Interview: Dr Lui Che-Woo, founder of a prize for world civilisation

22 September 2017

‘Happiness does not mean sitting in a grand restaurant’

I wanted to encourage people to cherish natural resources and traditional values again. Materialistic civilisation has neither brought genuine satisfaction to humans nor created long-lasting harmony in the world. We continued to suffer from war, poverty, and diseases. “Civilisation”, inspired by my experience over 80 years, means satisfaction of life, harmonious society, and true happiness.

 

I also wanted to encourage people to build a better world, break barriers between borders, race, and religions, explore models of sustainable development and moral civilisation, promote values of harmony and cohesion, and adopt a positive life-attitude and energy.

 

I inaugurated the prize last year, with a total of $HK60 million [about £5.6 million] awarded to the laureates. I hope that the cash award will honour the laureate and his or her contribution to the world, and provide resources for their next endeavours to foster human civilisation and encourage different industries to co-operate and co-create a more harmonious environment.

 

More than 1000 university principals, leaders of academic institutions, and professional organisations nominate individuals or organisations who have made outstanding contributions to world civilisation and societal harmony.

 

I chose my judges after years of preparation and deliberation, with leaders and professionals from China and overseas. Lord Williams [of Oystermouth] is one of the judges of this year’s laureates.

 

The objective of the sustainability prize is to promote an ecological balance, creating a better world for future generations. Yuan Longping won last year’s prize for his development of high-yielding hybrid rice, which has contributed significantly to the security of world food supply. Professor Yuan used his prize for eight projects sustaining the development of hybrid rice and encouraging agricultural innovations. This year’s specific focus is on the prevention of climate change.

 

The welfare-betterment prize, focusing last year on treatment and/or control of epidemics, infectious diseases, or chronic illnesses, was won by Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF] for its indispensable contributions to the treatment and control of the cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. MSF devoted the prize money to the Ebola Initiative project, including the building of a biobank and data-sharing platform with the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory at Oxford University to help prepare for outbreaks.

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The objective of the positive-energy prize is to remind us to respect, love, and understand each other, and to live in harmony. This year’s focus is on promoting harmony between diverse groups. Last year, the prize was awarded to Jimmy Carter for all the good work that he and the Carter Center have done. The prize will bolster their health-training initiative in Sudan.

 

I was born in 1929, in Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, and moved to Hong Kong with my parents when I was four. A few years later, the Second World War broke out. When Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation, in 1941, I was forced to drop out of school; so I became a food merchant with my grandma to sustain life. I witnessed the homelessness and misery of the war, and experienced a time of deficiency and despair. After the war, I entered a night school to learn English. At the age of 17, I followed my uncle and joined an auto-parts wholesale and trading company as a stock-keeper. A few years later, I bought the company, becoming the owner at the age of 20.

 

In the 1950s, I went to Okinawa to buy a vast amount of left-over heavy machinery from the US army, and started infrastructure projects such as reclamation and road construction. In 1955, I founded the first K. Wah company, engaging in the business of construction materials. Today, the group has more than 200 subsidiaries, spanning Hong Kong, mainland China, Macau, North America, and South-East Asia. It has more than 33,000 employees.

 

In the 1960s, I stepped into the property-development industry. In the1980s, the company expanded the hotel business in Hong Kong and the United States, and established the construction-materials business in China. In the early 1990s, our property business expanded to China, and, in 2002, the company obtained a gambling licence in Macau and became one of the six casino operators. Galaxy Macau [one of Dr Lui’s developments] has the world’s largest skytop wave pool, a white-sand beach, and a 3D cinema.

 

I constantly kept an eye out for any development opportunities. Once I saw an opportunity, I seized it. Mostly, I tend to be cautious and plan ahead.

 

I work in a realistic and practical manner. I would always try to keep the business small if it wasn’t strong enough to expand. With this working style, my companies have overcome many difficulties over the past few decades.

 

After exercising in the morning, I start my day by having a breakfast meeting with my colleagues to discuss with them the recent happenings, and listen to their views on current events and issues in the world. Afterwards, I usually work on my own, often signing, reviewing, and approving documents, and attending meetings. I consider working as a kind of entertainment, which is great, because it never gives me a hard time.

 

I have three sons and two daughters. All my children studied abroad when they grew up, but I asked them to come back after completing their studying overseas because of their Chinese identity. They are diligent, earnest, and honest, which has comforted me a lot.

 

Health is important, to some extent, but, above all, I believe the most important thing is happiness. If we cannot maintain peace and calmness in our heart, and we always worry about different things — even when we are rich and healthy, there is no meaning to our life. Only if our mind is satisfied, materialistic life will no longer be important, and we will become healthier both physically and mentally.

 

I have experienced hard times, but, even when I was poor, I was still happy — even happier and calmer back then than now. Happiness does not mean sitting in a grand restaurant.

 

The most important thing in life is not doing whatever you want, but having a calm and stable mind. Overcome the difficulties, and enjoy the happiness and stability that follows afterwards. If we do not uphold this positive attitude, we will become depressed when faced with difficulties, and this may have unpleasant outcomes. This link between a positive mindset and success has been mentioned by many philosophies. Be calm and stable when facing difficult matters, live happily, and do not care about fame, and you will feel that you are truly enjoying life.

 

If we are satisfied in heart, and are open-minded, it will be the happiest of times. I hope that the world can embrace these values and put them into action. If we can reduce grievances and negative emotions, be optimistic and positive when encountering new challenges, learn to cherish and be thankful, I believe we can obtain true satisfaction and happiness.

 

I admire all individuals who have contributed to the world, regardless of their nationality, race, identity, and status. I think that any who contribute to building a beautiful world should be our role models, and their actions should be honoured.

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I have no religion. I hope the world can cherish the resources of nature for the sustainable development of the world, and to value civilisation and traditional virtues again. I hope that we may learn how to reduce disputes, discrimination, conflict, and war in the world, and work together to create a world of peace and harmony.

 

I’m usually surrounded by people during the day; so, if I was locked in a church, I would like to be alone, in order to take the opportunity to sit and reflect on how to promote world civilisation.

 

Terence Handley MacMath was talking to Dr Lui Che-Woo through the translation team of Lui Che Woo Prize Ltd.

This year’s award presentations will be made on 3 October.

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