Singapore or Malaysia because of its freedom, good business environment, established legal system and proximity to the mainland.

With the help of the then rural leaders, Chan Yat-sun and Lau Wong-fat, Tin bought a 300,000-sq ft industrial plot – pending reclamation – in Tuen Mun at HK$0.90 cents per square foot for his plastic factory. After the completion of reclamation, Tin returned 50,000 sq ft of the land to the government for infrastructure such as roads.

To attract customers, Tin built an industrial building in Lai Chi Kok in 1962, which he then rented to his clients for storage. He also set up an office on Bonham Strand in Sheung Wan to display his products, as well as his clients’ products and contact details.

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At its prime, the Tin business included two factories and several industrial buildings in Kwai Chung, Kwun Tong and Cheung Sha Wan.

In the 1980s, many local factories started to move north as mainland China began its economic reform, while land and labour costs in Hong Kong continued to rise. In 1991, Tin set up his first mainland factory in Humen town of the Guangdong city of Duangguan, and gradually expanded his business there.

“After these several decades, I’m very satisfied,” Tin said in 2010. “[The definition of] success can be relaxed as much as possible. It doesn’t necessarily mean making money. I myself feel my greatest success is to be able to gain respect from people from all walks of life.”

Frankly speaking, I’ve been acting out of my conscience all of my life
Tin Ka-ping

In 1988, the then Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui awarded Tin a Gold Plate on Contribution to Public Welfare. The Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing named an asteroid it discovered Tin Ka Ping Star in 1994.

In 2013, at the age of 94, Tin was baptised.

“Many people don’t understand why I started to believe in Jesus,” Tin said during his baptism ceremony. “Frankly speaking, I’ve been acting out of my conscience all my life. I can say without blushing that I am a good person and don’t need Jesus at all.

“But, a good person in people’s eyes also has emotions and desires and will also make mistakes. So, a good person in people’s eyes is still a sinner in God’s eyes.

“I even told mainland officials from time to time not to ban Christianity, but to improve people’s quality and change life. It is necessary to spread the Gospel into China.”