‘I Was Scared to Death’
Back in 1997, as Beijing regained sovereignty over Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai made everybody’s short list of people who’d face trouble should Beijing decide to play tough. Lai, a vocal advocate of democracy, made millions starting trendy clothing retailer Giordano, then sold it after 1989, in the wake of China’s pro-democracy demonstrations. His next venture, Next Media, is now Hong Kong’s largest listed media company, and the flagship Chinese-language Apple Daily has remained unabashedly pro-democratic. Yet despite deep misgivings, Lai stayed in Hong Kong after the British departed, and 10 years on he is unabashedly bullish about the city’s future. He recently discussed that decision, Hong Kong’s various attributes and the state of China’s media industry with NEWSWEEK’s George Wehrfritz.