Forbes: We wanted to start by exploring your arrival in Hong Kong, your background. You're obviously influenced by your father, a teacher. He instilled in you a deep thirst for reading and knowledge. It sounds as if, despite the difficulties of your early career, you are an optimist about the future. Would you classify yourself as an optimist?
Li: First of all, I am an optimist. When you study hard and work hard, your knowledge grows, and it gives you confidence. The more you know, the more confidence you gain. When I was 10 years old, I lost my schooling, but I still had plenty of hope to return to school. When we came to Hong Kong, the family had no choice, and I had to work. I was facing life for the first time. I was 12 years old, but I felt like a 20-year-old. I knew then what life was. My father had tuberculosis, which was as devastating a disease as cancer is today. If you were rich and could afford proper care, you might have a better chance. We had no choice. I needed to be strong, and needed to find some way to secure a future.
And as long as you have that preparation, that confidence, you have the general belief that things will work out?
During the Japanese occupation, besides working, I also needed to get plenty of fresh air to remain healthy, because at that time, I also had TB. But at the same time, I also needed to study and work. That gave me confidence. I got my first break right after the Second World War. My boss needed a letter written. He had a secretary who wrote his letters for him, but he was on sick leave. When he asked around the office to see who could take his place temporarily, my colleagues recommended me. My boss said that my letters were quick and nice, and I got his meaning. He was happy with my work, and I was promoted to head a small department. I always believe that knowledge can change life. It was a case of knowledge changing my life.