In 1950, my life changed forever as I boarded the SS President Cleveland for the United States. In those days, it was not so common to see Chinese students traveling to America to study. Not unlike most Chinese parents, my parents believed that education was the foundation for a better life. They wanted me to be a doctor since they felt doctors are always needed and respected. However, I choose engineering, a subject I came to love while accompanying my father to construction sites as a child. Thanks to the generosity of donors who funded scholarships, I was able to reduce the financial burden on my parents and studied at the University of Illinois and Harvard University. The impact of these scholarships, not only for me but for many others like me, was more far reaching than maybe even the donors envisioned.
The scholarships I received were the foundation for a better life for me, but I didn’t go to America alone. I went to America on the shoulders of those who came before me, especially my parents and grandparents. My family originates from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, but my own grandfather migrated to Shanghai for better opportunities and my father made similar move, establishing his business in Hong Kong. With each move, my family sought to improve their situation and construct a better life for their children. This is a familiar refrain, even today.
My father chose Hong Kong because Shanghai was too prosperous in the 1930s and the competition was fierce. Hong Kong, considered a backwater to Shanghai at the time, was easier pickings for a small businessman. He founded Hsin Chong Construction in 1939. During WWII, he did not want to build for the foreign occupiers so he gave up doing business and lived on his savings. When the war was over, his business was gone and savings exhausted. But with the foreign occupiers gone from Hong Kong, my father was ready to rebuild his construction business. With little capital in hand, he started rebuilding based on decades of hard earned reputation as an honest and diligent man.
After my education in the United States, I went to work for my father. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Our company, Hsin Chong Construction, has had an indelible impact on Hong Kong’s physical landscape. It has built infrastructure for welcoming visitors and business, hospitals for treating the sick, homes for sheltering families and schools for educating the future generations. As I see many of those facilities continue to exist and operate today, I am reminded of the blessings that I have received and my duty to give back to the community.
I, my children and my grandchildren are fortunate to live and be educated in communities which recognize the importance and value of education, innovation and civic society. My forefathers and the generosity of others laid a foundation for me to build a better life and enable me to contribute to the development of Hong Kong. My dream is that The Yeh Family Philanthropy will help others build lives of purpose and prosperity the way donors once did for me.
We may no longer build grand physical projects. But we are still building. May The Yeh Family Philanthropy continue to live up to the ideals of our forefathers, honor our good name and provide the resources and vision to inspire others!
Dr. MT Geoffrey Yeh