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40 years of reform and opening up

How one Hongkonger rode China’s wave of economic reforms: Paul Yip couldn’t find a room in Shanghai, so he decided to build his own hotel

  • Former teacher’s timely move to trading leads to 40 years of doing business, finding opportunities on the mainland
  • Plenty of scope for Hongkongers to take advantage of China’s modernisation drive and get a slice of the pie
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 3:46pm

If Paul Yip Kwok-wah did not have so much trouble finding a hotel room in Shanghai in the 1980s, he might never have become a successful hotelier.

He remembers how unpleasant it was having to change hotels practically every day while doing business in the city that was China’s economic powerhouse.

“My wife and I often had to pick up our suitcases and move from one hotel to another because of the inadequate number of hotel rooms at the time,” he recalled.

“Restaurants in Shanghai hotels closed at 6pm and wouldn’t serve any meals after that. I told my wife it would be great if we could build and operate our own hotel in Shanghai.”

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And that was exactly what he did. He entered into a joint venture to build the Yangtze River Hotel in Shanghai and that helped him nurture links with the city’s leaders. The hotel opened its doors in 1992. In 2007, Yip went on to open another hotel in Huangshan, in Anhui Province.

Growing up in Hong Kong, Yip attended the pro-Beijing Heung To Middle School in the 1960s and was a teacher for more than 10 years before deciding to venture into business.

He started a trading company and in 1975 attended the Canton Fair, the mainland’s largest trade show. He went on to start a computer company in the early 1980s before venturing into hotels and education.

As China embarked in earnest on economic reforms, Yip was instrumental in getting Hong Kong professionals and businessmen to share their knowledge and expertise with mainland officials.

“In the early 1980s, the mainland looked up to Hong Kong and its professionals,” Yip said. “And many Hong Kong professionals, for their part, believed that they could make friends with mainland officials and make a difference in China’s modernisation.”

His ACL Consultancy, which he started in 1983, arranged for the Hong Kong experts to give lectures for mainland officials in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Beijing.

“Those professionals gave lectures on finance, law, economics for mayors and deputy mayors on the mainland,” Yip said. “The topics were decided by speakers who had frank exchanges with officials present at the lectures.”

How Hong Kong know-how helped mainland on road to success

Yip, 75, and his wife, Betty Chan Po-king, have ridden the wave of economic reforms and development on the mainland over the past four decades.

She was running the Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong when she organised an education exhibition in Beijing in 1985. Yew Chung now operates international schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Qingdao.

In 2000, Yip founded Yew Wah Education Management, which now runs schools in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Yip, who was special adviser to Hong Kong’s first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa from 1997 to 2002, said there is still much that Hong Kong can contribute to China’s modernisation.

“While Hongkongers should not rest on their laurels, we shouldn’t underestimate ourselves either,” he said.