The Chinese reform and opening up and the globalization drive in the 1980s provided twin external drives to the monumental success of Shunde. People in Shunde are determined, bold, indomitable, and adaptable; to build Shunde’s story, they were able to seize once-in-a-lifetime fleeting opportunities.
Shunde has centuries worth of experience in agriculture and trading. The people are courageous, have strong perseverance and possess strong business sense. Many Shunde locals moved to Hong Kong and Macao in the 20th century and successfully built their business empire. Shunde natives have a tradition of philanthropy and often set up charity institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools to help their hometown after their success.
Dr Leung Kau-kui (1903–1994): Hong Kong tai-pan and philanthropist
Leung Kau-kui was born into a businessman’s family at Beitou Village, Xingtan Town, Shunde. At a young age, Leung followed his father to Guangzhou. He became an apprentice at a small credit union, eventually opening his own (Hoi Hing Credit Union). When World War II broke out, Leung moved his Guangzhou and Hong Kong operations to the neutral territory of Macao, his business acumen sparing his company from damages brought by the war. He established Tai Fong Credit Union with other Guangdong businesspeople and set up a branch in Guangzhou Bay (present-day Zhanjiang City). Taking advantage of the goods shortage problem during the war, he built his fortune by establishing a strong trading operation based in Macao and the surrounding Guangzhou Bay area.
Sensing the central role that Hong Kong is going to play in the China coastal trade after the Chinese civil war, Leung moved to Hong Kong and established Dah Chong Hong in 1949. To solve the acute foreign exchange shortage problem after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, he embarked on barter trade to help his mainland customers and successfully built a trading network connecting Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Hankou, essentially covering Southern China. His business flourished, and he later expanded into banking with the Hang Seng Bank. In 1964, The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) took over the majority stake of Hang Seng Bank and Leung became a junior business partner of the renowned Hong Kong Bank group.
Leung was an avid philanthropist and was considered one of the top ten philanthropists in Hong Kong. He held firmly to the belief that material wealth, which was obtained from society, should also be used for the benefit of the society and its people. When he became successful, he followed the tradition of helping his hometown and contributed significantly to Shunde’s social infrastructure development. His contribution started from the late 1970s. Xingtan Beitou Town Hall, Beitou Primary School, Xingtan Liangzhu Middle School, Shunde Liangzhu Library and many other projects were made possible through Leung’s donation. In 1988, Leung donated HK$5.5 million and collaborated with the Shunde district government to establish an integrated middle school with both vocational and regular courses – Shunde Leung Kau-kui Middle School. The middle school later upgraded to become Shunde Leung Kau-kui Technical School; the primary institution in Shunde catered to high-school level technical training.
To support the development of local Shunde businesses, Leung also donated HK$5 million to establish the Shunde Leung Kau-kui Welfare Foundation which promotes local NGO welfare work. Over the years, Leung donated more than HK$40 million to his hometown, selflessly paving the way for the future generation. He is a classic example of successful Chinese businessmen showing patriotism for their country and hometown.
Dr Cheng Yu-tung (1925–2016): Visionary jewellery king
Cheng Yu-tung came from Lunjiao Town, Shunde. He was the Chairman of Hong Kong New World Development Co., Ltd. and Hong Kong Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Co., Ltd., Vice-Chairman of Hong Kong Real Estate Developers Association, Director of Hong Kong Hang Seng Bank. He was also Honorary President of the Hong Kong-Shunde Friendship Association and Shunde Worldwide Friendship Association.
Cheng came from a family in the textile trade. His father, Zheng Jingyi, taught Cheng how to be ambitious and diligent. Cheng left his hometown alone and went to work at Macao. He worked as a goldsmith apprentice in Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Shop, owned by the namesake of the company and his fellow villager, Chow Tai Fook. Cheng’s competence, talent and honesty won the heart of Chow, and he eventually married Ms Zhou Cuiying, the daughter of Chow Tai Fook. Cheng’s business acumen and ambition drove the expansion of the company, and he became one of the industry’s leading figure in the 1950s. He later acquired majority shareholding of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery from his retired father-in-law and other shareholders to become its major shareholder.
Cheng was a pragmatic businessman with good business acumen. Under his leadership, Chow Tai Fook Jewellery became a limited company, and its business accelerated, spreading to Hong Kong and Macao. He pioneered the first “999.9” gold bar trading in Hong Kong, and the jewellery business extended to South Asia, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States. He also built a diamond-cutting factory in South Africa. The developments made the company Hong Kong’s largest diamond dealer, earning it the title Southeast Asia’s “Jewel King”. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery listed in Hong Kong in 2011 and is the largest jewellery company in the world today. It has a market capitalization of more than USD 10 billion.
The 1967 Hong Kong riots saw many wealthy people dumping real estate properties at a bargain price. Cheng, however, saw it as an opportunity to buy land cheaply and therefore invested heavily in real estate. In 1970, he established New World Development Co., Ltd. with his close friends and diversified into hotels, communications, energy, transportation infrastructure, department stores and other businesses. New World Development is a major conglomerate in Hong Kong and its investment covers not only Hong Kong and China, but also in countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, and Southeast Asia.
Cheng’s goal in life was to help the society. He often said that “I make my fortune from society, and I want to repay the grace given to me by spending it to benefit the society”. Although Cheng left his hometown at a young age, he remained deeply attached to his roots. As early as 1978, he donated HK$1.8 million to expand Shunde Huaqiao Middle School and set up a scholarship fund in memory of his father. He donated 80 million yuan to build the Cheng Yu-tung Middle School in Shunde in 1994. In 2004, he donated HK$15 million and rallied his other family members to put in HK$500 thousand to build ZhengJingYi Vocational School.
Since China’s reform and opening up, Cheng’s total donation to Shunde reached 190 million yuan. Not only that, Cheng also actively supported Shunde’s economic development. Over the years he put up a jewellery processing factory in Lunjiao Town as well as the New World Hotel in Shunde, established a partnership to build a lime sand brick factory, and had many other projects. Shunde’s success as the jewellery manufacturing centre of Southern China can be attributed to his investment.
Dr Lee Shau-kee (1928–): Real estate magnate and renowned “Warren Buffet of Asia”
Lee Shau-kee was born to a wealthy merchant family in Shunde. He is well versed in traditional Chinese classics – Four Books and Five Classics. At the tender age of six, his father arranged for him to stay in his family’s shop to learn how to do business. Lee was good in mental arithmetic, and his business acumen showed at a young age. By the time he was twelve, he was asked by his father to run the family shop. At 20, Lee went to Hong Kong alone with just 1,000 yuan in his pocket, and he managed to strike his first fortune dealing in foreign exchange and gold.
The horrifying experience of war convinced him that the only asset that can withstand the test of time is real estate. After he built his fortune, he formed Yongye Co., Ltd with seven partners. It was a real estate company which built houses for the lower- and middle-income families, sold in instalments. The affordable properties soon sold out. After Yongye’s success, he and his partners restructured the company and formed a new company – Sun Hung Kai & Co. Ltd. Lee became its general manager and took charge of property design, land acquisition and sales. His innovative approach and perseverance not only enabled the company to quickly become Hong Kong’s leading real estate company but also earned him the title “King of Real Estate”. In 1975, Lee set up his own company, Henderson Land Development Co., Ltd., and began dealing with the stock market. He later used methods like back door listing and leverage to acquire bigger companies, realizing and accumulating a mass amount of wealth. He earned the nickname “Warren Buffet of Asia” along the way.
Lee is passionate about education and has sponsored more than 400 education projects in the mainland since 1982. In 1978, he supported the Hong Kong-Shunde Friendship Association and founded the Shunde Friendship Association Lee Shau-kee Middle School. Together with Dr Cheng Yu-tung, a total of 1.8 million yuan was donated to expand Shunde Huaqiao Middle School, HK$3.1 million to build Shunde Hospital, and HK$5 million to build Shunde Sports Centre. In 1994, 80 million yuan was donated to build Shunde Lee Shau-kee Middle School. Lee’s charitable projects are all over China and cover many aspects of society like education, training and housing.
Other world-renowned celebrities from Shunde
Bruce Lee (1940–1973): Legendary martial arts master
Bruce Lee was born “Lee Zhenfan” in San Francisco. His ancestors came from Shunde. He is an international martial artist, instructor and philosopher who popularised Chinese martial arts (otherwise known as Chinese Kung Fu) to the world in the 1970s through films. He lived in Hong Kong during his childhood and was a martial arts student of Ip Man, a renowned Chinese martial arts guru of the Wing Chun school. He migrated to the United States to study and opened a martial arts dojo in California at the age of 18. He then began to appear in TV series as a guest performer and worked hard to change the western onscreen stereotype that Asians were weak and easily bullied.
In 1970, Lee went back to Hong Kong to star in the film “The Big Boss”. The opportunity opened doors for him and he was later invited to star in “Fist of Fury”, “The Way of the Dragon”, “Enter the Dragon” and other films that were new to the international film industry. He popularized many oriental martial arts forms like Jeet Kune Do, One Inch Punch and Nunchaku and was the first Chinese movie personality that achieved global acclaim. In 1973, Lee died in a mysterious accident in Hong Kong when he was only 33 years old. In 1993, the United States issued commemorative banknotes for Lee’s 20th death anniversary. During the same year, he was also honoured a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Hong Kong Film Awards. In 1998, the Chinese Wushu Association posthumously awarded Lee the “Martial Arts Movie Superstar Award”.
Lee’s ancestral home is in Shangcun Township, Jun’an Town, Shunde. It was built by his grandfather Lee Jun-biu and housed two generations of Lee’s – his grandfather as well as his father. The alley where the home is located is now named “Xiaolong Alley”, after Bruce Lee’s professional Chinese name. To commemorate Lee, a Bruce Lee theme park was built near the ancestral home, showcasing Lee’s martial arts and performing arts career, as well as his life and family history.
Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun (1947–): First Chinese woman to become the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun is born in Hong Kong and is a native of Leliu, Shunde. From 1973 to 1977, Chan studied for a medical degree at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. After graduation she joined the Hong Kong Department of Health as a doctor. In 1985 Chan attained a master’s degree in public health from the National University of Singapore, and in 1994 became the first female director in the Hong Kong Department of Health. Chan was appointed as Director of the WHO Human Environmental Protection Agency in 2003. Her primary responsibility was to prevent and control infectious disease, which she did exceptionally well and won the accolades of many countries. In 2005 Chan served as both Director of Infectious Diseases Monitoring and Response Bureau as well as Director-General of the WHO. In 2006, she became Director-General of WHO with the highest vote on record. She was subsequently re-elected from 2012 to 2017. In 2017, Chan stepped down from her post.
Foreign dignitaries with Shunde ancestry
Sir James Richard Marie Mancham (1939–2017): First President of Seychelles
Sir James Mancham was the first President of the Republic of Seychelles from 1976 to 1977. He carries ancestry from different races, and his grandfather was from Lecong, Shunde. His Chinese name was Chen Wenjin. In 2014 Sir James went back to China to trace his root. During the trip, he reunited with long-lost relatives and rebuilt his connection with them, paid homage to the ancestral temple and renewed his tie with Shunde.
Monique Agnes Ohsan Bellepeau (1942-): Former Vice-President of Mauritius
Ohsan Bellepeau was born in 1942 and was the first female Vice-President of Mauritius. Her ancestors came from Lecong, Shunde. From 1965 to 1967, Ohsan Bellepeau served as a news broadcaster in the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation. She became a businesswoman after her marriage. In 1990 she joined the Chamber of Commerce and the Labour Party, subsequently becoming an executive board member of the Party. In 1995 she served as a member of parliament, from 1997 to 2000 Minister of Urban and Rural Development, from 2007 to 2010 Chairman of the Labour Party, and from 2010 to 2016 Vice-President of Mauritius.
Ohsan Bellepeau’s grandfather moved from Lecong to Mauritius at the turn of the twentieth century. There he married a local Mauritius wife, built a family, and settled down. Her father was born in Mauritius, but due to his early death, Bellepeau grew up under the care of her uncle who was proficient in Chinese poetry and paintings. This fed her curiosity and yearning towards her Shunde hometown. In 2008, her uncle wrote a letter detailing their family’s root and solicited help from the Mauritius embassy and Shunde’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Department. Ohsan Bellepeau eventually succeeded in locating her relatives in Shunde and returned to Lecong to reunite with her distant relatives during a 2013 China visit. After the family reunion, she exclaimed that she would bring her grandchildren in the future so that they may interact with their extended family and know their roots. In July 2014, Ohsan Bellepeau went to London to attend Shunde Friendship Association’s ninth World Conference, showing her emotional attachment to Shunde.
The spirit of perseverance, courage and determination are traditional values defining Shunde people no matter where they are. Their strong character allowed them to make their mark in China and the rest of the world, expanding footprints, building business empires and fulfilling destinies. At the same time, strong clan spirit remains a strong impetus for overseas Shunde children to reconnect with their roots, find a spiritual home and contribute back regardless of challenges they may face along the way. The indomitable Shunde value and spirit will undoubtedly bring more success to Shunde, China and the world in the future.