Novelist Liu Yi-chang, who passed away on Friday at the age of 99, was among those who were jocularly referred to as “HSBC writers”. The term refers to a group of Hong Kong writers who had moved here from Shanghai, a play on the name of the British bank HSBC, which stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp.
Among such writers, Liu has been undoubtedly the most productive and wealthy.
Liu set up a publishing company in Shanghai in 1946. He came to Hong Kong in 1948 to open a Hong Kong subsidiary. He was then forced to stay here as a civil war started in China.
At that time, Liu only had a pen and some paper. He wrote a 1,000-word article to Sing Tao Daily, and was paid HK$10. That’s how his writing career in Hong Kong began.
Most people know him by two films directed by Wong Kar-wai — In the Mood for Love and 2046, which were inspired by Liu’s novels Intersection and The Drunkard respectively.
It is said that in the film 2046, the main character Chow Mo-wan, a journalist, was modeled after Liu.
At the peak, Liu wrote 13 columns every day. Not because he liked to, just that he had to make the ends meet.
Liu did manage to lead a comfortable life, but largely not because of the writing career.
The writing career offered a stable income stream, but it was through stamp collection and property that Liu acquired serious wealth.
Liu had great passion for postage stamps. He was a well-known collector of the philatelic material and frequently participated in auctions.
He once revealed that he had earned more money from collecting stamps than through his writings. That was confirmed by Chua Lam, a well-known columnist and food critic.
Liu also had very sharp sense about the city’s housing market. And the insights came through in his writings.
“The higher the property prices, the more people were drawn to the market,” he wrote in one of his stories in 1972.
As he noticed the market potential, he put his ideas into action and bought a unit in Taikoo Shing, a major residential development on Hong Kong Island.
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