25 June 2019
Thomas Kwok is ready to move on from the past this Christmas.  Photo: HKEJ
Thomas Kwok is ready to move on from the past this Christmas. Photo: HKEJ

What Thomas Kwok said about the meaning of Christmas

Since a Court of First Instance jury found four people guilty on Friday in Hong Kong’s biggest anti-graft case, the media has been busy.

It has been following up on whether there will be an appeal, speculating on which celebrities will write letters in support of former Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) co-chairman Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and unearthing juicy news about former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan’s mistress. Kwok and Hui were found guilty of corruption.

My personal memory of Thomas Kwok has nothing juicy in it. In fact, during the last interview I had with him, eight years ago, he taught me something about the true meaning of Christmas.

Kwok is a man of few words.

When he spoke, I listened and dared not intervene (partly because he was wearing a hearing aid). He spoke slowly, in a convincing, low voice, and I believe he meant what he said.

Kwok is a man of action.

He often spent Sundays visiting SHKP’s construction sites and sometimes visited families to listen first hand to comments from those who had bought homes from the developer. He took those comments to heart and later to the boardroom.

When Kwok engaged in charitable work, he did it quietly. After reading the daily news, he and his wife often asked his staff what the couple could give away to make lives happier.

That is why the judge received letters in support of Kwok from families of workers who died at construction sites, or families of his former employees whom he supported financially without any publicity.

Kwok is a man of discipline, someone who can run up 2,000 stairs to the top of the International Commerce Center in Kowloon within 30 minutes. I challenge any other director of a property developer in Hong Kong to do so.

Thomas Kwok grew up in one of Hong Kong’s most respected families. Not many property developers in this city can claim they “build homes with heart”, but that is what SHKP has been doing for years.

When their father, Kwok Tak-seng, died in 1990, eldest brother Walter Kwok Ping-sheung took as chairman, with his two brothers, Thomas and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, as deputies. All went well until 1997, when Walter was kidnapped.

He later found out his brothers had tried to talk down the ransom demanded by the kidnappers. Walter became depressed and relied on his mistress, lawyer Ida Tong Kam-hing, for advice and support.

His siblings and their mother were alarmed by his aggressive decision-making as chairman and tried for over a decade to eliminate Tong’s influence on him.

Along came Rafael Hui, who offered suggestions on how to solve the family conflict. As the Chinese saying goes, even an upright official finds it hard to settle a family quarrel.

Eventually an anonymous letter that revealed certain dealings between the Kwoks and Hui led to a four-month trial that lasted until Friday.

After the verdict, Thomas said he did not resent anyone in his family. It’s consistent with what he told me at Christmas eight years ago.

Kwok said on the podcast: “Christmas is the time when you want to forgive what people have done against you. Christmas is the time to say to God and to your friends, and especially to yourself, it is time to move on.

“Forget about any grievances, just move on. Because God has forgiven you, don’t cling to the past — whatever the emotions — how bad or how good it is. That’s Christmas!”

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EJ Insight writer

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